I recently met with the head of an organisation who was keen to pick my brain about sustainability, asking me, “So where do we begin? We don’t do that much on sustainability at present”. As if I would be able to provide a blueprint on how and what they should do. Of course, I often have opinions on different courses of action and have knowledge and experience that I could happily share if needed. However, I think the first steps should be taken by the individual or group of people interested in sustainability.
Sustainability is a journey. It is not something that you finally reach and you are all of a sudden ‘sustainable’. It’s a path towards realigning the lives of individuals, communities, organisations and nations to be more functional with nature. If you are someone who is asking “How do I (or we) begin?”, then I believe that you have already started on your ‘sustainability journey’. From here, individuals or groups of people should then examine their own values, aspirations, concerns and their possible links with wider society and their surrounding environment, within their political, financial and institutional context. In this way, the path chosen is consistent with that individual’s or group’s priorities and the journey becomes meaningful to them.
Reflecting on my life so far, I’m not entirely sure when or how my ‘sustainability journey’ began. Perhaps it was when I wrote about conservation as a nine-year-old, “In our environment we have lots of beautiful things. We want to keep these things so they are still here for our children’s children.” However, the beginning is not really important, as my ideas and perspectives have been moulded and changed many times since I wrote those words. Over the years I have learnt much: I have undertaken academic studies, worked professionally and become involved in community projects. I have evolved as a person, experimented, travelled, sought adventures and changed aspects of my lifestyle. While I don’t always live the perfect balanced and sustainable life, I strive to be more conscious of my actions and their potential impacts on others and the natural world.
This year, one of transition for me, has forced me to re-consider my perspectives on and relationship with sustainability. I recently relocated from Scotland, where I had been living for five years, to Australasia, to reconnect with family, old friends and familiar places. My lifestyle and social interactions have changed. In Scotland, I had built a network of like-minded people around me – environmental professionals and enthusiasts, adventurers, mountain bikers, runners, crafters – people I connected with in a multitude of ways, who had similar values and sense of fun as me. This year, I’ve been experimenting with different work, lifestyle and voluntary opportunities, and as a result am interacting with a greater diversity of people with different viewpoints and backgrounds. It has opened my eyes to different social and environmental issues and made me consider what role I want to have in helping others integrate sustainability into their lives. And so, my journey continues.
So, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know where to begin, or don’t really understand how sustainability relates to you. If you want to help make the world a more equal, ecologically flourishing, healthy and economically stable world for yourself, your community and the people of the future, you have already begun. A sustainability journey can be approached from many directions and starting points, but the key is the pursuit of balance where the three yarns of ‘environment’, ‘society’ and ‘economy’ are woven together to produce an exquisite fabric.