What Does Sustainability Actually Mean?

Protecting the environment is a popular topic now a days, particularly in the wake of the past election. So many companies are talking about being sustainable and environmentally friendly. But what does it actually mean to be sustainable?

Sustainability is one of those fancy sounding words we hear all the time that sound important, so we nod our heads and agree, we really care about sustainability and protecting the world for the future. And we do, but I know I don’t really know what that means, and I have absolutely no idea how to go about acting sustainably without taking extreme measures like wearing my trash or something.  

While researching for this article I read a bunch of articles that all sort of described sustainability but that were also incredibly broad, scientific, and confusing. There are debates over what steps society needs to take in order to be sustainable and what the major definition of the term is.

The basic definition I have found is creating, building, and using items and organizations that will not damage the environment or society in the future. There are different meanings in different contexts but the basic principles remains the same; sustain, support, endure, and withstand. If we still want society and the Earth to be around a hundred years from now, we need to start thinking about the future and creating a world that is built to last.

The United Nations have come up with 17 Sustainable Development goals they hope to achieve by the year 2030. And let me tell you, they sound amazing, they include everything from gender equality to clean water to climate action to peace, justice, and strong institutions.

Sustainability attempts to focus on environmental, economic, and social considerations (so, pretty much everything). The reason the focus is so broad is because these things really all go hand in hand, poor economic conditions leads to a misuse of products and labor, for example. So is one of these topics are out of balance, they influence the other two.

So what can we do?

It can be easy to feel bummed and overwhelmed when looking at the UN’s list or when you can’t afford to buy all organic food. The problem with sustainability is that it is difficult, expensive, and we are unaware of a lot of things causing problems. Well websites such as Sustainable Baby Steps has lists of simple ways to start living a more sustainable life. Things such as stopping your junk mail, using a reusable water bottle, reaching out to your local politicians, and continuing to educate yourself and others do not take too much effort but can make a major difference in the long run!

Sustainability seems overwhelming and confusing but it is really just living responsibly and thinking about the reaction to your actions. Try adding one sustainable step at a time and it won’t feel like such a big deal!


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