How can we ensure that we create a greener world? How do we build sustainable environmental practices that actually make a difference?
During the second 2016 Democratic presidential debate, three candidates were asked their opinion of the most serious national security threat facing the United States. While the other two candidates answered as one might expect by naming specific countries, one presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, answered “climate change”.
To say that a lot has happened both politically and with the climate over the past six years or so since then would be an understatement. It’s certainly enough to make some of us lose hope for the future of humanity.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from working toward a more sustainable future.
What is Sustainability and Why Does It Matter?
In simple terms, sustainability could be defined as the responsible management of our natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. On a macro level, activities involved in sustainable environmental stewardship include maintaining the health and integrity of ecosystems, as well as protecting the planet’s biodiversity.
It also means adopting practices on a large scale that address pressing environmental issues, such as:
- focusing on sustainability strategies
- research better ways to use our renewable energy sources, like solar power, wind energy, and geothermal energy systems
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon emissions
- protecting our plants and animals with environmentally friendly choices
At the same time, we must devise ways to address our current needs and ensure those of future generations.
Proactive environmental protection is essential for the survival of all life on our planet because it ensures that we’re not degrading the natural resources we rely on for our very existence. In addition to preventing the depletion of our natural resources, sustainable environmental practices help mitigate the negative impact of human-driven activities like:
- climate change
- the abundant use of crude oil
- the pollution of our land, water, and air.
By maintaining a healthy environment through more ecologically sound practices like land management, resource conservation, and sustainable agriculture, we can ensure that the Earth’s ecosystems continue to provide the essential resources that we undeniably rely on for our quality of life and the survival of our planet.
As such, sustainability is also closely linked to social stability and economic viability.
Environmental Impact and Threats to Our Natural Resources
Natural resources could be divided into two categories: renewable and non-renewable. Non-renewable resources are finite because they do not replicate easily. These include fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Renewable resources include water and air, which are perpetual extant. They are also vital for our continued existence.
However, that doesn’t stop them from being fragile and degradable.
The biggest threats to our natural resources are great. In particular, many of them are self-created by humans. They include:
• Climate change in the form of broad shifts in global temperature and precipitation patterns, which can irreparably alter ecosystems and disrupt the availability of natural resources.
• Habitat destruction through deforestation, urbanization, and other irresponsible forms of land mismanagement. Unchecked, these activities decrease the availability of natural resources and lead to a loss of biodiversity.
• Resource exploitation by overusing natural resources. Culprits include fishing, factory farming, mining, and logging.
• Pollution from industrial processes, transportation, and agriculture. These human-initiated activities can contaminate air, land, and water by releasing toxic waste into the environment.
• Land degradation through processes like soil erosion and salinization. These by-products of things like unsustainable farming practices and climate change decrease soil fertility and reduce the availability of food and water.
• Water scarcity. Water is essential for sustaining life. Between exploding populations and global warming, we have an increased demand for water at the same time that we’re decreasing its availability. Without this most vital of resources, food, and energy production will suffer.
Addressing these challenges will require collective efforts from individuals, business leaders, and governments to promote sustainable use and management of natural resources.
The United Nations’ Role in Chartering Sustainable Environmental Practices and Development Goals
In response to the global emergency facing us, the UN created 17 actionable sustainable development goals. These guidelines were unanimously adopted by all member states in 2015 with the ultimate goal of implementing them in full by 2030.
It’s hoped that if all countries, regardless of their stage of development, heed this call to action, we can not only preserve our planet and quality of life, but we can also:
- improve health and education for all people
- end poverty and inequality
- support wide-spread economic growth
- and tackle the problem of climate change.
These are lofty goals, and it will take a concerted effort if we hope to reach them in time.
So, how does the UN plan to build a more sustainable future?
The core of their agenda revolves around three components:
1. Global economic growth
2. Social Inclusion
3. Environmental protection
Encapsulated within these three core tenants are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
• Building sustainable communities
• Responsible resource consumption and production
• Innovations in industry and infrastructure
• Creating affordable, clean energy from renewable sources
• Climate action
These goals are based on voluntary actions instituted by stakeholders in each of the member nations. They act as a means of improving the quality of life for all of Earth’s inhabitants as well as reducing the environmental impact of human activity.
Eco-Friendly Practices Toward a Sustainable Future
You could view eco-friendly practices in the same way that a doctor adheres to the words of Hippocrates: “First, do no harm”. In an industrial setting, that could mean that everything from waste management to the means of production and packaging is conducted in such a way that it is considered environmentally safe.
It means corporations partnering with sustainability advisors to ensure compliance with environmental impact reduction goals.
On a more granular level, it includes companies that incentivize efforts like ride-sharing and recycling. It also includes organizations using sustainability managers to measure how much effect a company has on its immediate surroundings. Governments could further inspire eco-friendly practices through grants, tax credits, and other financial incentives for cooperation.
Adopting these and other environmental sustainability best practices will offer the benefit of lowering our collective carbon footprint, reducing waste, and preserving our natural resources for future generations without reducing our current quality of life.
This is the only habitable planet we have, and we’re running out of time. The key to supporting thriving societies and preserving a healthier Earth lies in prioritizing sustainable environmental practices. Although it’s up to each individual to do their part, it’s essential that government agencies, industry, and other stakeholders lead the way by adopting environmentally responsible practices now.