To live in a sustainable way is to live your life so that you are not causing future generations of the current living organisms (humans, plants, animals) to live a lower quality of life than you are today. There is a lot of information and products out there that advertise themselves as “eco-friendly.” This topic is vast and touches every aspect of your life from what you eat, your housing, clothing you wear, transportation, etc. There are many certifications out there and more coming out. I want to provide you with a framework of thinking that you can apply logically to all the decisions you need to make in order to try to live more sustainably.
Every day we make choices that support the current system, which is ultimately unsustainable. As individuals, we have the power to make choices in our buying decisions that will influence businesses to support our demands. You vote with your dollars for the change you want to see. And most importantly you should support and vote for government policies and political candidates that will help achieve sustainable living.
If you wish to live sustainably, for literally everything you do or consume, you need to ask yourself these four questions, in this order:
1. Do I need this?
You should use and consume only what you need. Be very strict about everything you buy and question if you really need it. Buy less stuff. Reuse what you have or buy used. Buy quality products that are long lasting rather than cheap things you plan to just buy more of later. Don’t waste. Eat all your food. Repair your stuff instead of replacing. Buy with intention, and consume less.
2. Will it harm me or the earth?
Choose products that do not contain any harmful materials or chemicals for human health, animal life, or plants. This is especially true for things that you eat. Food produced with fertilizers harm the environment, so buy organic food at a minimum. When possible, eat sustainably grown food (also known as regenerative farming), and buy natural materials made without toxins. Does this product’s manufacturing process, or its sourcing of materials provide any harm to the earth?
3. Is it renewable?
Buy all materials, products, and energy from renewable sources. For example, use solar and wind power for energy, since gas is in limited supply and also warms the climate with CO2 emissions. Buy wood from sustainably certified sources (including any products that contain wood, like a chair). Ask yourself: Is this product or material recyclable or compostable? Think about the whole life cycle of the product, and all sourced materials used in the product.
4. Does it use the least resources?
Buy what is produced with the least waste, the least energy, and impact on the environment. For example, concrete uses more energy than wood, so wood products are preferable. Raising cows for meat and dairy requires significantly more resources than growing plants, so eat mostly fruits and vegetables. Choose products from local producers, since less transportation is needed, and therefore fewer resources are used to consume the product.