6 Principles of Sustainability
The field of sustainability is full of different frameworks and reporting standards. It can sometimes feel like an alphabet soup: GHG Protocol, IRIS, SASB, TCFD, CDP and so on.
Essentially, sustainable development means using resources at a rate that they can be replaced, without depleting natural resources or harming the environment. It’s often defined in terms of three pillars: people, planet and profit.
We’re using more natural resources than nature can regenerate and producing more waste and emissions than the Earth can absorb. This has led to climate change, plastic pollution, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity.
We can reduce our impact by consuming less, shopping second-hand, and buying sustainable products. We can also minimise our energy usage by lowering the heating and cooling, switching to solar, or investing in insulation. We can also walk or ride our bikes, carpool or take the bus for longer distances.
We can cut our food waste by avoiding purchasing unnecessary items and composting what we don’t need. It’s also important to shop locally. Local production has major environmental benefits over big brand products that ship across the world and use environment threatening methods for preservation and packaging.
Reusing our resources helps save natural resources and protect the environment. This can be as simple as using a reusable water bottle or as complex as setting up a solar energy system.
Recycling reduces the need to mine and fabricate new materials from raw materials, which can be costly and causes pollution. It also reduces greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Recycling aluminum cans, for example, uses 95% less energy than producing a new one.
Reusing our resources also reduces the risk of waste disposal sites contaminating soil and groundwater with natural gas, toxic chemicals and heavy metals. It can also help keep waste out of landfills, which are a significant source of greenhouse gases.
When we use sustainable methods of sourcing materials, creating products and operating businesses, we help ensure the natural environment remains unaltered. This includes reducing pollutants and conserving the habitats of animals and plants.
The environmental pillar also requires us to only consume the Earth’s natural resources at the rate they can be replenished. This is often accomplished by avoiding excessive landfill waste and using renewable energy sources.
The economic sustainability pillar is about balancing the needs of individuals and groups with those of the larger community. It involves ensuring workers can access the basic necessities of life and that their personal, labour and cultural rights are respected.
A key aspect of sustainability is to keep our infrastructure in good condition – and this principle applies to everything from buildings to transport systems. It encourages us to think about the quality of our systems, and the ease with which we can use them.
The second of the 6 principles asks us to respect Earth and all living beings with compassion and empathy. This pillar also calls on us to build democratic societies that are just, participatory and sustainable. It also urges that we advance the study of ecological sustainability, while promoting the open exchange and broad application of the knowledge acquired. This is a fundamental prerequisite for humanity’s long term survival on this planet.
The goal of the zero waste movement is to avoid sending trash to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. This requires a change in industrial production, design, and consumption habits.
The movement encourages a shift from the traditional linear model that begins with resource extraction and ends with disposal to a cradle-to-grave system that minimizes waste. This means reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting to create a closed-loop system that keeps resources in use as long as possible.
To achieve a zero-waste lifestyle, start by picking one area of your life to focus on. This will help reduce overwhelm. Once you’ve mastered that, add another area. The important thing is to keep moving forward. Don’t give up if you make a mistake. The world needs millions of environmentally conscious people doing zero-waste imperfectly, not just a few who do it perfectly.