The importance of sustainable living

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important as people experience the destruction of the planet. 

Sustainable living is defined as reducing the amount of Earth’s natural resources used in everyday life.

“[Our] intention is always to tread lightly on the planet just [by] thinking about how we can be more energy–efficient and how we can reduce our waste,” said Jennifer Boyd, AP Environmental Science and Honors Environmental Field Studies teacher.

Fossil fuels are the world’s primary energy source, but they are nonrenewable, which means they cannot be replaced. According to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) at Stanford University, we have approximately 40–70 years before we run out of fossil fuels.

“Overusing energy or materials will damage ecosystems, and it’s important to preserve them,” said Eco–Schools co–president Elisa Coccioli ‘22. “All of Earth’s ecosystems have different natural beauty and purposes, and it’s unfair to destroy them for materials.”

When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. These gases are trapped in the atmosphere, heating up the planet and causing global warming.

“Our Earth does not have infinite resources or infinite places to dispose of waste created in processing those resources,” said AP Environmental Science teacher Jennifer Rogstad.

The year 2020 was the hottest year ever recorded, with an average global temperature around 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre–industrial level. Scientists warn that an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius will be a point of no return that will cause irreparable harm to the planet, and things will only get worse from there.

“In order for humans to be healthy, we have to remember our environment must be healthy, and that has to be a priority because our survival depends on the survival of all the different species and all the different ecosystems,” said Boyd. “If we’re not thinking about those things and only thinking about ourselves, that could lead to disaster.”

One of the best ways to live thoughtfully and help combat these harmful changes is through a sustainable lifestyle. To be more sustainable, it is best to begin with small changes, and work up from there.

“There are still many areas of daily living that I would like to improve upon, but I think it’s important to start where you can with even the smallest of steps,” said Rogstad.

One of the materials with the biggest impact on our planet is plastic. Reducing plastic intake by purchasing products that are reusable or biodegradable is a great place to start for those beginning their sustainable lifestyle journey.

“There are so many products available now that contribute to a more sustainable way of living,” said Rogstad. “I have been using laundry strips. They come packaged in recyclable paper envelopes or boxes … I have also started using shampoo and conditioner bars that are packaged in compostable material … [and] switched over to glass and metal dispensers for hand soap.”

Another important thing to think about is what people consume. Not only does meat production require a lot of energy, but according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock generates about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These gases are emitted by the microorganisms in their stomachs that help them digest their food, so limiting meat intake to a certain number of days per week or making diet changes to decrease the demand for these animal products will save energy and help fight global warming.

“My family tries to reduce the amount of meat we eat, but I want to shift to avoiding meat or a vegetarian diet in college,” said Coccioli.

According to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that has fed over 46 million people, 108 billion pounds of food are wasted in the United States every year. The food is sent to landfills, where it produces large amounts of greenhouse gases, so it is crucial to reduce food waste and use other methods of disposal.

“I compost, which is when you take your food scraps … and instead of putting them in the trash, which ends up in a landfill, you just put them in a compost bin,” said Boyd. “It just decomposes and the nutrients go back in the ground and I can use that in my garden as fertilizer.”

There are many different ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle in 2021. Creating a plan with a personal end goal is an easy way to help the planet.

“Don’t do everything at once,” said Boyd. “Big changes are hard to maintain, but little changes over time you can maintain. It’s been a long journey, and every year I learn something new.”

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