By Leslie Vandever
“Sustainability.” We toss the word around like a beach ball, but what does it really mean? The root word, “sustain,” means to “strengthen or support physically or mentally,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. “Sustainability,” though, primarily means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” The secondary meaning reads “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources.”
Ah. That’s it.
When we talk about sustainability as it pertains to ecology, we’re actually talking about taking good care of our only home—Earth—even as we use its bounty to live healthy, comfortable lives. The word means using those resources—the air, the water, the land and everything that goes with them—without totally using them up or destroying them.
Until the Industrial Revolution, which started around the second half of the 19th Century, humankind had little effect on the Earth’s overall health. But with the advent of railroad, the cotton gin and factories; fossil-fueled internal combustion engines, automobiles, and machinery; the migration from the farms to the cities—and then back out of the cities into the ever-growing suburbs, with the automobile the preferred mode of transportation—the scale tipped out of balance.
Today, we know what we need to do to tip it back. But with a world population of an estimated 7.2 billion people, it’s going to take far more than good intentions. Governments all over the planet are grappling with the intertwined problems of air and water pollution, energy production and conservation, the destruction of land and wildlife, trying to work out how to fix it all Before It’s Too Late.
But what about the little guys? You and me? What can we do to make living our lives in these times gentler and less damaging to the little bit of the Earth and its resources we interact with and consume? Here are some answers.
Personal Sustainability Ideas
There are a lot of small things you can do every day that can help to increase sustainability. These are just a few:
- Go vegetarian for a while each week. For two days out of seven, for instance, or try skipping meat for at least one meal each day.
- Buy reusable cloth bags for your groceries and make use of any plastic grocery bags you have already for other things.
- Get a reusable water bottle and refill it at home from the tap. Stop buying and tossing out used plastic water bottles. Consider a reusable coffee mug for your fill up at the coffee shop, too.
- Recycle household waste: plastics, aluminum, cardboard, and glass.
- Compost vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, etc. for your garden.
- Set your household thermostat for 66 degrees Fahrenheit or below in winter. In the summer, set it for 80 degrees or higher.
- Wash all your laundry in cold water using a biodegradable detergent. Then, line-dry your laundry if you can.
- Make sure your house is well-insulated.
- Install low-flow shower heads, faucets and toilets, and limit your shower time to five minutes or less. Time yourself!
In Your Car and at Work
Driving a car helps to degrade your local air quality and contributes to climate change. But there are ways to lessen the impact. Try these ideas for the workplace, too:
- Get regular maintenance and tune-ups for your car. Keep your tires properly inflated to increase gas mileage by up to 10 percent.
- Try to run all your errands in one trip, rather than taking several short trips. Consider riding your bike instead of driving your car.
- Use cruise control on the highway.
- Avoid rapid acceleration, braking and speeding.
- Take public transportation, car-pool, or ride your bike to work.
- Use both sides of a sheet of paper before adding it to the recycle bin.
- Turn your computer off and unplug it at the end of the day. Or, make sure it goes into hibernation mode to conserve energy.
- Print documents only when you really have to.
- Turn off office lights if they’re not needed.
While each of these ideas are small by themselves the more people incorporate them into their daily life a large sustainable difference will be seen.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
- History Times: The Industrial Revolution. (n.d.) The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved on April 10, 2014 from https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/gilded-age/essays/history-times-industrial-revolution
- Tips on Sustainability. (n.d.) Titan Magazine. California State University, Fullerton. Retrieved on April 10, 2014 from http://calstate.fullerton.edu/titan/2008/sustainability/tips.html
- Learn About Greener Living. (2014, March 7) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved on April 10, 2014 from http://www2.epa.gov/learn-issues/learn-about-greener-living
- Sustainability. (2013, Nov. 20) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on April 10, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/sustainability/
- Sustainability. (n.d.) Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Retrieved on April 10, 2014 from http://www.deq.state.or.us/programs/sustainability/10ways.htm