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What is sustainable living?

written by
sortin team

December 1, 2023

The term sustainability is derived from the Latin word sustinere. "To sustain" can mean to maintain, support, uphold, or endure. Simply put, sustainability is the ability to continue over a long period of time without collapsing in the process.

Sustainable living is a phrase that is thrown around a lot today, even outside thick-spectacled academic circles. It is a phrase that you will probably hear or read a lot more in the days to come. If you are reading this, chances are you have tried out some form of sustainable living yourself.

Remember that eatery where you ate dumplings with a bamboo fork?

Or that other fine dining place you learnt what “farm-to-table” means?

Or it could be simply that time you chose to use a staircase to walk up 3 floors.

So what is sustainable living?

Sustainable living describes a lifestyle that attempts to reduce the use of Earth's natural resources by an individual or a collective of individuals, that thing we call society.

Over the past few hundred years, our society has evolved to a point which is probably beyond the scope of our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

Picture this: you are a olive farmer in 18th century Italy. One fine morning a stranger tells you that there will come a time when a young woman sitting in an apartment in New Delhi can get your olives delivered to her pantry in less than a month’s time. You would probably laugh in their face and advise them to get their head examined by the local priest doctor.

But it is the truth of the world that we live in today. 

As we as an industrial society invented and implemented things like road and railway networks, manufacturing plants and the Internet, it became a lot easier to access places and things that were inaccessible or simply unaffordable for our grandparents.

For example, you could be sitting at your coffee table with a selection of cheeses from all over the world, all delivered to your doorstep in a matter of days. Something your grandma could only imagine, assuming of course that she loved cheese.

What makes this possible is the systems that we have put in place to support our lifestyles and patterns of consumption. And we consume a LOT. We as a society have created organisations with the sole purpose of making sure we as individuals consume as much as possible. 

And it appears to be working. Modern medicine lets us live longer than our ancestors, and food scarcity is something which you probably haven’t heard of. We can proudly say that we are heading towards a more developed world. We are making progress.

Of course, there is a downside to all of this development and prosperity. We have put so much strain on our planet’s natural resources with our rapid industrialisation that the cracks are beginning to show. Climate change is real, and more people believe it is real than ever before. 

The past decade has been the hottest on record.

We are seeing more and more incidences of natural disasters everywhere across the globe. 

We are poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil where we grow our food.

The message is clear: unless we adopt sustainable practices, our children will inherit a world that may not be fit to live in.

We as individual human beings.

We as a collective society or community or organisation.

It is upon all of us to take action. And the time is NOW.