How sustainable living can become the new normal

Recall your morning routine; it likely involves rolling out of bed, getting dressed, downing coffee and off you go.

While you don’t wake up with an intention to harm the planet, you don’t exactly plan to save it either.  

Considering that our global footprint today is more than one and a half times the Earth’s total capacity, the need to modify our everyday behaviours has become increasingly urgent.

A shift towards a society that respects the planet’s limited resources means rethinking the ways in which we produce, consume and get around. 

Sustainable lifestyles are ways of living, social behaviours and choices that minimize the use of natural resources and improve quality of life for all.  

Making sustainable living the ‘new normal’ is an enormous undertaking and a crucial catalyst for hitting the goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Changing society’s everyday behaviours is no small feat. Sustainable living has to be sold as an affordable, easy and attractive option, relevant to everyone. 

“One of the things about sustainability, in general, is that we use a vocabulary that tends to be less accessible. We talk about resource flows like ‘energy,’ or ‘water,’ or ‘climate change,’ or ‘biodiversity,’ and the way we live our lives isn’t necessarily resonating with those kinds of categories,” explained Garrette Clark, Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  

Clark also represents UNEP on the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee of the 10-Year Framework of Programme (10YFP) on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, co-led by Sweden, Japan and WWF. Tongue-tying terminology in itself! 

The idea behind it, though, is straightforward. The 10YFP is a global framework that imagines a world where sustainable lifestyles are desirable, accessible, and the common norm.

According to Clark, there are five key lifestyle areas that individuals can take to make a positive impact: food, stuff, move, money, and fun. What we eat and buy, and how we move and invest our money, form part of our everyday living needs and lifestyle choices. If enough people adopted these top-level changes, then the global momentum of collective action would help support the systemic changes needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The next few years are the most important in our history to prepare future generations to lead a prosperous, inclusive, resilient society based on a net-zero carbon circular economy. Therefore, instilling the values of a low-carbon lifestyle in our youth is crucial.  

UNEP and EIT Climate-KIC understand that our education systems can enable youth empowerment and activism, but online learning can be equally influential. For example, the Sustainable Lifestyles Programme leverages the power of social media and lifestyle influencers to communicate directly with a younger audience and exchange sustainable ideals in a personal, dynamic way.  

“We’ve put together a social media resource kit that translates the [climate] science into fun and easy actions,” commented Clark. “We’ve been able to see how we can align how young people think and tie it into sustainability for impact.”  

The ambitious UNEP initiative aligns with the Young Innovators programme’s vision of supporting youth to reduce climate change through innovation, and to understand, explore and mitigate against carbon intensive lifestyles. It focuses on boosting the skills of young people, preparing them to lead the transformation of systems and mobilise a new generation of young adults.  

While achieving carbon neutrality can seem daunting, slow progress has been made. It will require transformative systems change—involving the cooperation of business and governments—to trigger a seismic shift and create maximum impact. But every person can do their part in reducing their carbon footprint. 

According to the World Economic Forum, CO2 emissions dropped 2.5% last year across the European Union, with 20 of the 28 EU nations emitting less greenhouse gas than the year prior.

It’s programmes such as EIT Climate-KIC’s Young Innovators and UNEP’s Sustainable Lifestyles that can contribute to keeping Europe on track to hit our next big target: cut emissions by a further 40% against 1990 levels between 2021 and 2030.