It’s autumn and the nights are getting colder so time to swap out the light blanket for a thick duvet. Given that it had not been washed since last year’s use, I took it to the dry cleaner. He queried whether I really wanted it washed as the cost was almost as much as buying a new one, if not more. Apparently, the trend now is to use and throw away a duvet every year, rather than go through the cost and hassle of storing and washing it. A classic case of consumerism, don’t you think?
I remember my childhood days when we used to have cotton filled quilts. A guy used to come around on a bicycle in late autumn to remove the cotton and fluff it up, ready for the winter. We have progressed from those cumbersome cotton quilts to lighter and warmer duvets or quilts, thanks to technology. However, the same technology which has reduced cost and increased our affordability has made us move away from reusing things to use-and-throw model, all in the name of convenience.
Have we become lazier, is it about showing off affordability or mere wish for change, I am not sure? Whatever the reason, be it ease, trends or just because we can, this consumerism has driven us to overexploit our one home, Earth.
Rapid progress in medicine and agriculture production, among other things, led to a sharp increase in the world population, especially over the last century. This in turn put pressure on Earth to provide resources for our sustenance. In addition to this economic development, primarily driven by exploiting our Earth, led to overconsumption of goods and services, especially in Western countries.
For example, the US which has around 5 per cent of the world population consumes around 24 per cent of the world’s energy. As development and wealth flows to other areas of the world so do overconsumption of goods. It is seen as a sign of success. At the current rate of population and economic growth, the global resource constraints are visible in the horizon and calling for us to act, now, before it’s too late. If the whole world consumes in the same pattern and rate as the US then we will need five piles of earth to cater to it. This is unsustainable in the long run.
Study says, our best bet lies in trying to live sustainably. While we should focus on green living, recycling and saving the environment of our Earth, overall sustainable living is what will help us reduce our carbon footprint and lead to net-zero living.
Sustainable living does not mean sacrificing our quality of life, rather a change in our very lifestyle. It is about making a conscious effort to consume less or repurpose things and try to be as carbon neutral as possible. It can be practised by individuals, businesses and even governments.
Its positive impact can be environmental, social and economic. The broad objectives of sustainable living are to reduce the use of fossil fuel, conserve energy and water, eliminate waste and try to go local.
The benefit of using public transport where possible to reduce the use of fossil fuel are well known. There is a trend of holding politicians and celebrities to account for using private jets unnecessarily and clocking up carbon emission. Some of them even declare the carbon footprint when they release their travel details. It has led to growing global awareness around the issue. At a personal level, we could do our bit by combining our daily walk with a trip to the supermarket, look at using a bike or carpooling, instead of driving everywhere to reduce the use of fossil fuel.
The next obvious thing would be to save energy and water, so there is enough for everyone. Small things like switching off power to appliances rather than leaving on standby, using energy-efficient LED lights, taking advantage of natural light or even using renewable sources of energy like solar panels can make a huge difference. Saving water by using less or using rainwater harvesting is of course well known but rarely practised.
Then there is the case for reducing exploitation of nature for food. The impact is severe and is being felt around the world in the form of Zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, that transmit from animals to humans. The best way to contribute is to eat less meat or go vegan. Going meat-free even for one day a week helps make a huge difference to the demand and consequently the environment. Buying organic food benefits our health while being kind to the environment. Seasonal and locally produced food is not only nutritious but helps the local economy and also cuts down on the carbon footprint of the food we eat due to the transportation cost. Growing some food in the garden or indoors helps us get fresh food while developing a hobby and even helping us to destress.
In addition to this, we should look at using food that has been grown using sustainable methods like non-polluting chemicals, renewable energy sources and economic efficiency of water conservation. After all, 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases are produced directly as a result of crop and animal production and forestry and apparently, use 60 per cent of the land area. Yet we clear about 50,000 acres of land every day due to new demand. In just the last 40 years around 20 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed. This means increased habitat loss, greenhouse emissions, soil erosion and flooding. We are in a precarious situation where any further exploitation would be catastrophic for us and our planet.
We should take a hard look at our consumption pattern too. Buying lasting fashion instead of fast fashion or going for a minimalistic décor could be an option to reduce our urge to buy things. We could borrow, share or rent if it’s a one-off use but needs a change in attitude and social mindset.
Reusing and repurposing things to cut down on our consumption can help make a major dent too. Avoiding food waste for instance is something we can easily work towards. Did you know it takes 125 litres of water to grow one apple? It makes us rethink about letting it go to waste, doesn’t it? Instead of just recycling those bottles, can we try to reuse them first? Take a look at the labels too. Are clothes using sustainable materials? Do our cosmetics use sustainable palm oil? What about the packaging, is it recycled? Can we buy unpacked stuff? Today most goods have certificates to show sustainability, else a quick google search will provide us with the details.
These are some examples of sustainable living but there are many more ways of contributing towards it. Most of them help in reducing our bills too, so there is a financial motivation to do it, if not for the greater good.
Sustainable living is a reflection of the change in mindset and a deliberate drive to place less burden on our Earth. After all, Earth is a finite space so can produce only a finite amount of resources. A sustainable living will enable us to live on the planet, off its resources, in harmony with it. With a population of 7.8 billion and set to reach 10 billion by 2057, it will become a necessity for our survival. It will let us preserve Earth for our future generations, so they survive and have a place to call home.
Meanwhile, I may not be even remotely carbon neutral but I will reuse my duvet and the next time I need some towels to wipe or clean stuff, instead of buying posh microfiber dusting cloths or Egyptian cotton towels I will try to reuse my old cotton t-shirts. After all, isn’t it classier to care more about our Earth and it’s future than the cuteness of my cleaning towels or a reflection of my affordability?