When I first saw another blogger describe ‘sustainable’ as ‘bunkty’, I was amused. (I’m sure that was his intention, too – bunkty is a funny word!) Then what he said sunk in, and I was surprised, before finally realising he had a point. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot. One of the examples used by Tom Murphy in that blog is that it’s considered ‘sustainable’ if you pick up your towel and not leave it on the hotel floor. Now, I may be biased, and perhaps Tom is too, because we would never leave a towel on the floor, but that does not seem to me what sustainability is about.
So what does ‘sustainable’ mean to me? Perhaps before looking at what it means, it might be worthwhile looking at what it’s not.
What is not sustainable, is using what could be renewable resources faster than nature can restore them. It is not sustainable to overload natural systems with pollution and waste. Clearing mature forests faster than they can grow back, eroding topsoil faster than nature can renew it, and withdrawing groundwater that was stored for thousands of years faster than nature can replenish it, are all examples of unsustainable practices.
To learn to live sustainably, we need to look at how life on earth has sustained itself for so long. It has done so in three main ways:
- solar energy: the sun supports photosynthesis, which allows plants to produce the nutrients most organisms need to survive.
- biodiversity: the wide variety of organisms, their ecosystems and the natural services they provide, such as renewal of topsoil and water purification.
- nutrient cycling: the circulation of chemicals from the environment, through organisms, and back into the environment (think ‘The circle of life’ song from The Lion King here)
So, here’s what ‘sustainable’ means to me:
It’s about relying more on solar energy to meet our electricity and heating needs.
It’s about protecting biodiversity, by restoring areas we have degraded and preventing further degradation of species, ecosystems and natural processes.
And finally, it’s about reducing waste and pollution, not overloading natural systems with chemicals, and not removing natural chemicals faster than nature can replace them.
Does that sound like far too simple an answer? Don’t worry, to put it into practice will be far harder than it sounds!