Defining Sustainable Living

What does the term Sustainable Living mean?

Ask a group of your friends what they thing it means and I bet you get a range of answers.

Some may think it is installing solar panels on your roof, some may think that backyard chickens are part of it, where others believe it is self denial.  Others may think of communal living, and some mention straw-bale homes, yurts and living in the country like a hippy!  Well, it could be some or all of those I suppose.  But that is only part of it.

Clearly there is no right answers, but let me have a go at defining this often misunderstood term and one that I believe that we have been living for the last seven odd years;

“Living a concious and intentional lifestyle, that is interdependent upon others and treads lightly on the planet, so that there will be a liveable habitat for our children, their children, and all species that reside on Mother Earth.”

How does one achieve this?

Well let me tell you that in this case, one size doesn’t fit all.  How you choose to live a more sustainable lifestyle may or will be completely different than the way me and my family do.

And you know what?  This is perfectly okay.

Sustainable living is intentional, based on sound knowledge and it is about every single choice we make on a daily basis.  Choices that take us one step closer to living within our means and respecting the limits set by natural boundaries and the finite resources imposed by our biosphere.

So what do I have to give up?

Would you believe me if I said nothing?  Living within your means or lightly on the planet doesn’t mean doing without or giving up stuff.  You just have to weigh up your decisions carefully.  The reality of knowing when enough is enough and what is harmful, or alternatively, sustainable takes time to learn and understand.  When I mention the way I live, I refer to it as our sustainable living journey.  Because it is exactly that.

It’s a journey, not a destination, and it is not a race.  However, every great journey begins with one small step which you must take if you want to change the paradigm that you live in.

How do we know we are there yet?

Well this part is not easy.  However if you find yourself wrestling over a decision like what to do when your fridge breaks, which goes beyond simple replacement, then you are probably in the right head space.  You start thinking of sustainable choices.

Do you repair the old one, even though it guzzles electricity, is full of greenhouse gasses or do you research the latest model that has no greenhouse gasses in its refrigerant and runs on the sniff of an oily rag or do you try and live without one (which is possible in some climates)?

Here is another.  Do you buy a reusable coffee cup and take it to work everyday, or buy your coffee in a disposable cup that is not recyclable, or do you do away with your morning cuppa altogether?

And the last one.  Your electricity bill arrives in the mail and is over $1500 for the quarter.  Do you just pay it, whinging to your friends, or do you look at your energy use and start to take small but consistent steps towards lowering consumption or do you change over to GreenPower and start a program of energy reduction including using the savings to purchase your own renewable energy?

All of these are tough decisions when you are first starting out, but by just thinking of alternatives, you have taken a step on the path to a more sustainable lifestyle.

The Path

I suppose my point is that there is no specific destination or point in time that will determine whether you are living a more sustainable lifestyle.  I know that I have never been happier and there is a calmness within.

You will just know that each and every life decision you make feels right inside.

So over to you.  Have a go at describing in your own words what sustainable living means to you.


  1. says

    No problems with that definition as a way of life Gav, but I’d still use self-sufficient rather than sustainable. The original comment wasn’t intended as a criticism of you. You’re doing wonderfully, a role model for the next generation. I guess I’ll have to admit that’s probably more important than what’s meant by a single word.

  2. says

    Hi Gav,

    Like most people, you’re confusing ‘sustainable’ with ‘self-sufficient”. ‘Sustainable’ means for a very long time. A very, very, long time. Millennia. Hundreds of millenia. People can’t be sustainable. Things can’t be sustainable. (I once saw a comment in the paper from someone claiming that they’d bought a ‘more sustainable’ fridge’). And that’s another problem, sticking ‘more’ in front of sustainable. You can’t be ‘more’ or ‘less’ sustainable. Either you are or you aren’t. There are no degrees of sustainability.

    The best definition of sustainable I’ve seen is the one we learned in my Permaculture Design Course: “a system is sustainable if it produces more energy than it consumes, with at least enough surplus to maintain and replace that system over its lifetime”. Thus, only systems can be sustainable, not individuals or groups. Only the systems of which they are a part.

    I make a point of never using the word sustainable (and grinding my teeth whenever I hear someone else use it in error!!).

    • says

      No confusion what so ever FNS. When I first started my journey, the definition I choose to describe my lifestyle was not that of self sufficiency, which centres around the individual. It was more than trying to go off-grid.

      I took my version from Wikipeadia, which I know is not the most reliable source on the next, but here it is and that is what I use;

      Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources and personal resources.[1] Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet.[2] Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.

      Gav x

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