If something is sustainable it should last forever. To sustain something is to keep and support it for the future.
Sustainable living is living in a way in which we can continue to do so, as if we are going to live forever. Currently, if everyone in the world lived like the average Briton we would need three planet earths!
To support and sustain our world we need to keep it as healthy as possible by protecting and sustaining wildlife, plants, ecosystems and habitats because all these things are connected and they each need each other for support. After all, animals wouldn’t survive without the right habitat, and a habitat wouldn’t be the same without the animals!
Here’s a great rule to help understand what sustainability is about -
‘Leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do.’
Sustainability at home
A sustainable item should last for a long time, if not forever. For example, which of these actions is more sustainable? Answers are at the bottom of the page.
1. When I go to football or netball practice I take a
a. new water bottle every week
b. re-fill my own reusable bottle
2. When we run out of milk at home do we
a. walk down to the shops for some more
b. jump in the car and get there fast
3. I need some paper for school so I buy
a. whatever paper looks good
b. recycled paper that has already been used
For more tips on sustainability see our factsheet Environment - how can we help protect it?
When thinking about sustainability it is important that we think about where things come from and how they get to us. You might have done an exercise at school about food miles. Is it more sustainable to eat apples from the UK or from New Zealand? The answer is the UK, unless you live in New Zealand. To get to the UK an apple from New Zealand has travelled thousands of miles and used up a lot of energy in aeroplanes, ships and lorries to get to the supermarket! Buying food from far away places uses up non-renewable fossil fuels and adds to pollution.
Much of our food production is also unsustainable and can lead to issues such as over fishing. For an article that looks at how we can change the way we eat see the Future of Food. Find out why worm crisps and seaweed soup might be coming to a menu near you!
Local products and services are usually better, if you can’t buy local products try to buy from companies that value the environment and do all they can not to pollute it or produce waste. Some items have logos which help you to make environmentally-friendly choices. One of these is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo which means that the product has come from a forest that is managed sustainably. Better yet, look out for recycled products that don’t require new resources.
Another symbol to look out for is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Over fishing is huge problem all over the world as more and more people eat fish. We can help the fish of the world by only choosing fish that have come from sustainable sources.
What about water? It’s very easy to think that we have an endless supply of water but this isn’t true. The average adult in the UK uses 150 litres of water per day in comparison to some places where 5-10 litres is more the norm. With a rising population, more droughts and flooding expected, the demand for water is likely to increase, leading to shortages. We need to use it more carefully. Find out more about Water in the free download below.
Being sustainable isn’t always easy but with a bit of research we can choose the right products and companies that help make a difference and have less impact on the world. For example shoes that are made with FSC rubber from sustainable forests, or organic natural fibres. The rubber is sustainable because it comes from a forest that is looked after, where its wildlife is protected and managed responsibly. Organic natural fibres are a sustainable material because they reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides which pollute the earth and have bad effects on wildlife.
One of the biggest issues of sustainability is our use of fossil fuels to provide energy -electricity, fuel, plastics and many other things. Using coal, oil (petrol/diesel) and gas is unsustainable because these products will eventually run out. What is more, exploration for them can cause environmental damage. Emissions and CO2 from burning fossil fuels are contributing to climate change. One day we will have to depend on other things to provide our electricity and fuel. Uranium for nuclear energy is also a non-renewable fuel.
The answer to this problem is renewable energy - this means energy that is sustainable. Examples of renewable energies are solar (sun), biomass, wind, tidal and geothermal. These are renewable because we don’t expect the sun to disappear anytime soon, as with winds and the tides of the sea! If a whole village depends on solar or wind power then the village's energy supply is sustainable, if it depends on fossil fuels then sooner or later they will have to stop and change the way they live.
For more information see our factsheet on Energy and download Alternative Energy - Conservation Education below.
What you can do
There are many ways to be sustainable. These might involve;
Recycling or reusing items whether it's a cardboard box, an old toy or a woolly jumper!
Using less electricity and not wasting water and food always help too.
In fact many of the ways that we can help the environment are sustainable. This is because in helping the environment we are helping to sustain it!
For heaps of helpful hints on sustainability go to our popular factsheet Environment, below.
Even if you adopt just one or two of these living tips you will be helping us and thousands of other children keep the planet healthy for future generations.
Image: Sustainability by Sam Howzit