Want to save the world? Practice simple sustainable thinking

Sometimes sustainability can feel overwhelming, a never-ending, always evolving list of dos and don’ts seemingly requiring degrees in both science and philosophy to navigate. Certifications and standards can be reassuring, but confusing, and – in a world of greenwash – bold statements can easily become tainted with cynicism.

However, we believe there is an easier way to find reason amongst the chaos, and that it lies in simple sustainable thinking. No charts, symbols or graphs required, just a series of 3 prompts that you can memorise and use as and when required to help you make wise decisions for the future of the planet.

1. There is no such place as ‘Away’

This was an epiphany moment for me! As a child of the Twentieth Century, I was brought up on the understanding that ‘throwing litter away’ made me a very good citizen, worthy of a gold star for tidiness. It melted my brain when – even as an active twenty-something environmentalist, someone quite calmly pointed out to me that ‘there is no such place as ‘away’. Of course there isn’t! As we all know now, ‘Away’ is actually most probably a beach on the other side of the world, or a garbage patch in the ocean the size of Texas…

That moment was a revelation in the power of language that I return to time and time again – both when I approach a bin, but also when I purchase something. If I ask myself where something is going to end up (‘away’), then I must also ask myself where it came from, and that is the important mindset shift that this small mantra can trigger: it reminds me that there are actual places where things come from and go to, not mythical destinations. In fact, when you take the thought to its logical conclusion, it becomes obvious that the answer for where something came from and where it is going to, is… the Earth.

2. Think in circles 

Once we understand that everything comes from the Earth (resources, energy) and must return there (composting, decomposing) we can start to build this into our choices. Especially if we remember that once returned to Earth, decomposed matter becomes the stuff that we create from again! If we can think of everything we purchase or make in terms of its place in this lifecycle, then we can enact smarter choices. Our rule of thumb is that the shorter the distance or smaller the interference between you and the origin or the ending of a product, the better. We are simply stewards of life’s resources, not owners of things…

3. Act for the long-term

In Wales, there is a piece of legislation that has become a benchmark for sustainable governance across the world: The Well-being of Future Generations Act. Through seven well-being goals it sets out a plan for decision-making that can protect those humans who inherit the world from us. It obligates everyone alive now in Wales to remember that we are all here temporarily, but that our choices can have significant long-term consequences. For me, this offers an opportunity to re-root myself in the ecosystem of the planet: I am not a solo individual in a rush, but I am part of a huge and interconnected web in which my actions matter. I find that it helps to put things into perspective so that it becomes more important to do the right thing for the long-term than the easy thing for the short-term.

I hope these prompts offer you the same support that they offer me. When I am swamped and stressed and confused, I use these reminders to reposition myself in relation to a much bigger picture. It’s very easy, even for those of us working in sustainability, to get caught in old patterns and ruts with short-term wins. I’ll still forget my reusable coffee cup when running for a train, but these check-ins help me resist the urge to grab a disposable cup and go, helping me wait for a better brew that I can really enjoy – especially if I can put the grounds into a compost myself!

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