Sometimes a word is just a word. But when it becomes more (a by-word, or a catchphrase, or a slogan, or a philosophy, or…), it’s understood less. Sustainability is one of them: it has as many definitions as there are people using it. So as a result, what sustainability means at its core has become a little garbled in the cacophony.
But I’m not going to tell you what it is; instead, I’m going to shoot down several popular myths about sustainability and tell you what it’s not.
Myth number 1- It’s complicated.
It really isn’t. A report by the UN-appointed Brundtland commission in 1987, titled Our Common World, defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 Simply put, take only what you need. A little different from the Pirate Code, methinks.
Myth number 2: Sustainable equals green.
Again, nope. While going au naturale is an important method of bringing sustainably, the two are not synonymous. Building solar cells and panels and windmills isn’t ‘green’, but the energy generated is clean and easily renewable, and therefore sustainable. Sustainability doesn’t only mean planting more trees, though that’s always a good idea.
Myth number 2: It basically means recycling.
Recycling is important, useful, and if implemented widely enough, a huge step towards a sustainable culture. But again, it is not the only thing we have to do. That doesn’t mean stop doing it, but don’t treat it as an endgame in and of itself, because it’s not.
Myth number 4: Sustainability is expensive.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! This is a major myth that needs to be Busted. What’s expensive is shifting from a pre-existing unsustainable culture to a sustainable one. Solar panels can be expensive to set up, but in the long-term, it’s an investment, and works out cheaper for you. Consider a community-led effort to invest in solar energy- that would work out cheaper for everyone involved. Plus, government subsidies = lower costs. Everyone’s happy, though Mother Earth might take a bit longer to show it.
And speaking of government subsidies…
Myth number 5: The government ruins everything. Grassroots activism is the only way we’ll ever get anything done.
The government (no specifics, just The Government) doesn’t ruin everything… just a lot of things. But India’s governments have subsidised a great number of products and services over the years, and renewable energy is no exception. There are several schemes to ensure lower costs for those opting for clean energy tech, so make sure you look into those before rejecting those too-expensive solar panels.
Myth number 6: We need new technology for everything.
Not necessarily. Sometimes we just needs better implementation of existing policies. Sometimes you need to approach things differently- use things differently, change up your business model. You can’t always invent yourself out of a jam, despite what Iron Man tells you.
Myth number 7: It’s a population problem.
Population is a problem. It’s even a contributing problem. But less people does not equal less pollution. Moreover, attempts to bring down population quickly are either illegal (think Kingsman: The Secret Service) or unethical (think China’s one-child policy). The only solution is to educate upcoming generations to seriously consider the environmental concerns of having kids- and even that won’t be necessary if we focus on using the existing resources less wastefully.
Myth number 8: Sustainability means a lower standard of living.
Again, not necessarily. Will you have to give up those one-hour showers? Probably. Because that’s unsustainable. But you don’t have to be uncomfortable or unhygienic (certainly not that!), just conscious of the resources you use and how efficiently you use them. You don’t have to live in a cave; just in a clay brick house.
Myth number 9: Now that the fog is gone, sustainability is easy to figure out.
I hate to burst your bubble, I really do. But a sustainable lifestyle requires you to intensely scrutinise every choice before you make it, analysing its full environmental costs, and then coming to a decision. It’s a ponderous business, but better late than never.
There you have it. And now that you know what sustainability isn’t, it’s time for you to explore what it is, and make your own choices. But that’s a post for another day.