Focus on Sustainability

Sustainability- it is not just a catchphrase.  Instead, for some, it is a way of life; for others, it is an obscure term attached to many ideals related to our environment.

With so many wondering what it is, how it impacts them, what should they do and what can they do, this blog is for you. 

The first thing to understand is that sustainability is directly linked to climate change. ‘Sustainable’ is defined by Mirriam-Webster as “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Climate change is the direct result of our use of fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture, and fertilizers using nitrogen. Science deniers will make the argument that climate has changed before, animals and plants are adaptable, weather isn’t linked to global warming, sea level rise is exaggerated, greenhouse effects have been falsified and so on. But science tells us otherwise.

Global warming is such the planetary issue that the United Nations established seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to transform our world. While the environment is directly linked to sustainability, there are other environmental factors that are impacted and these SDGs consider those as well.

 

Image result for un sustainable development goals

These are lofty goals to be achieved by 2030 and they impact all components of our lives. An argument can be made that all seventeen of the SDGs are connected to the environment and one can easily be overwhelmed if they try to implement everything all at once. Can you see how just clean water, social justice, education, and innovation are a common thread through all seventeen of these goals? Can you imagine the positive impact on our world if we are able to achieve these goals? While this piece doesn’t discuss all seventeen goals, EarthShare New Jersey has adopted the intention of reinforcing seven of those that are most closely related to our environment, and has developed components that everyone can easily integrate into everyday life making a positive impact on sustainability where we all live, work and play.

Clean Water and Sanitation seem like a standard expectation for people in 2021, but we all know that this is not a reality across the globe.  So what can we do to help insure these things in our corner of the world?

  • Reduce your use of water – turn off faucets when washing dishes, brushing teeth, and shaving.
  • Capture your rain water – install a rain barrel and use this to water plants, wash cars, etc.
  • Check faucets and toilets for leaks –make simple repairs or replace with low flow versions.
  • Rinse vegetables in a bowl of clean water.
  • Plant wisely using drought resistant trees/plants, native species, and apply mulch to slow the evaporation of moisture.

There are more incentives than ever to implement renewable energy or purchase energy efficient products, including appliances and vehicles. Many think that we will never achieve a 100% fossil free environment, but we can reduce the amount of fossil fuels we rely on every day. You may know that purchasing local foods, taking public transportation whenever possible, bringing multi-use shopping bags to the market, and implementing solar energy are good easy choices, but there are more.

  • Recycle as much as you can – each community has their own restrictions, but there are businesses across the state to recycle things like construction debris, styrofoam and unwanted clothing which keeps these items out of landfills and helps these items take on a second life.
  • Utilize natural oils for home fragrance and personal scents – traditional products including perfumes are often made with petrochemicals; a substance obtained by the refining and processing of petroleum or natural gas.
  • Replace your roof with metal or clay roof tiles – tar is a byproduct of coal production.
  • Consciously choose to leave the car at home or car pool when possible.

There are many resources available to communities and businesses to help them implement more sustainable practices, but the most beneficial resource is the people who live and work there. One need not hold an elected position to influence behavior. Most public officials and business leaders are looking to do what is right by their constituents and manage budgets to get the most out of their money.  Consider serving on an environmental committee or other committee where you live or work. While environmental committees are an obvious fit, think about all of the services your community provides; transportation for students and seniors, support for the elderly and low income communities during heat waves, arctic weather and emergency situations, or planning for infrastructure that incorporates green practices to enhance a community.  Can they be made more sustainable with thorough planning, foresight and collaboration with others who have already begun these practices? Thinking about the future isn’t an easy process, but it is how we can better position our communities for a more sustainable future. There are many resources available. (see helpful links at the end of this article)

More responsible consumption and production is all about doing more with less. 

  • How much food do you just throw out because it has gone bad or expired? Think about that on a larger scale with the transportation of food and grocery stores. Is there a way to get food to everyone who is in need and eliminate this waste?
  • Are televisions really needed in every room? And when you get a new one do you recycle the old one or donate it to a program that provides household items to others?
  • Are fuel subsidies really helping, or are they masking the need to become less reliant on fossil fuels?

Being responsible is all about “decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyles.”(1)  Covid-19 brought on the closure of many public places for a period of time including parks and open space areas. Interesting how when we were asked to stay put, technology wasn’t the escape but our natural environment was. People gardened, took on bird watching, walked or hiked with their family and gathered outdoors. So do we really need all this “stuff” to be happy?

Climate Action calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening resilience and eliminating climate related hazards. Think about how you proactively plan for a storm by making sure you’ve got candles and flashlights to see in the event of a power outage, radio so you can hear what’s happening, food and drink that can be enjoyed without having to be heated or refrigerated, blankets or screens for windows so that you are comfortable, and contact information for energy providers to report any outages. Your senses are a great way to think about climate action as well.

  • Look for ways to implement clean energy that reduces utility bills without disrupting comfort. Wind and solar are popular options and in many places you can dictate where your energy comes from.
  • Carbon offsets are another way to support sustainability by investing in a project or investment that counters your carbon footprint. These could be investments in energy efficiency, forestry, renewable energy, or land preservation and there are programs for individuals as well as companies of all sizes.

Did you know that our oceans now absorb almost 1/3 of global CO2 emissions? “(2) This helps to significantly reduce global temperatures. But the more important role that our oceans play as an essential component of transportation and international trade is the provider of actual water. Drinking water, food, and rain all come from our oceans. Caring for our oceans is critical as we strive to protect them from pollution and overfishing. Respect our oceans; shop for sustainable seafood from reputable vendors, and hold businesses and communities accountable for polluting. All waterways lead to an ocean and everything dropped, dumped or spilled in our communities has the potential to wash into our oceans or aquifers. Pay attention to off and on shore development to ensure that it is done responsibly. By cleaning up our oceans and waterways, we are strengthening the global capacity to provide food, jobs, and a healthier environment.

Here in New Jersey we have the largest area of centrally protected land on the eastern seaboard; the Pinelands. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States. Being responsible for life on land is all about the sustainable management of how we use and protect our land. The state consists of roughly 5.5 million acres and of that, 34% is preserved. (3) This is good, but there is more work to be done globally and locally. Deforestation needs to be halted, degraded forests need to be restored, and more spaces should be protected. Think again about how important open spaces became during COVID 19. The parks and protected lands across the state are critical for our response to sustainability. There are many non-profit organizations and municipalities working on restoring our woodlands and protecting open spaces for our health and wellbeing.

As you can see, sustainability isn’t an easy topic. The tentacles are far reaching into our daily lives. Pay attention to the choices you make and happenings in your communities. Work with employers to embrace responsible business practices that conserve and protect our natural surroundings and can help to make their products more attractive to environmentally conscious consumers. Hold public officials accountable for your future by asking for sustainable solutions to community issues. With everyone’s effort, we will have a more sustainable future and Responsible Tomorrows.

Paula Aldarelli
EarthShare New Jersey, Executive Director

Resources:

(1) un.org/Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
(2) weforum.org
(3) 2018- 2022 New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, Department of Environmental Protection, April 2018.

Other Reading:

 

 

 

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