What is Environmental Sustainability and Why is it Important?

We have the same home: Earth. We all share the duty to use our natural resources and energy wisely. But is environmental sustainability really achievable?

Read on to fully understand the definition, its importance, its benefits and challenges, and how to become more sustainable.

What is Environmental Sustainability?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental sustainability is based on the principle that “our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.”

Therefore, living sustainably means creating and maintaining “the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”

Sustainability calls for efficient, wise use of natural resources, energy, and materials. It requires an understanding that humans are part of many complex ecosystems and food webs on Earth, and that our actions have consequences for the entire planet.

Additionally, environmental sustainability means not pillaging and plundering until we run out of a resource, and not discarding our waste.

Why is Environmental Sustainability Important?

Earth is our food and water source, as well as our home. This planet supplies what we need for clothing, hygiene, and medicine, and even companionship, serenity, adventure, and air to breathe. To meet these human needs, Earth must be in balance: too much pollution will have a detrimental effect on our health – as well as the health of plants and animals who share our home.

Pollution in the form of excess greenhouse gases emitted by human activity is causing global average temperatures to heat up by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the late 1800s. This is the major cause of the current climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s the most recent report “finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming.” 1.5°C is the tipping point, past which it will no longer be within human control to lower global temperatures based on our activities.

The IPCC estimates we will reach this tipping point by the early 2030s. After that, we’ll just have to endure the extreme weather, hot temperatures, droughts, irregular rainfall, and rising sea levels. This will lead to health problems, endanger those who live in coastal areas, and disrupt food supply chains.

Therefore sustainability is not just a buzzword you see on marketing campaigns targeted toward Millennials and Gen Z. It’s a lifestyle of efficiency, conservation, unity, and discipline we need to adopt for our good.

20 Ways to Live Sustainably

With power comes responsibility, governments, corporations, and those with greater means have a greater obligation to minimize their environmental impact (Their carbon and water footprints are larger.) But the planet is our collective home, so we each must help keep it healthy and balanced. Here are some quick ways how:

  1. Live simply, without using more resources than you need.
  2. Clean up after yourself.
  3. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost!
  4. Donate to wildlife conservation organizations to preserve biodiversity.
  5. Use renewable resources, like solar or wind power if you can.
  6. Invest in eco-conscious companies.
  7. Reduce air travel to help shrink your carbon footprint.
  8. Reduce meat consumption (carbon dioxide emitted by human activity is the largest contributor to global warming).
  9. Calculate your carbon footprint and buy carbon offsets from a certified provider.

And here are some more in-depth suggestions for incorporating environmental sustainability into your daily life:

  1. According to the United Nations, indigenous peoples and local communities own, manage, use, and/or occupy about 25% of land on Earth. So it’s important to listen to indigenous populations when they raise concerns about environmental issues.
  2. Every industry and workplace should have a sustainability department.
  3. If your school or employer lacks awareness, bring it to the table. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. After all, sustainability saves money on energy and water bills.
  4. Organize a cleanup of a local park.
  5. Shop locally to local farmers’ markets and art fairs for your gifts, home goods, grocery haul, flowers, and more.
  6. Get involved and pick a local environmental issue you can help with.
  7. Get inspired by looking to other countries that have established sustainability well within their modern culture, like Switzerland.
  8. Remember, we vote with our dollars. From groceries to clothing to home renovation products, choose organic, biodegradable, and compostable options with ethical sourcing and harvesting practices.
  9. Don’t let pessimism and cynicism win: worldwide environmental sustainability is possible.
  10. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once.
  11. Think of sustainable practices as habits and fun challenges; let them serve as reminders of our beautiful planet.

Why is Living Sustainably so Difficult?

  1. We tend to think short-term, not long-term. Single-use items and throwaway culture lead to bigger landfills and more pollution.
  2. Commercial agriculture and fishing industries prioritize profit over sustainability.
  3. As cities and suburbs expand, trees are cut down to develop the land. Deforestation, whether legal or illegal, is rampant as companies want to develop land and harvest wood.
  4. The U.S. and many other countries are still reliant upon oil for natural gas and plastics.
  5. Unsustainable products and activities, from using face scrubs with microbeads to buying a yacht, are still popular.
  6. The rising global population demands more energy, manufacturing, and other resources. To accommodate the ever-growing number of consumers, large companies have a quantity-over-quality mindset.
  7. It’s more expensive to buy organic and ethically made products.
  8. Minimalism is popular amongst younger generations, but consumerism still has a hold on most of us.
  9. Fossil fuels are currently subsidized.
  10. There is a lack of education about, and trust in, the recycling system in the U.S. Recycling requires a lot of energy and manpower, and not everyone knows what and how to recycle. (Educate yourself here!)
  11. It’s not yet in mainstream American culture to compost.
  12. On the whole, the people and companies most responsible for climate change do not personally experience the reality of rising sea levels, mass extinctions, and extreme weather.
  13. Most of us don’t see starving polar bears out our windows.
  14. Most of us aren’t a part of island nations, which are slowly sinking into the ocean.
  15. Climate change has a disproportionate impact on marginalized and low-income communities when they’re the ones doing the least harm.

How Does Sustainability Benefit Humanity & the Earth?

Environmental sustainability means a better quality of life. Better quality of life benefits everyone.

  1. Clean oceans, rivers, aquifers, and lakes mean thriving flora and fauna, drinkable water, healthy fish to eat, and safe places to swim.
  2. Conserving water and energy saves money.
  3. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions would help to stabilize global average temperatures. That would reduce glacial ice melt, which would slow sea-level rise. That means the majesty of glaciers, and islands like the Maldives could be enjoyed for generations to come.
  4. Stabilized global temperatures would also reduce the frequency of extreme weather disasters like hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires, which would reduce the number of climate refugees.
  5. According to the IPCC, a more sustainable world would reduce the flooding caused by climate change, slow permafrost thaw, and lessen ocean acidification.
  6. Reusing and recycling materials means smaller, more manageable landfills, and reduced pollution. Reduced pollution means animals won’t die from plastic ingestion as frequently.
  7. Sustainability breeds creative innovation. From environmentally friendly tires to dental floss, industries are challenged to come up with better and better inventions.
  8. We need biodiverse, balanced ecosystems. If we cut down rainforests, we may lose access to a yet-to-be-discovered medicinal plant that cures cancer. Not only are whales, elephants, and orangutans awe-inspiring to behold, they have roles in their respective ecosystems that cannot be replaced. Whales, for example, are an integral part of the carbon cycle.
  9. We cannot take breathable air for granted: there is no replacement for it.
  10. Healthy oceans, undisturbed forests, and widespread clean energy all help to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, giving us breathable air.
  11. Plus, a world without the climate crisis means fewer wildfires, which means less asthma-inducing smoke.
  12. We want a home fit for our kids and our kids’ kids.

Final Thoughts on Environmental Sustainability

It is important to be environmentally sustainable for our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Teenagers, kids, and infants automatically inherit the pollution, litter, and wildfires if the current generations don’t clean up our air, water, and land.

This worldwide challenge has incredible potential to bring countries and demographics together in unprecedented ways. All walks of life must work toward this same goal. Are you up for it?

Related content: 20 Tips to Conserve Natural Resources

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