What is Sustainable Living?

Leaf EarthIt has been a busy couple of weeks since I attended the Bioneers conference and getting back to writing I was not really sure where to begin. I have so much great information to share from the conference and about my trip in Northern California, from green hotels to solar powered wineries…and this will all show up in the coming weeks.

But what is the crux of what we are trying to change? The possibilities for smart life-ways are growing, but what does this really mean? For me, incorporating smart life-ways into my daily life involves being more aware of my actions and the consequences of my choices. The time has come to deeply understand that none of our decisions take place in a vacuum and almost everything that we do has ramifications far beyond what we see.

For instance, each of our purchases make a statement. Do we buy our food at a large, chain market where most if not all of the products travel long distances, food is probably grown in a non-sustainable manner and has genetically modified organisms, or do we shop at a local cooperative store or at a farmers market? Each of these options carries a significance far beyond just purchasing our daily food. It makes a statement to businesses that we care, or do not care, about where our food comes from, how it is grown, and who receives the largest share of our dollars that we are paying.

The growing popularity of farmers markets and shopping ‘local’ has spurred a campaign by many large businesses to claim that they are ‘local’ when it is clear they are not. Our exposure of such marketing ploys is important, but this is also an encouraging indicator of how many people now care about supporting local businesses, and are basing their purchasing decisions on this. This is a dynamic shift in our economy and one that is inspiring more and more local, sustainable businesses.

So where our shopping dollars go is one area to be more attentive… Do the businesses that you support, and you support a business every time you buy their products or services, practice sustainable policies? With the internet it is usually pretty easy to find out about the operational policies of many businesses, and with local businesses you can just ask….this also lets the business owners know that this is important to their customers. So whether you ask if a restaurant serves local or organic food or if a business recycles, these all make a difference in the big picture that we are all a part of.

Then there is the aspect of our personal habits in our homes, apartments and at work…how do we live under our own roof? Do you recycle? Are all of the lights on, along with a television and radio, increasing the energy needs of the country as a whole, or do you turn off lights when leaving a room and only have appliances on when actually using them. Do you unplug certain appliances that you rarely use. In this time when we all have so many electrical devices from cell phones to computers we seldom think about how our personal energy needs are increasing. But what can we do to try to offset this a bit? I am not suggesting throwing away cell phones or computers, only that we become more aware in how we use all of our electrical appliances. Do we really need lights on in empty rooms, or tv’s playing when no one is watching?

I was surprised to learn that over half of all electricity in the U.S. comes from coal fired power plants, and no matter what anyone says there is no such thing as clean coal. More on this in another piece, but the film, Burning the Future-Coal in America is a great place to start to learn more about the consequences of mining and burning coal. So, if we can reduce our electrical needs and move to sustainable energy options, such as wind and solar, we will be making a huge step to a more sustainable future.

Another area that we can explore is our general consumption in all areas. The Story of Stuff is a great video (if you have not already seen it take a peek) that explores our increased consumption of stuff…where it comes from, where it all goes and the real costs of all of this stuff that we have become so used to. Once again I am not advocating drastic measures such as no more shopping, or making your own clothes or furniture but rather a moment of clarity, of reflection, of where we have in many ways unconsciously wound up and the real costs of this direction that much of our collective society has taken.

It is time to step back a bit, ask some questions and think about where we are headed if we do not make some real changes, and soon.

Often many of these issues seem just way too big to imagine that we can make a difference, but we can! Every major social change movement in the history of America has been a grassroots effort, not something that was initiated by politicians but rather politicians were guided…prodded if you will by the public. This is empowering if we are willing to take action and lead the way.

I think that it is important when we are talking about a sustainable future to look at more than just ‘what we do’ but how we feel about it, and how we join with each other in making a change. When we see ourselves as separate from each other, and separate from the environment, it is much easier to take actions that may have harmful effects on others-whether they are across the globe or in the next city over. Once we realize that the actions that we take effect all of us, it is natural to pay more attention to what we are doing.

For instance, if the heads of coal mining companies lived downstream from the mines and had to breathe the air and drink the local water they would definitely reconsider how they are mining today. When companies do not have to consider all of the costs of their business practices they often engage in action that harms people, as well as the environment. SInce we are all on this Earth together it is time to realize that we need to give back to the Earth and stop destroying the resources that we are lucky enough to have.

Sustainability takes on a new face when we see it as an opportunity to come together to create a better future, not a deprived one. We have the technology if we use it now to reverse much of the damage done, and to move forward with a much gentler footprint. On a personal level we also need to look at all of the ways we can live more sustainably. There is so much pressure for a particular life style and this is causing great stress for many. We have achieved such a high level of material abundance, yet more people are unhappy, depressed and ill. Something obviously is not working in this scenario. For so many what is most important to them is rarely given adequate time to nurture and enjoy….whatever that may be. When people start to live more fulfilling lives there will be less consumption and more kindness and caring in all areas. This is the way to a sustainable future. It can only happen with each of us taking responsibility and caring enough to make adjustments in our way of living. And what is so wonderful is that many of these adjustments will lead to more fulfilling lives and more connection to those around us and the world.

This is not a new trend, but rather a new paradigm to be explored and experienced.

Let’s make this commitment to ourselves and each other.