What does it mean to live in a sustainable way? The word is rampant these days: sustainability. What does it really mean?

To me, sustainable living means living in such a way that gives back to the world as much as the world gives us. Closing the loop, localizing food and energy needs, and walking lightly upon the Earth.

Modern American life, in the conventional sense, is centered on consuming what we need. We expend our energy to create an influx of cash in order to pay for the things we need (or want) to live our lives. We pay for food, water, shelter, energy and fuel – just to use it up and toss it out. Granted, recycling has become more popular in recent years, and we – as a society – are slowly shifting our paradigm.

We recycle cardboard, plastic, tin cans, and more. What do we do with our wastewater? We flush it down the drain. Flushing perfectly reusable water away is definitely not a sustainable practice. Sink water can be used a time or two again, through watering plants and flushing the toilet for example. Toilet water is a complete waste, however you look at it.

Our homes suck electricity off the grid and burn it up. At first glance, it seems there is no way to reuse and recycle that energy. If we look deeper, we can find ways to moderate our use, channel excess heat, and even create more power. (This train of thought is the subject for an entirely different rant which will come at some point in the near or distant future…)

We buy stuff all the time. So much of the stuff we buy comes wrapped up in extravagant packaging, plastic shrink wrap, cardboard boxes, containers, and often cushioned in styrofoam. How much of the stuff we buy had to travel halfway around the world to reach us? How much of the stuff it’s wrapped in can provide us with another useful purpose?

I dare not venture into the world of automobiles used for personal transportation, for our current paradigm creates nothing but noxious gases, worn off tire rubber, and waste heat. Hybrid vehicles are a small step in the right direction, but are even those thinking in a truly sustainable-future way? (Again, how and what we drive is another conversation entirely…)

Human-kind has few basic needs. To live happily, we require at a minimum clean air, good water, healthy food, and a roof over our heads. Consumer goods and automotive fuel are clearly luxuries in the grand scheme of human survival and livity. What we as a species need now is a mass exodus from what is into the world of living as we should.  Can we, as a species, live, survive, and perpetuate our existence as we now tend to live?  Can we, as a species, let go of the nonsense that currently surrounds our existence?

Sustainable living meets all our basic needs without harming the world around us. Living sustainably means we gather our needs and give back to the world that gave it to us without harming anyone or anything. If some aspect of the world is harmed through our action of taking what we need, we must give something back.

Living sustainably is not difficult if we put a little effort toward our own responsibility of tangibly providing for our existence.   It all begins with paying attention to where we put our energies.  Does our faith in survival stem from a corporate check and an accessible grocery-chain store, or does it stem primarily from the bounty our own hands have nurtured into life?

We as a species can definitely survive any calamity yet to come – whether made by ourselves or gifted to us through Mother Earth’s “natural disasters”.  In order to survive, we must first know how to live.   We must learn to live through our own work, using our own hands to produce the necessities of human life.  We must forget the idea of waste and the mythical place of “Away” where we send our discarded items and flushed water.  To survive, we must all – at least for a moment – imagine what our lives would be like if everything we depended on to live suddenly disappeared.  Then, we must move to action, replace those pieces of dependency with self-sufficiency, rethink our ways, try something new and perhaps entirely foreign to our current money-bound paradigm of life.  We will survive and flourish if we merely remember how we are meant to live.