What is ‘sustainable living?’ Part I

As the founder of UC Irvine’s second Sustainability-themed residence, it’s my job to ensure that the first generation of students who live here understand the subject, can go forward applying what they learned, and best, sharing such knowledge with others. Admittedly, we haven’t done much educational programming yet. I was a bit timid during the first 2 terms, and quite consumed with my other commitments. This coming quarter, however, I plan to amp up the educational aspect of the House.

In our first House meeting, we’ll discuss the meaning of ‘sustainable living.’ So, in preparation for this, I thought to do a bit of brainstorming. What is sustainable living? Does it exist? How do we use different educational models to empower behavior change among ordinary individuals who have minimal education about sustainability?

Sustainable living (SL) is any lifestyle that minimizes negative impacts on society and the Earth. This is accomplished by using only as much energy as is necessary to meet our needs, and a little more than that to meet our wants (within reason). Here we define energy as human resources: water, electricity, soap, food, etc. SL often means lifestyles that

  • Focus on experiential fulfillment, seeking happiness from within, not from material wealth
  • Emphasize the community as an integral social unit
  • Prioritize personal health and self-care

In marketing terms, there’s a demographic for people who follow such lifestyles: “lifestyles of health and sustainability” (LOHAS).

To me, it’s prohibitively difficult for someone — especially a college student with limited means — to live entirely sustainably. To live sustainably entails raising your own livestock for food, growing your own produce, making your own clothes or buying them from a vendor who uses only organic fabric from local farms, eliminating the use of all disposable items (unless they’re compostable), etc., etc.

That said, I think it’s still okay to use the term “sustainable” as opposed to eco-friendly or conscious living. Why? Because the word “sustainable” refers to “sustainability,” and the latter I feel is the most broad, appropriate term at our disposal when discussing the ecological and social crises. Sustainable living thus implies eco-friendly, socially just living. It entails lifestyles that minimize their impacts on the Earth to the greatest feasible extent. Although those of us who live ‘sustainably’ aren’t literally living so because we still do harm to people & planet, we technically are living sustainably, because we’re doing everything within our means to minimize our impact.

Clear? In the next post I’ll tackle the question, How do we use interactive, engaging educational models to empower ordinary people to act in living sustainably?

Thanks for reading!



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