The 4 Pillars of Sustainability: Food, Energy, Transportation, Social Responsibility

City or rural countryside, most action for sustainable living falls into one of these 4 categories.

Marye Audet

By Marye Audet
Lancaster, TX, USA | Sat Oct 03 09:00:00 GMT 2009Marye Audet

When you hear the phrase “sustainable living” what do you think of? Do you think of a farm, or a small homestead, or even a Little House on the Prairie episode?

Living gently on the earth is possible anywhere. People often wonder how you can practice sustainable living when you live in the city or a highly populated urban area. It is just a matter of thinking outside the box. Sustainable living is a state of mind.

Can You Live Sustainably in the City?

In some ways, living in the city makes it easier, especially with public transportation. You can grow vegetables in containers on your balcony or shop at farmers markets. There is always a way if you look for it.

Check your lifestyle and see how you can make changes no matter where you live. Like all things, the sustainable living lifestyle is made up of a series of habits and small actions that add up to a big impact over time. It is hard to make huge lifestyle changes but by understanding the principles of the sustainable lifestyle you can make small permanent adjustments to the way you live.

Everyone Can Do Something

If you can make one small change every month in one of these areas you will have made 48 positive changes in your impact on the environment in one year. In 10 years that is 480 positive changes and a really huge impact.

Making those small changes are easy to do. Try making one change a week or one change a month. Keep it doable for you. In 21 days it becomes a new habit. Too often we make these huge changes in our lives and they only last for a few weeks.

Take it slow, make it easy, and make it permanent.

The 4 Categories of Sustainable Living

Everything needed for a lifestyle of sustainability falls into one of the following categories.

1. Food

The way we eat has a huge impact on the environment, either positive or negative. Make small changes in your eating habits to make a big impact on the eco-system. Eating sustainably is not something that just people who live in the country can do. It is more about the choices you make everyday in your own life.

Choosing foods that keep your body healthy, that are free of toxins, and that are local can keep thousands of tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere every year. When food is shipped from one place to the other the carbon footprint becomes bigger and the food loses nutrients in the time consuming process.

For some, this will mean eschewing meat, perhaps all animal products. For others it will mean buying organic, and still others will lower their impact by eating less meat, or hunting, or raising their own.

Packaging not only adds to the overall impact of your food because it eventually ends up in the landfill but also because it has to go through the manufacturing process. Trees are cut to make paper, factories must be supplied with power, and gallons of toxic inks used to get that colorful cereal box on the store shelves.

Learn to make your own bread and baked goods or can and preserve fruits and vegetables. The more you do for yourself the smaller impact you have, the more money you save, and the more confident you will become.

2. Energy

Energy is what makes our world go ’round. There are two kinds:

  • Renewable energy is that which has been in use since time began. Renewable energy is the kind that you use when you are is hand chopping vegetables rather than using a processor or using solar panels to supply light to your home. Renewable energy does not impact the environment much if at all.
  • Non-renewable energy is that which has only been used for the past hundred and fifty years or so. Coal, gasoline, and other petroleum products become depleted as they are used. Once they are gone, they are gone. The impact on the environment both in gathering the product and in manufacturing it is huge. Generally non-renewable energy sources also leave a residue of pollutants and toxins in the environment.

3. Transportation

Transportation once meant walking from one place to another. Later horses, wagons, and bicycles were added and allowed people to travel longer distances. It was the bicycle that had one of the biggest impacts on society, as a matter of fact. Bikes allowed the middle and lower classes to move out of the cities and commute during the late Victorian era.

Cars, planes, ships, and trains all need high amounts of non-renewable resources to get from one place to another. The less these vehicles are used the fewer carbon emissions there are. Shopping locally is important for the economy but also for the savings in transportation costs and pollution. Take this quiz to find out your transportation footprint.

4. Social Responsibility

The last pillar of sustainability is one you don’t hear about in that context so much, and that is social responsibility. Social responsibility is the mentality that all organisms are interconnected and exist because of the synergy between them. When I buy clothing that is made by a local seamstress I may pay more for the item but I know that the purchase contributes in a positive way to the earth as a whole.

Donating to a food pantry, knowing your neighbors, pitching in and helping out, and being aware of how your life impacts others positively or negatively are all important ways of protecting the environment and sustainable living.

Everyone Can Do Something
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