Sustainability - what does it really mean?

Ever since I launched our online store North South Stewart I have been grappling with the words to express what sustainability is and why we should care about it. I think the best and simplest definition is the one given by Sir David Attenborough in his documentary series A Life on Our Planet - watch the trailer here. In it he says "Anything that we cannot do forever is by definition, unsustainable".

This is helpful because it sets the parameters. Forever, into infinity. 

Obviously the way we live is considered to be not sustainable, with the most pressing issue being climate change. Rising global temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, these all speak to the planet eventually being unable to sustain any living being, animal or human. 

But if we make the changes suggested by scientists and experts we might have a fighting chance. We have to stop doing the things that are not feasible to do forever, simply because we're using resources that are running out. 

If we overfish the oceans and never give the fish population a chance to breed and replenish then we face many species of fish becoming extinct.

When we cut down a tree does another grow in its place? Not if we then turn what was a forest into pastureland. 

I think the issue for me is that the definition of what's sustainable has been stretched to fit what corporations want it to fit. And that's why I have such a hard time with the concept. 

For instance, I have an issue with recycled plastic. It's a temporary measure at best since it does not address the need to stop producing plastic. In fact, if anything it encourages manufacturers to keep making plastic in good conscious because it can be "recycled". In practice however a minuscule amount of the world's plastic is actually recycled. Where does the rest end up? In the oceans and waterways, in landfills where it leaches toxic chemicals into the soil and water tables. 

Another "sustainable initiative" that bothers me (and needs more research on) is whether alternative milks are as good for the environment as they claim to be. To grow soy beans, oats and almonds requires intensive commitment of land to farming and use of water, pesticides, fertilizers. That said, oats seem to grow in quite harsh environments where it's highly possible that other things couldn't grow. And perhaps in comparison to conventional cow's milk it is better for the environment? 

See what I mean? The definition of sustainability is very difficult to get to the bottom of. I love oatmeal and I like the new oat milk flavours. But it's worrisome when something that has previously been a low-profile food group is suddenly pushed into the limelight - there is so much scope to abuse the system in an effort to claim some of the newfound market share. 

There are two sides to every coin and we need to apply rational thinking when deciding what is sustainable and what is not.

With respect to our products here at North South Stewart I plan to do as much research as I can to find the best frameworks for assessing the sustainability of wool. I believe in my heart that wool is a sustainable choice, however there are both positive and negative points to every product we consume in our modern lives, so let's find out what they are together. 


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