What is Sustainability About, Really?

Many people have heard the word sustainability, but don’t know much about the specific details and situations that made up the word “sustainability” as a whole, like me. One of the first steps to solving the sustainability issues of today is actually understanding the problems we face today, making up the “mind” aspect of understanding wicked problems. So far from this class I have learned some of these issues; sweatshops, pollution, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and waste, to name a few. I’ve learned the facts behind each of these topics, and have a deeper knowledge of the processes that are involved and their recorded effects on the environment and life on our planet. Sweatshops are an issue of social sustainability, with many factories underpaying workers to make garments and interior products in unethical building with some having no windows, no air conditioning and some being rodent infested. Factories and production processes that allow harmful chemicals to contaminate the nearby water and soil, as well as pumping harmful pollutants into the air we breath and the atmosphere that protects us. Companies that take from the environment faster than it can be replenished in practices like deforestation, hurting the biosphere and leading us closer to a day where we might not ever have that resource again. This in turn leads to loss of biodiversity, something that balances our planet and that every living creature depends on. Humans use and produce a multitude of products that have a short life in use and are thrown away and cannot be broken down and reused by the environment. Understanding all of these at a deeper level will help us better create solutions. 

Understanding sustainability goes further than just knowing the facts though. Knowing and empathizing with every facet that’s effected prompts us to take action and gives us a deeper level of connection to the issue. Seeing real people affected and misplaced by climate change, caused by pollution, or seeing animals effected by plastic waste that liters the environment are just a few examples of this. Putting ourselves in their shoes and seeing the devastating effects of our actions makes us empathize with them, and want to help everyone affected, including ourselves by making changes in our own life. Even if we don’t feel deeply enough for those being affected now, we’ve learned of future problems stemming from a lack of sustainability that even we ourselves cannot run from, nor our future kids and grandkids. Some of us can find empathy and a want for change in our spiritual or cultural beliefs to replenish the environment which has given us so much. During the mindfulness practices, sitting with myself and letting my mind rest has allowed of lot of things in my life to be simplified. Without your mind thinking and wanting and listing you’re able to simplify a lot of things that seem way more complex and important. When I let stress get to me I tell myself I need all kinds of material goods to make me more happy or stress less. I tell myself that buying something will make me feel better, when it will only be temporary satisfaction. But when you’re making an effort to be mindful, you realize all you really need are basic necessities. This supports sustainability because when you know and are okay with needing a smaller amount of material goods, you’re helping the environment by lessening your consumption. 

Ultimately, sustainability not only affects the things around us, but our own health and body. By seeing through our lessons so far and what a declining planet can do to impact our health. In seeing how my body may suffer as a direct result of sustainability it makes me more interested in learning about the causes. The health of all things on Earth will suffer because of lack of sustainability, which I don’t think any of us want. This also comes back to my mindfulness practice. With a clear head and organized thoughts we can better understand and work through sustainability issues toward better solutions. When I’m less stressed I have more capacity for compassion, something I’ve since simplified the process to and connected more with during my mindfulness practice. With compassion, I feel a stronger and more personal calling to not only understand sustainability, but to do my part in the sustainability efforts for other’s wellbeing and health, not just my own.  

I think a large part of having “humble and compassionate responses” to sustainability begins with understanding all sides of those involved. From personal experience, it’s easy to look at some people not doing enough, or doing “too much” in relation to sustainability and judge them. In reality, no one does 100% of what they can actually do to aid in sustainability efforts. I do small things in my life here and there to try and make a difference and range from feeling like I’m not doing enough or feeling like I’m doing more than enough and can halt efforts in all other aspects of my life. Neither of these are true. I believe an important part of saving our planet is the way we respond to sustainability. Every single contribution, no matter how small or large, should be praised and encouraged. Everyone’s sustainability journey starts somewhere and with proper encouragement, it can continue to grow. We all have to acknowledge, even if we think we’re doing “more,” that sacrifice is not easy, nor is anyone perfect. It’s a process and we can’t judge and hate those who maybe appear to us as though they’re giving it less of an effort.At the same time though, we must be aware that more can always be done, especially with the damage that’s taken root on the planet. Because of the consumeristic and capitalist world we live in, almost every single aspect of our lives is based in unsustainable practices. Therefore, just when we think we’re doing enough, there’s always going to be another aspect of our lives we can change. If everyone took all the right steps, began taking sustainable measures, and then simply quit once they decided it “good enough” we would be holding ourselves back as a society, as well as the recovery of the biosphere. People have to know when coming into more sustainable lifestyles that while sacrifices will have to be made, no doubt about it, they can still maintain the same high quality of life they had before, if not better. 

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