What IS sustainability?

Harmony, a watercolour illustration: Globe with animals and plants ©2021 Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston
Harmony, for World Environment Day ©2021 Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston

I recently recorded an interview for The Master Pods. The sustainability podcast is hosted by Rachael Gradeen, Olivier Rostang, and Laura Meßner. Guests in their first season were fellow students in the Master’s Programme in Sustainable Development at Uppsala University / Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). The podcast is a valuable resource whether you are new to sustainable development or a long-term professional.

The three hosts completed their degrees and began careers in the real world. Following suit, guests in season two speak about their professional roles in sustainable development. My episode, S02 E26, airs Wednesday 14 July, 2021. Listen and subscribe to The Master Pods on Spotify or Apple podcasts.

Rachael and I discussed my thoughts on sustainability. What is it? Why is it important? How can we responsibly care for ourselves and our planet?

The basic definition of sustain is to give support or relief.¹ Sustainable is able to continue over a period of time.² In an environmental science sense, sustainability is using natural products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment.³ This third definition is the one Rachael and I discussed.

Adopting sustainable lifestyles is similar to starting a new exercise programme at the gym or learning a new language—it takes time and practice. My advice to a beginning the transition: Start simple. Be kind to yourself. Invite others to help you in your journey. It’s not a race toward utopia. It’s a learning process for a better future. Let’s grow slowly, concentrating on long-term connections and investment instead of instant access and immediate rewards.

flower with 'Bee friendly' text curving toward a black/white/yellow bumblebee. Bee Friendly. ©2020 Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston
Bee Friendly ©2020 Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston

Start simple
Perhaps you purchase your next sweater second-hand. Or choose the carrots wrapped in less plastic packaging. Try oat milk instead of cow milk. It might take a little more time, energy, or money than regular life, but your community and our planet are worth it. Slow down and discover your everyday reasons for making sustainable choices. Find sources for new ideas—a sustainability podcast or news feed that teaches and encourages you.

Be kind
Maybe you decided to try oat milk… but you didn’t enjoy it. Or your local grocery store doesn’t stock it. You’re allowed to try a new solution—a choice that works well for someone else may not work for you. Making a decision that pushes you forward in a positive direction is usually better than making no decision or trying to find the perfect solution. You’ll learn as you grow and find better solutions along the way. (I can personally attest to this.)

“If you are not sure what you think about something, the most useful questions are these: “Are you being kind? Are they being kind? That usually gives you the answer.” -Jan Morris ⁴

Kindness counts. Replace kind with wise or sustainable, and you arrive at the same answer. Use your time, money, and resources wisely. Think about your local community and remember that it is a part of a larger community. Learn about successes and struggles from people who have gone before you.

Invite others to the party
Do you have a coach, trainer, or mentor? Include sustainability progress in your discussions. Starting simply and building within a supportive community makes adopting new habits more enjoyable. Introducing new routines a bit at a time and truly taking them into practice builds a solid base. Surround yourself with people who are excited to help you reach your goals and learn alongside you. Find a friend to cheer you on in your journey.

Think of these actions as building muscles at the gym or increasing your vocabulary as you learn a new language. Make the activities joyful and rewarding and they will more easily become natural habits. In time, your ability to affect larger circles and communities will grow. Be a kindness ambassador, championing for sustainability with your everyday actions.

Green Game ©2020 Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston

²https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sustainable ³https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sustainability ⁴https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/01/jan-morris-thinking-again-interview-youre-talking-to-someone-at-the-very-end-of-things

Published by Outspoken Images by Marie Warner Preston

Creating illustrations for sustainability, stewardship, and science communication.

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