There are many diverse benefits of sustainability.
Sustainability maintains the health and biocapacity of the environment. Sustainability supports the well-being of individuals and communities. Sustainability promotes a better economy where there is little waste and pollution, fewer emissions, more jobs, and a better distribution of wealth.
Getting the priorities right
It is important to consider where individuals and society derive their well-being. Many people think that the health of the economy is paramount and that individual and social well-being derives from that. This is not true. Whilst the economy exists to support the well-being of society, it is still only a subordinate component of society. The economy is entirely dependent on natural resources to sustain it, as well as the energy of people to drive it. Society is also a part of the environment and is reliant on the well-being of the environment for life itself.
Modern economics seems to be fixed on the commercialisation of all aspects of life. This is damaging because the best things in life – relationships, experiences, creativity, personal development – have no monetary value. We are led to believe that if something has no exchange (monetary) value then it has no real value. In reality, the opposite is more correct. Money can’t buy you love, satisfaction or happiness. The pressure and stress of modern economies on both people and planet is unsustainable.
So the priority of sustainability is Planet first, People second, Production third
Environmental well-being is crucial to human well-being because that’s where all our physical resources come from. However, each year, we deplete resources and humanity uses over 1.5 times the biocapacity of the earth. Biocapacity is the amount of renewable resources produced by the earth that can be used by humans. It is only possible to use more resources than are supplied by diminishing and degrading the environment through the use of natural capital. Consequently, humans continually reduce the ability of the environment to provide the resources we will need in the future. The very definition of sustainability is reducing ecological footprint so that we live within the limits of earth’s biocapacity. The overwhelming benefit of this is that the environment can thrive and continue to sustain people, and all other life, indefinitely.
Living within the earth’s limits definitely does not mean deprivation, indeed it offers considerable benefits to people and society as well.
Social and Individual well-being
Sustainability supports individuals in many ways. This is epitomised in the practice of Voluntary Simplicity where the focus is on having less but experiencing life more.
The benefits of simple living are profound. Instead of the produce-and-consume way of life, people are able to focus more on the things that really support well-being such as relationships, self-improvement, meaningful pursuits and life experiences, including cultural and social experiences.
Also, sustainability tends to promote healthier living, for example it promotes walking or cycling over cars. It promotes fresh local food over processed food. Sustainability promotes warm, dry homes which ward off illness. It promotes the use of harmless natural products over synthetic ones.
Sustainabilism advocates less stuff through sharing, renting, second-hand, recycling and reusing for example. The practice of sustainability will likely include greater self-sufficiency and DIY which both increase the earth’s biocapacity. The side benefits of all this is that you will save money and therefore potentially have to work less.
Society as a whole benefits from sustainabilism. If individuals are well it will help make a healthier society overall, and vice-versa. Sustainable practices also include pro-social behaviours such as sharing, giving and supporting each other for mutual benefit and to achieve a higher level of social well-being in our communities.
Read more about the sustainability benefits of social consumption »
“We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.”
– from ‘The Earth Charter’
A sustainable economy
Sustainable development is about improving the quality of the economy, not the size of it. The fact is we need a better economy, not a bigger one. Sustainable practices will make the economy better through reduced consumption overall and more equable distribution of wealth. People’s lives will be richer through better quality products and services.
Sustainable economies encourage distributed, local production over centralised production. The industrial paradigm of centralised, automated production is to get the maximum amount of goods and services for the least costs and thereby maximising profits and economic growth. The problem is that the price on the goods and services produced does not reflect its real cost which includes external costs that are not accounted for.
Local production has many environmental benefits over centralised, or even offshore, production including reduced emissions, pollution and waste. In a sustainable economy localised, smaller-scale production also has major societal benefits of creating jobs, boosting local economies and maintaining a high level of autonomy. Smaller, local businesses will make more use of handmade, craft production and distributed energy sources, like solar, wind and biomass.
Sustainability encourages better design as well as less production. This means that products and services will be better quality, more durable and more useful. There will be less junk and less waste.
The benefits of sustainability
In conclusion, sustainabilism maintains the well-being of the environment so that it can support human well-being.