All over the world, while 10% of people still live in extreme poverty, most of the population has become accustomed to a certain, very different standard of living (UN Environment Programme). We open the tap and water comes out. In the winter, we turn on the heat and our homes get warm. We flip a switch and there is light in the house. Technological advances have allowed us to benefit from the earth’s natural resources and improve our daily lives. We drive our cars to work and use our smartphones every day. But we got so used to our conveniences that we now take them for granted, forgetting that they not only improve our lives, but that we actually depend on them to survive and evolve. Earth’s resources are unfortunately finite, and if we do not change the way we use them, moving towards resource efficiency, a critical point might be closer than we expect (IISD).
What do we mean by resources? We mean all the goods that the earth provides to us freely, such as water, minerals, food, plants, etc. Some of these goods are renewable (regenerate quickly), such as plants, others are not (such as oil). We depend on nature’s resources, but we use them inadequately and without thinking about our choices or focusing on resource efficiency. Resources are not equally distributed across the globe, and it is usually the people with the less economic power who feel the greater impact of their depletion. We need to use our resources mindfully and efficiently, maximising daily benefits while minimizing long-term impacts on the planet so that there remains enough for future generations. This requires global action (IISD).
We have seven billion people living together on one planet, draining its resources for construction, development and to produce an endless amount of products. The more the population grows, the higher the demand for new products and developments, but the planet is still the same, and it is no longer growing as fast. We need to find a balanced way of consuming that is sufficient to meet demand but also sustainable. Economic growth does not have to come at the expense of the planet. Resources can be saved and used in a circular system where what is available is reused without being wasted, and the value of resources is maintained so we do not have to extract additional unnecessary quantities. That is resource efficiency and it is not only good for the planet, but also a good way to save money (IISD).
There are many ways we can live frugally ourselves and contribute to a sustainable economy without compromising on comfort and protecting both the planet and our money (UniMed). The easiest way is to reduce waste (in all areas) and consume consciously, paying attention to economical consumption and buying only the products we actually need and will use. Energy use can move towards resource efficiency through changes that do not affect the quality of life, but reduce the electricity bill at the end of the month (Significados).
Examples of this are waste separation or waste avoidance. If we only buy the amount of food we will consume, we save money and avoid waste. Saying no to single–use plastic and opting for food that is not double or triple wrapped are some easy choices. Separating compost, recycling, and strong pollutants (such as batteries, electronics, or medications) can make a big difference for the environment and directly contribute to a circular economy that facilitates the reuse of materials (UniMed).
When we talk about resource efficiency related to fuel and mindful consumerism, there are different ways we can contribute. These range from choosing sustainable transportation methods such as using public transportation or bicycles as opposed to driving your own cars (saving on fuel and parking fees, promoting cleaner air that benefits our health, and increasing physical activity), to choosing local products when we shop (shorter distance between the manufacturer and the end consumer means less fuel is used and the price to the end consumer goes down) (UniMed). When it comes to saving energy, options range from investing in LED lights, to unplugging appliances that are not being used, to turning off lights in empty rooms, to making sure all electronic devices are well maintained and working properly (not wasting energy through lack of efficiency) (Science Direct).
The water crisis is a topic in itself. With water running out of showers and taps, it is easy to forget how close we are to depleting this natural resource that is critical to our lives on Earth. Some of the world’s largest cities are on the verge of having to shut down their water supplies unless their populations learn to use water effectively. Simple habits like closing the shower while shampooing or closing the tap while brushing teeth, shorter shower times, and being mindful or letting water run can save between 45 to 135 litres of water a day (Significados). If you want to invest in more advanced systems that will save you money in the long run, there are also systems for collecting rainwater that you can later use for flushing toilets, irrigate the garden, or even doing dishes.
By far one of the most efficient ways to save resources that everyone can contribute to is to reduce our personal meat intake (Significados). The meat industry is the biggest consumer of resources, requires insane amounts of water, and is a huge emitter of CO2 and CH4 (main contributors to climate change). The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to water scarcity as well as deforestation to reclaim land to grow plant foods to feed animals or to create space to keep them. If a change to veganism is not something you can do, then why not try reducing? Even one vegan/vegetarian day a week can hugely contribute to global resource conservation (CareElite).
It is up to each and every one of us to change our mindset and incorporate the well–being of the environment and society as a whole into our daily consumption decisions. A sustainable lifestyle will highly improve our quality of life and our relationship with nature. More efficient resource use and a circular economy will help promote more equitable and sustainable access to resources, emit fewer greenhouse gases, reduce the impacts of climate change, save money, and generate more jobs. Daily habits implemented at home can have a bigger impact if we implement them at scale in our companies and workplaces, helping others see how simple trade–offs can have big positive impacts.
– by Alicia Pineiro