Sustainability: common sense

There’s no way around it: the 7 billion human inhabitants of Earth have the resources of just one planet. The problem is, we are currently consuming the resources of 1.5 Earths – and there are more of us coming. So, given that population is growing and everyone wants to live a secure and fulfilling life, how can we live well within the capacity of our planet and make One Planet Living a reality?

The good news is that we already have much of what we need in terms of technology, we know what the problems are, and we know what we need to do. Environmental issues have evolved from being a fringe interest to headline news in mainstream papers. Renewable energy technologies have developed and are now more accessible than ever. Industry and business are taking the initiative to make their supply chains more sustainable. Designers and engineers are incorporating the principles of the circular economy into their designs – starting with the end in mind so that nothing ever becomes waste.

Cities all over the world are making their own efforts to become greener. More people are aware of how and why soil and freshwater are being depleted, and we know it’s better to eat locally produced food. Everyone is becoming more interested in making things with their own hands, participating in sharing economies, and experiencing things rather than consuming items in a virtual rather than material world, such as online film and music – even face-to-face telecommunication. Consumers and shareholders are also increasingly holding companies accountable for environmental degradation and ethical business practices.

So we’ve come a long way. But how can we gather further momentum? The transition to One Planet Living will take long-term planning, patience, focus and flexibility as we continue to learn, innovate and implement solutions. In the meantime, we need to ramp up public engagement and debate to reach as many minds as possible, and adapt policy as circumstances change.

We also need to engage more directly with our leaders – particularly in industrialized countries, where footprints are much higher than in less developed nations. For example, if you live in Europe, you will be using more than your share of the planet’s capacity even if you choose to ride a bike, recycle and grow your own vegetables, simply because you don’t have direct control over decisions dictated by the state, such as transport infrastructure, electricity production, and so on. These can, however, be influenced by public discourse and political pressure.

And lifestyle choices do still matter. It can be easy to feel too small to make a difference, but consumers have the power to demand products that meet our needs and reflect our values. And every movement starts with the individual: it all comes down to moment-by-moment choices: how we spend our time and money, our careers, what we eat and wear, how we communicate our values to others and take the lead from where we are with our actions and words. As we experience and demonstrate how pleasurable and rewarding it can be to live sustainably, minds will be changed. Maybe One Planet Living will become known as “common sense” sooner than we think.

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