Sustainability and sustainable are two words that can be heard a lot more these days, in different situations and thank goodness for it. But the context behind these two concepts is not always the best. For example, “sustainable” products are often more expensive than others, and we do not always know how they were produced.

Let us then, analyze the meaning of the word “sustainable”:

  1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

sustainbale economic growth’

  • Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

our fundamental commitment to sustainable development

  1. Able to be upheld or defended.

sustainable definitions of good educational practice

When I think about a sustainable product, I also think of the nature cycle and how it can be sustained. Things are born, they live and die (returning to the earth). The cycle is completed or so at least as it is ideally considered the natural order of things.

Let us think about the sustainable consumer goods. Do they obey this natural cycle? Contrary to what we might suppose, there’s a lot of waste in the manufacture of these sustainable products, which eventually makes them unsustainable.

Two examples:

o Buying a piece of organic cotton clothing, of an ethical brand that promotes non-waste but whose origin is the US. Is it sustainable to buy something that comes from so far?

o Buying a piece of organic cotton from a brand that does not promote non-waste. Is there any tissue left to make this piece? What was made of these leftovers?

What happens to the clothes we buy? If we put the clothes directly in the trash, they will go to the landfill. Any chance of fulfilling the natural cycle is now lost as like other items whose recycling is not possible. For instance, in Portugal not everything is recyclable.

It is important to reinforce that recycling is not a solution to everything, much less an excuse for rampant consumption. But it is a solution to a major problem. So, it is necessary to create technologies, tools and mechanisms so that what is not recyclable happens to be. That will involve to make worthwhile to recycle everything, instead of making new things. For that, we consumers must also have a say.

What is the best way to address this question?

As in everything, we must analyze situation by situation. However, I would say that the key factor is to use resources that are already available to us. Do not buy new things, reuse, fix and prolong the life of the things you buy.

In my opinion, it’s the best way to practice a sustainable lifestyle. Well, it’s not like I took a vow that I would never buy again something new, but I’ve come to reduce drastically what I purchase and, when I buy I opt for quality materials and much more durable ones.

So, the definition of sustainable tell us to “create the conditions to be sustained”. It is necessary to understand that we already have these conditions in our society, as we have almost infinite resources of consumer goods that we can reuse, repair or buy in second-hand. What is still missing is that we interiorize this notion (leaving aside prejudices) and change the way we are living.


This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.

Clique aqui para ler este texto em português.