What does ‘sustainability’ actually mean?

At Sustainable Merton, we interpret it to mean the ability to meet our needs without using the earth’s resources in such a way that future generations cannot meet their needs. This includes not only physical needs for things like food, warmth and shelter, but also well-being needs such as companionship, learning and trust. Fundamentally it’s about ensuring quality of life, now and in the future.

Climate change is one of the major challenges that threatens our quality of life. However, there are lots of actions we, as individuals, can all take which will help to reduce its predicted impacts, which include more extreme weather events – more intense storms, more frequent droughts and flooding. The cumulative impact of lots of small changes in our behaviours can significantly reduce carbon emissions at the same time as saving us money.

Thinking about what we eat, most of the energy we consume, and therefore the carbon we emit, comes from the production and distribution of the food we eat. Typically, 10 calories of oil are consumed to produce one calorie of food – this includes chemical fertilizers, pesticides, transport and packaging.  Many of the products we buy in supermarkets have travelled thousands of miles to reach the shelves. See our kitchen related tips.

The Thames Valley region has the lowest amount of water naturally available per person in the UK. As the population rises that issue will become more acute. Scientists predict that climate change will bring more droughts. Water rates are likely to go up. So it makes sense to reduce your water consumption. Think about what goes on in your bathroom!

Transport is one of the fastest growing contributors to CO2 emissions in the UK. Most cars only have one occupant most of the time. Consider alternative ways of getting about, like walking and cycling or using public transport.

We probably need to start considering waste as an alternative resource. But first of all we can try and throw away less. Products and packaging require energy and raw materials to be made. Plastic packaging is made from valuable oil; much of it will remain unaltered in the environment for well over 100 years. In the UK we are running out of landfill space and every year it becomes more expensive, putting up your Council Tax. Check out our tips for reducing waste.

Humans are not the only ones who have to manage the impacts of climate change. Wildlife too will struggle as temperatures rise and habitats change, but we can help them adapt by conserving and enhancing biodiversity wherever we can. Ultimately we rely on the resources that nature creates and maintains such as clean air, fresh water, and healthy soil so it is in our best interests to look out for all parts of our ecosystem, from tiny minibeasts to our feathered friends in the sky.

Terminology can be a big barrier to understanding environmental matters so we have created a jargon buster to help make things clear. If there’s anything that you feel needs defining or explaining further, do let us know.

Sustainable Merton activities - solar, gardening, stalls and growing vegetables