How Sustainable Choices Can Change the World: Sustainable Living and the UN SDGs

by Jan 1, 2019

Something about starting a new year makes us want to change our lives for the better.

And if one of your new year resolutions include adopting a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle, this may be the right blog post for you.

This post demonstrates how sustainable choices can change the world and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

I am a strong believer that we can all make a difference.

There may be some that disagree with me, but I believe every action, small or big, matters.

Take for example, our coffee purchasing habits. Spending $2-3 dollars daily on a Starbucks coffee may seem harmless to your bank account, but in 5 years, that would add up to $3,000 – $6,000!

I used the coffee metaphor because the same concept could be applied to our sustainability endeavors.

A small action, such as carrying around your own reusable bag, can help the environment in so many ways.

Before I delve deeper into how sustainable choices and ctions can change the world for the better, I would like to first define and understand these key terms – sustainability and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

1. What is Sustainability?

Google “define sustainability” and definitions will slightly vary across topic, industry or institution.

Despite these differences in definition, there is a wide consensus among sustainability professionals that the idea of sustainability originates from the report, “Our Common Future”, published by the Brundtland Commission in 1987.

“Our Common Future” was a response to global leaders calling for a shared vision that can facilitate both economic growth and environmental preservation.

And how we apply sustainability is fundamentally based on this report’s definition of “sustainable development”, which it defines as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

2. What is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Whether you are curious about sustainable living or already somewhat living a sustainable lifestyle, understanding the UN Sustainable Development Goals opens up myriad ways you can help the world.

Before understanding the UN Sustainable Development (SDGS), it is important to understand  first the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Millennium Development Goals or the MDGs were established in September 2000 during the Millennium Summit, where world leaders came together in recognizing a need for international cooperation in curbing extreme poverty. This agreement resulted in the development of the 8 Millennium Development Goals, a blueprint for development with specific timebound targets that would tackle global issues that ranged from extreme poverty, maternal health, universal primary education, and HIV/AIDs.

The Millennium Development Goals were regarded to have been very successful despite coming short of achieving part of the goals.

In September 2015, 193 member countries of the United Nations came together and adopted a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030, known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Unlike the MDGs, where the focus was mainly on developing countries, the SDGs called for joint action by all countries, rich or poor.

2. How Our Sustainable Choices and Actions Can Help Achieve the SDGs

Now that we have a better understanding of the SDGs, let’s take few examples of the simplest sustainable lifestyle choices to examine how they contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. 

 

Ditch single-use plastic items for reusables: 
  • Goal 13: Climate Action – Plastic production and fossil fuel consumption is intricately related. If the current trend continues, 20% of oil consumption will come from plastic production by 2050.
  • Goal 12. Responsible Consumption and Production – We encourage companies to adopt and innovate to create more sustainable products when we choose reusables over disposables.
  • Goal 14: Life Below Water – A study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded that we may end up with more plastic in oceans than fish by 2050. We can help reverse marine pollution by ditching single-use plastics. 
Commute on foot, by bicycle, public transportation, or drive vehicles that fall into the clean air vehicle category
  • Goal 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities – Transportation is a major source of air pollution and choosing public transportation can help mitigate air pollution.
Adopt a plant-rich diet:
  • Goal 2: Zero Hunger – 40% of the world’s arable land is being used for animal farming and one-third of global cereal production goes to feed livestock. Adopting a plant-rich diet can help divert that land and food to feed people.
  • Goal 3: Good health and Well-being – There are evidence-based studies connecting a whole-foods plant-based diet with improved health.
  • Goal 13: Climate Action – A vegan diet can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions up to 70 percentm and 64 percent with a vegetarian diet.
Work for, or own a company with a strong CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainability management agenda:
  • Goal 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth – A company with a strong CSR sustainability agenda is improves employee morale, and can achieve higher levels of productivity and innovation.
  • Goal 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – A company with a strong sustainability agenda may be more willing to produce sustainable products and services.
Take simple water conservation actions at home such as turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or taking shorter showers: 
  • Goal 6. Clean Water and Sanitation – Only 2.5 percent of water on earth is fresh water. Simple water conservation actions at home can help lessen the burden of water scarcity.
  • Goal 7. Affordable and Clean Energy Energy is required to purify and pump the clean water to our home. Therefore, our water conservation actions can contribute to reducing energy consumption.
Implement simple energy conservation practices at home such as using energy efficient appliances, lighting, or renewable energy:
Purchase ethically sourced and fair labor practice products (e.g. coffee, precious metals & stones, small artisan made goods, etc):
  • Goal 1: No Poverty – When we choose to buy an ethically sourced product over a product that employs cheap, unfair labor practices, we economically support the impoverished.
  • Goal 4: Quality Education– Supporting companies that source materials that are conflict-free and ethical can help ensure the money is not directed to warlords in conflict region, improving the number of children that stay in school.
  • Goal 5: Gender Equality – Women make up 60-90 percent of global supply chain workforce with many being employed in low-wage jobs in the apparel and agricultural sectors. We can help improve the well-being of women in these industries by purchasing from companines with better fair labor practices.
Reduce food waste (freeze food, avoid pre-packaged product, etc):

Every action we take, small or big, has an impact on our ecosystem. This blog post provided examples of how our actions can help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Please share with me in the comments on how your sustainable lifestyle choices in 2019 will help achieve the SDGs.

And if you are not sure where to begin, choose from UN’s list of “Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.”

Or go through my blog to find other ways you can help.

Finally, please share this post with your family and friends and ask them to join in making our world a better place!

Minnie Bio Photo

Sustainability strategy and climate policy consultant, Minnie, shares how we can together “keep it simply sustainable” and live in harmony with our natural environment. Learn more →