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What does it mean to live sustainably?

We’re hearing a lot these days about sustainability, Eco living, saving the planet, war on waste, plastic bags, recycling and a lot more. All these issues are part of something much bigger; to use a time-worn phrase, it’s all about living within our means.

This is a guest post by Which? community members Alfa and Ian. All views expressed are their own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

That used to mean not spending more than we earn, but in a way that’s exactly what we’re doing with the planet.

We’ve become used to the idea of disposability – using something once or twice then throwing it away. That can’t go on. At least, it can’t if we want our children and their children to survive. Because that’s what it’s all about. 

Our planet is rich in resources, but they’re not unlimited, as we’re seeing with fish stocks, birds, bees, water and even something we take for granted – fresh air.

As a species we’ve proved time and time again that, without imposed limits, we will simply consume resources until there’s nothing left.

More we can do

It’s a very complex and very large subject, covering areas as diverse as climate change, air pollution, ocean health, food production, energy use and reusability. But it has to be tackled.

Although we, as individuals, are making efforts, by recycling, re-using bags and mending and repairing items we once thought nothing of replacing, it’s not enough. 

Experience has shown repeatedly that the major corporations will focus purely on selling their wares unless they are compelled by governments to adopt strategies and policies that reflect the concerns surrounding sustainability.

But we also know governments are essentially reactive: they won’t take action unless the pressure to do so becomes glaringly incontrovertible. 

Working together

We, as consumers, need a body that will be prepared to coordinate approaches to sustainability, informing and educating, lobbying government, monitoring use and waste across industry.

Above all, this body needs to keep the public’s minds firmly focused on the target: Living within our means. Then perhaps our descendants will have a planet they can still enjoy.

This was a guest post by Which? community members Alfa and Ian. All views expressed were their own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

What does it mean to you to live and buy sustainably?  Where do you feel that we could do more to live in a sustainable way?

What tips and advice can you offer others on living sustainability?



As Ian pointed out, grants for electric vehicles have been cut. Some fleet owners had bought hybrids to take advantage of the subsidy but never charged them: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46152853

The Feed-In Tariff that allowed those with solar panels to sell their surplus electricity is no longer available for new applicants.

I believe the Green Deal for various energy saving measures is still available.

Is there a place for grants or other incentives to encourage us to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle?

Every purchase I make, be it food, clothes or cleaning products, I am checking its environmental footprint & social responsibility impacy. I am not just concerned if it is plastic, I try to make sure it has travelled a short distance, the workers are treated/ paid fairly, and the business doesn’t do harm to the environment.
It is stressful and I am forced by the options available to me to pick a product that will be harmful to either the environment or the workers. A prime example is buying fish- I have trawler caught white fish that is handed to me in a plastic bag, unless I bring my own tupper (which I do). Or I can buy line caught white fish that is already packaged in a non recyclable plastic. Trawling is harmful because it captures more than the white fish, but non recyclable plastic goes to the landfill. Plus the fish are caught in different parts of the world so some have to be transported further than others, this I try to also factor in, but what of the working conditions for the fisherman? I can’t find much data on their welfare.
Another example is Palm Oil, which is added into so many products. There are examples where I can buy a product that is not in plastic or recyclable plastic but the palm oil is not sustainably sourced, or sustainably sourced palm oil in non recycled plastic.
Why do companies do this?
If my choices are limited by the choices of companies. I’ve cut out palm oil, new clothes, and fruit & veg from outside the UK completely, but my cupboard shows it and so does my bank balance. It does cost more to be Eco- friendly and socially responsible.
It is a struggle to shop and plastic is just the tip of the iceberg. After all this I still need to look at food labels to check its impact on my health (salt, sugar, fats etc.). It is unbelievably stressful to buy food!
I want to see more companies making all products positive for all- planet, animals and the people. It shouldn’t be an option, the environment, the animals, fair working conditions and healthy should be standard practice.

Hi KL. Do you subscribe to Ethical Consumer? https://www.ethicalconsumer.org

It would be interesting to know if there are other sources of information about sustainability and ethical issues.