The emergence of sustainability: what you can do to help

By Austin Stahl |

We have a golden opportunity right now, one that could not just change our future, but the future of all mankind that follows us. It relates to that dreaded “E” word that has gotten such a bad rap over the years — the environment. So I want to put it into a different light: I’m talking about sustainability.

Surprisingly, us crazy environmentalists aren’t just all about hugging trees. As a matter of fact, most of the people that care about the environment do so because they see what’s at stake for humans, not because they think nature and humans should be treated on the same level.

You may have heard the term “sustainability” popping up more and more recently, and for good reason. Our current ways of living, especially in America, are unsustainable. We burn coal as our primary source of electricity, and our main forms of transportation run on oil.

Yes, it is common knowledge that the vast majority of the luxuries we use every day in modern life run on fossil fuels, all finite resources. How long they will last is debatable, but that does not mean we should continue to use them. If we continue to pollute the air by burning these dirty energies, the earth may heat up until the point where it becomes uninhabitable for mankind.

So take your pick: Either we run out of our current resources and have resource wars escalate, or we wait too long to change and live in a chaotic (and hot) world with a lot of natural disasters where it is really hard to grow food.

Fortunately, despite these problems, it’s not too late to change and we have quite a lot of room for improvement. And that’s where sustainability comes in. I know I vastly simplified the issues in the previous paragraph, and even missed out on a lot of other environmental problems such as solid pollution, loss of biodiversity and a broken industrial food system. But they all go back to the same core issue — that we cannot keep treating the planet like we are now. People from various disciplines are realizing that the status quo is just not cutting it anymore and are looking to implement sustainable solutions.

So, on an individual level, what can we possibly do to help this mess? Well, quite a lot, and that’s where it gets exciting. We can all take simple steps to green our lifestyles, and when added up together, these things really make a difference. Americans, just in their homes, contribute to 8 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And even though there are a lot of larger forces at play outside of our control, there is still plenty we can do. Here are some examples:

I’ll start with some no brainers:

-Turn lights off when you’re not in the room. It saves money and energy, and all it requires is a little bit of thought and effort.
-Recycle. Seriously, just don’t be that lazy.
-Buy a reusable water bottle. Not only will it significantly cut down on your waste, but also save you a good deal of money in the long run. You don’t need to pay for water.
-Don’t waste food. You would think this would be common sense, but my experiences working in the dishroom at Shively lead me to think differently. Wasted food is a drain of energy, resources and money.
-Use reusable bags when shopping.
-Turn off and unplug your electronics when not in use, especially at night.
-Cut down on all forms of waste. Many things can be used more than once (plastic bags, etc). Use what you have until it can’t be used anymore.

If you’re really committed, go even farther and start changing your consumption habits. Because let’s be honest here, how much of that junk do you truly need? Simplify your lifestyle by buying less, all the while saving money and the environment. When you consume less, those resources can go where they are needed more.

You can green your diet as well. Here are some tips:

– I’ll repeat it again for emphasis: Don’t waste food!
-Eat fewer processed foods. The processing of food takes a whole lot of energy and is a byproduct of our inherently energy and chemical intensive, oil-dependent industrial food system. Eat more whole foods instead. Your health and the environment will thank you.
-Don’t drink pop or other sugary drinks. Again, it takes a lot of energy to create these products. Water is a much more sustainable (and healthier) choice.
-Eat less animal protein. This is for those that are truly committed. It takes a lot of resources to produce animal protein. For example, one kilogram of beef takes 13,000 liters of water to produce, not to mention all the oil used in transport.

If you truly want to embrace the severity of the issue, start taking action. Not just with what you do, but in influencing what others do. Join or donate to an environmental group. Discuss environmental issues with others and challenge them to change their ways. Stay informed on all environmental issues and be active on the political scene.

We have an amazing opportunity to be a part of the generation that creates a sustainable society. For the sake of our future existence, let’s all do our part.

Want to find out more tips and see a real-time display of OU’s energy usage, CO2 emissions, and electricity costs? Check out


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