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“Sustainable Living … means living within our means, or better still … within our planet’s means. We’ve only got one planet, so it isn’t that hard to work out what we need to do …"

Unfortunately it’s an equation that is still beyond the grasp of so much of humanity. So many of us – especially in the developed world - are living well beyond the planet’s capacity to provide the essential natural resources that we’re so hungrily consuming. In fact if everyone on earth lived the same kind of lifestyle as the average citizen in the UK for example, we’d need more than three planets to sustain us. To enjoy the lifestyle of an average North American citizen, we’d need about five planets to meet humanity’s demands.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2008 provided alarming evidence that we are consuming the world’s natural resources much faster than they can be renewed or replenished. Driven partly by the cumulative actions of billions of individual consumers, our global footprint now exceeds the world’s capacity to regenerate by about 40 per cent. This means that if our demands on the planet continue at the current, unsustainable rate into the future, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent to two planets to maintain our current lifestyles. The bad news for humanity is that there isn’t a spare Earth out there in the solar system to turn to when the planet’s limited natural resources are exhausted. The only solution is to sustainably manage the only planet we’ve got – to adopt a One Planet Living lifestyle – and reduce our current ‘ecological debt’.

Sustainable Consumption a key to a Sustainable Lifestyle

Fortunately the solution is at hand. We already know the ‘recipe’ that is required to reduce our ecological debt – which has been clearly articulated in the ‘10 principles of One Planet Living’ promoted by WWF and its partners. A number of these principles are all about sustainable consumption.

•    Zero Carbon
•    Zero waste
•    Sustainable Transport
•    Sustainable materials
•    Local and Sustainable food
•    Sustainable water
•    Natural habitats and wildlife
•    Culture and heritage
•    Equity and fair trade
•    Health and happiness

Check out the principles in more detail at:

We need to find sustainable ways to meet the range of human needs - food, clothing, housing, energy, health, education, mobility, and leisure – while increasing the quality of life. Living sustainably is good for the environment and good for us all.

Our Ecological Footprint

The cumulative demands of humanity on the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems is reflected by our Ecological Footprint – the aggregate measure of humanity’s demand on the biosphere in terms of the area of biologically productive land and sea required to provide the resources we use and need to absorb our waste – i.e. the demand that resource consumption places on ecosystems and species. There are currently about 6.5 billion people living on Earth with 13.6 billion bioproductive hectares, which gives us just 2.1 hectares per person to sustain our lifestyles. Unfortunately, our current rate of consumption actually requires 2.7 global hectares per person - which mean we are asking nature to provide us with more than it can regenerate. [A global hectare is a hectare with world-average ability to produce resources and absorb wastes.]

Not surprisingly, extracting and consuming goods and services at a faster rate than they can be replenished is having a huge impact on the planet, with this impact manifest in the form of:  
•    Diminishing forests -deforestation
•    Degradation of ecosystems
•    Water shortages
•    Declining biodiversity
•    Climate Change
•    Increased accumulation of wastes
•    Soil, water and atmosphere pollutions

Major threats to biodiversity

These impacts flow on to biodiversity – the very building blocks on which so many of these services depend, which is under threat from:

•    Habitat loss, fragmentation or change - especially due to agriculture
•    Over-exploitation of species - especially due to hunting, fishing, timber and fuelwood
•    Pollution – esp. aquatic ecosystems, ocean acidification
•    Invasive species – esp. islands and aquatic ecosystems
•    Climate change – esp. polar, montane, coastal and marine ecosystems

The ‘root cause’ of all of this? Primarily excessive and unsustainable demands on the biosphere, particularly through the unsustainable production and consumption of natural resources for food and drink; energy, and materials - derived from:

•    Agricultural crops
•    Meat and dairy products
•    Fish and seafood
•    Timber and paper (and fuelwood)
•    Water
•    Energy
•    Transport
•    Land for cities and urban infrastructure

What can we do to reduce humanity’s footprint?

An easy place to start is in our consumption choices – to reduce individual consumption, or to be smarter consumers. This will have a flow-on, magnification-effect into the business sector - leading to a reduction in natural resources used and wastes emitted in producing goods and services. For example through:

•    Reducing the use of fossil fuels and associated CO2 emissions
•    Increasing the use of renewable energy sources – e.g. wind, solar, hydro, thermal, bio-energy
•    Increasing energy efficiency of industry, transport and buildings – e.g. through better insulation

As responsible consumers we have the ability to catalyze global improvements in how efficiently resources are used to provide goods and services – through local demand, driving creative innovation, the adoption of resource management strategies, and encouraging technology transfer between the industry innovators and followers. We’re keen to hear your ideas about these, and more solutions.

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