Updated: Apr 5
What is a Sustainable Lifestyle?
I don’t know.
Is that ironic?
I'm an ecologist by degree, I write about sustainability and I founded a website to talk about sustainability …
So here’s the truth why I can't give you an answer:
1. It’s very hard to define a sustainable lifestyle in terms of specific data & usage limits, because we are still learning the planetary boundaries and ecological effects of our actions. We do have rough ideas that we can try and do better depending .
2. “Sustainable” is extremely different depending on who you are where you live how old you are etc.
3. “Sustainable” can be defined differently and there is a huge scale of sustainability
4. There are sometimes different ways to obtain “sustainability”.
Due to these varieties of reasons, no one has officially defined a sustainable lifestyle.
We know what is bad, what we are doing too much of and how we can all improve. But it’s very very hard to define and give a numerical answer to whats right. Therefore, it’s super important to be flexible in developing what you want to create as YOUR sustainable lifestyle. That will be different to mine.
Sure this isn’t helpful when trying to give advice, and an answer to guide on sustainable living. A paper by Evans and Abrahamse discussions this with “it makes sense to think of sustainable lifestyles as an ongoing process, requiring constant negotiation and maintenance across a range of social practices meaning that individuals never reach a point where they can state ‘I am living sustainably’ and stop.”
We have to evolve a lifestyle that fits. AND we have to not be stuck in our ways enough to change and develop with new science and new understanding.
Sometimes, this can be frustrating and annoying. We want to bring you the best options, but sometimes there isn’t one answer.
And sometimes what we think is the right way isn't what other sustainability writers think is best. This is where things get juicy. I love when this is the case, and helps develop the ideas.
And it reminds me of the theory of “Elegant Chaos” proposed in an article in Nature in 2014. This discussed the fact that ecologists had a fear of accepting chaos. They look for set answers and a result to an experiment. In reality, some ecological questions may not have one answer, or any answer at all. “Debates are often resolved when competing concepts combine rather than when one pushes the other completely off the table.”
So, I have begun to think of this the same. Sustainable lifestyle is a form of elegant chaos.
Because there isn’t one set answer, and we can’t live by discrediting what works for others.
Some live on their own farm, naturally plastic free, naturally organic and naturally seasonal. Some live in cities and those things are more of a struggle.
I want to be entirely inclusive and supportive. Vegan waste free can be elitist- not every body has the resources for this. Some communities rely on animal products. City dwellers with a wealth of supplements and food sources certainly have more scope for vegan waste free life.
Nobody should enforce their beliefs on others, especially with so many huge variables!
Living Sustainably requires constantly thinking over what you’re doing. Sometimes you might not do things exactly how you’d like. We live and breathe sustainability but we are very very much early in creating a life that we think is sustainable. And for us that is not just a life that is ecologically beneficial but economical and socially (otherwise it wouldn't be sustainable!!)
There is a whole huge scale of sustainability, from small changes of a "normal" life to complete never leave home self sufficient lifestyle. In between that is a super grey area, and how far you go is dependant on you and what you can make work.
So whilst the science is still developing and giving us some answers, we might not ever get some and we want to be open. Let the elegant chaos flow and do our best and celebrate you doing your best too.
Beautiful image via @thedroneman