The term ‘sustainability’ seems to be omnipresent at the moment, appearing everywhere from newspapers to advertisements to social media. This can and has led to a lot of misconceptions. This article will aim to clarify ‘What, exactly, is sustainability?’ and how you can avoid making mistakes caused by misconceptions that are actually more costly to the environment.
Firstly, constantly hearing about the word ‘sustainability’ is useless if there isn’t a definition. The most widely accepted definition is that given in the 1987 Brundtland report: “the ability to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This essentially means not depleting the Earth’s resources to such an extent that there will be no more resources for future generations to use.
Misconception 1: I need to buy sustainable products to live more sustainably
Reading the Brundtland definition and seeing media campaigns to ‘shop sustainably’ and make conscious purchases makes it easy to jump to conclusions: “I must buy more sustainable, reusable and long-lasting pieces to do my part!”. Yet this is exactly what marketers want you to believe and it is not, in fact, true. One of the best things to do is to actually reduce how much you buy and consume. This is because the creation of these goods, whether reusable or not, takes energy. This energy is frequently derived from fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming and climate change. The reason for the heightened awareness of these so called ‘more sustainable ’products is that marketers from large corporations and NGOs have caught onto the fact that people are starting to make more conscious decisions about purchases. Consequently, the large companies have started doing something called ‘Greenwashing’ whereby they advertise a product being ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ when they are actually not. This, admittedly, makes it very difficult for the consumer to know what to buy and whether their purchase could actually help the environment or not. In an attempt to combat buying products that may or may not be sustainable, consider if you actually need the item. On Instagram, for example, when you search for ‘sustainability’ you can be bombarded by images of people’s perfectly curated homes with beautiful stainless-steel pieces and Kilner jars. It is not necessary to go out and buy all these things. If you already have plastic tupperware from an Indian takeaway, use that! If you have old jam jars that you usually recycle, use those! The main idea is to use what you already have, before making a purchase - you don’t need to buy yourself into sustainability!
Misconception 2: Sustainability is really expensive
A short answer to this is that yes, sustainability can be expensive but I’m putting the emphasis on the ‘can’ here. It does not have to cost you anything to live more sustainably and it could actually save you money!
Firstly, as previously mentioned, understand you don’t have to buy items in order to live more sustainably. That will stop you from spending money in the first place! Secondly, try to buy fruit and veg loose. I recently went to the supermarket with my Dad and was picking out some loose peppers. My Dad picked out a packaged pack and, upon doing a price comparison, actually realised it was a fair amount more expensive to buy the peppers packaged in plastic rather than loose. This also applied to a number of different veg that we were buying. I’m not saying it will always be cheaper, but have a look, you might be pleasantly surprised. Thirdly, fast fashion is a major contributor to the environment, with some sources suggesting that it is the second most polluting industry globally! Despite this, some of the clothing stores that advertise ‘slow fashion’, whilst sustainable, are very, very expensive. If you have the money to spend or are looking to invest in some well-made, quality pieces then by all means check them out but this is an unaffordable solution for many. However, some of the most sustainable clothing pieces are those that are already in the system which you can find in secondhand stores. These are frequently much cheaper than ‘new’ clothes and you can find some great, quality pieces which look, seem and sometimes are brand new. A personal favourite of mine is eBay - you can find anything on there! I love it because you can find some really specific pieces and can filter how much you’re looking to spend. The best part is, once you’ve tired of wearing a piece, simply re-list the item and sell it to someone else who wants it, allowing you to earn some of your money back (or all if you’re lucky!)
Misconception 3: Nothing I can do will help.
This is not true. Yes, big corporations need to act but, as a consumer, you have a big say in the world you want to see. If people stop buying plastic bags, manufacturers will stop producing them. If people boycott companies that invest in fossil fuels, gradually, fewer companies will invest in fossil fuels, opting for renewable energy investments instead. As an individual you can have a massive impact. Even if you’re just spreading the word about sustainability and encouraging people to make small changes so that they feel more empowered to do something bigger, it has an impact. If you’re concerned about what to do, you can start small and gradually introduce bigger changes into your life. Maybe at first you want to reduce your plastic usage, you could then progress to not buying anything in plastic. Small changes can have a big impact, especially if everyone does them! Stay positive: your actions matter.
So, there we go, a (very) brief overview of 3 misconceptions about sustainability. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @aconscioustraveller. I hope, if anything, this article has told you that sustainability doesn’t have to be hard, expensive or impossible.
Small changes that are achievable to you can make the world a better place, especially if everyone does them.