December 28, 2013, by Helen Whitehead
Countdown #28: a conversation about sustainability
Sustainability, of course, isn’t just for Christmas – we can make sustainable choices in every aspect of our daily lives. This Christmas in my family we have mostly managed recycling, and all my gift wrapping was re-used from last year! But the final one of the 3Rs is more of a struggle: reduce. I’d love to hear from anyone who has managed to achieve it in some way.
Hearing how others approach sustainability is a big part of the MOOC Sustainability, Society and You. First we will hear from lead educator Sarah Speight and a variety of enthusiastic University of Nottingham teachers and researchers about their different aspects of sustainability from history and philosophy to geography and chemistry. Then we are all invited to share experiences, opinions and questions as we explore together the implications of committing to sustainable action.
So as the conversation starts, we are continuing our countdown calendar at least until the start of our MOOC Sustainability, Society and You on January 6th: join in on the FutureLearn website and while you’re waiting for the official start date feel free to join in the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #flsustain or get ahead by dipping into the recommended reading.
I often pass on treasured items to other people as a Christmas present or make my own gifts with leftover material from dressmaking or furnishing tasks.
But my biggest saving is really with food. I do not load my trolley for Christmas with food that someone might fancy, just because it’s Christmas. After all it’s a day like any other why spend the day grazing on things that you wouldn’t normally eat and certainly don’t need to eat. We all waste far too much food on a daily/weekly basis. It seems rather obscene when there are so many people around the world with nothing, or very little, to eat and drink.
Okay, look. I recycle as much of my household waste as I can; I garden organically, using composted manure from my two horses; I drive Subaru cars whose manufacturer, I understand, has achieved zero landfill status at its plant in Indiana; and I even arrange to have my used tennis balls recycled. Each of us can make a small contribution toward sustainability, but more is needed than individual action, to bring our society significantly closer to sustainability. What really is needed is policy change at the state and national level, and accordingly, a realistic plan for migrating to sustainability. I would be interested in seeing such a plan.
So would I.
I enjoy the challenge of recycling, upcycling, freecycling – all these activities now with their own terminology. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to see how little we can waste in an average week. the Christmas period is challenging though as there is a fight against the pressure to consume more – as is said by L. Jameson above. What is your oddest upcycled item? I have a plastic dog basket that is now full of winter onions + an old tin bath that is a flower bed.
This year I am going to try NOT to print off important documents as well as keeping them digitally – this is all part of recognising that small things add up and in addition to recycling household waste I need to embrace the use of technology instead of not as well as the more traditional practices.
All of these small things – recycling, not printing, reducing car use etc – are important elements of a sustainable lifestyle and help us to make considered judgements about our relationships with the world, its resources and other people in it. But we must remember that we are a small, self-selecting group who choose to live our lives in this way.
What we’re up against in the western world is a society in love with oil, hooked on abundant energy and the freedom it gives. I despair when I see a supermarket car park full of outsized, gas-guzzling vehicles being loaded with over-packaged, processed foods. I could go on, but the truth is that mostly, individuals won’t willingly change. I agree with Lance (above) that policy change at national – and international – levels is vital. The hard part, as we have seen only too well, is how to reach agreement.
I agree that we need a policy change at an international level to achieve a sustainable world. And we’ve seen over time that if there is enough public demand for something, it usually triggers policy change at a national level.
For me, if we can create awareness of the issues and the actions we can take as individuals, amongst people then that will eventually lead to policy change at a national and international level. Time and time again, we’ve seen throughout history that it’s the small actions people take that can lead to influential change in wider society.
To look on the bright side, just consider how much household waste is now recycled compared to ten or twenty years ago. We now separate our waste as a matter of course into landfill, recyclable and compostable garden and food waste. I find this encouraging. It is easy to feel daunted but the fact that terms like recycle, freecycle, upcycle and sustainability have entered the common vocabulary is reason for optimism in my book.
I agree that individual actions can bring about changes, but more has to be done at national and international level. I think there is some degree of hypocrisy in our society. We are bombarded with news about a stagnant economy or even recession because we do not consume enough and unemployment is increasing as a result of that (at least in Italy). The motto seems to be “you need to buy and consume more” so that factories/companies produce more, the economy improves and unemployment decreases. There is something wrong here if we want a more sustainable world.