A to Z of Sustainability: from Urban Planning to Zero Waste!

A to Z of Sustainability: from Urban Planning to Zero Waste!

U is for Urban Planning

60% of the global population is expected to live in cities or urban areas by 2030, and this number is only set to increase. Urban lifestyles are also some of the most carbon-intensive and environmentally damaging, with cities being responsible for 70% of carbon emissions according to the UN, as well as harbouring dangerous levels of air pollution and a lack of green space.

Cities, then, are a hotbed for needed environmental change, which on the landscape level, is where urban planning can come in. There are many ways to ‘green’ a city, from integrating public transport and active transport to reduce combustion-engine cars (a great comparison between two major cycling cities, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, can be found here), through installing charging infrastructure to promote faster adoption of EVs such as in Shanghai or Norway, as well as through recognising the importance of keeping nature in our cities and building green cities.

Planting trees and planning for green spaces, whether on the ground or as rooftop gardens, can clear air pollution, prevent urban flooding as well as reduce the impacts of the urban heat island effect. Planting native species in whatever garden space you have helps to create green corridors and protect pollinators and biodiversity, creating community gardens can help alleviate food poverty and nature deficiency disorder in young urban children. Green spaces can even help performance at work, as going outside is shown to reduce stress levels and boost energy.

Even in the actual construction of cities, considered hugely carbon intensive, there are emerging innovations for green concrete and hydrogen-reduced steel, pre-installed solar panels as standard, ground source heating as opposed to reliance on fossil-fuel boilers. With populations increasingly urban, and urban living the worst way to live environmentally, cities need innovation. In the words of TED Talker Peter Calhope, urban planning is a key, if unspoken, part of this solution.
Great sources to learn more are podcasts such as Sustainability Defined and Reversing Climate Change, as well as media outlets such as Fully Charged and Our Changing Climate.

V is for Veganism

‘Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose’ (source)

Hear from Susie, one of our customer support staff, on her experience of being vegan:

" There are many ways in which veganism can be practised, but they all have one thing in common – a diet which excludes the consumption of animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Most vegans avoid wearing animal products such as leather or fur, don’t use cosmetics that test on animals or contain animal ingredients, and don’t use animals for entertainment (for example in circuses). Vegan and vegetarian diets are a huge step in the right direction when trying to live more sustainably; livestock and their byproducts are responsible for mat least 32,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or 51% of all greenhouse gasses.  A report by Greenpeace says that the EU will have to eat 71% less meat by 2030 to tackle farming’s contribution to climate change.

 In my experience, the myth that veganism is inaccessible and expensive couldn’t be more wrong - at uni I regularly did my weekly shop for under £10. If you’re willing to spend a little more, vegan meat replacements are widely accessible in supermarkets. If you’re not in the mood to cook, ecoeats has a wide range of local businesses offering vegan and vegetarian dishes.

 If you’re considering a vegan diet, check out the vegan society website, who have some helpful resources to make sure you’re eating healthily. If you’re stuck for meal ideas, youtubers like Rachel Ama, Madeleine Olivia, and Sustainably Vegan have some great (and affordable) vegan recipes and lifestyle tips. "

W is for Wangari Maathai

Professor Wangari Maathai is a revolutionary woman who changed the sphere of environmental, political and social activism, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her impacts. Founder of The Green Belt Movement and The Wangari Maathai Foundation, her legacy is one of women empowerment, regeneration for nature and for rural farmers, as well as unbending stewardship in the face of corruption.

The first Kenyan woman to earn a PhD in Biology, she also researched the link between increasing deforestation and worsening living conditions in her community: environmental sustainability and solving poverty are intrinsically linked. She started women’s planting groups, growing recognition and power, formed hunger strikes in advocacy of government release of unjustly kept prisoners, protested the privatization of the Katura Forest in Kenya through peaceful tree-planting missions. From here, she founded The Green Belt Movement which aims to protect and regenerate national forests, build green corridors between green areas for endangered species to migrate, as well as fight against rural desertification that is impacting and impoverishing communities across Africa.

Wangari Maathai’s life was one dedicated to humanitarian and environmental rights, and her story is a great inspiration in the fight for sustainability. Learn more via her books, The Green Belt Movement ; Unbowed ; The Challenge for Africa ; Replenishing the Earth, available here. There are also great short documentaries on her life, such as the spotlight on her life and impacts by Ecosia.

X is for Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) is an activist movement, founded in 2018, that campaigns for political action towards climate change. With a main strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience, XR protests aim to pressure the government into meeting three core demands: acknowledging the scale of the ecological crisis by declaring a climate emergency; achieving net-zero emissions by 2025; and forming a citizens assembly, whereby ordinary individuals can directly influence the steps that the government takes regarding the environment.

XR believes that radical political change is necessary to address the climate crisis, and, as such, see public disruption as the best way to gain attention from key decision makers, rather than methods such as signing petitions or writing to MPs. Actions have included large groups blocking roads, obstructing travel, and occupying government sites; many individuals have been arrested for their involvement, but these risks are encouraged by XR, as they increase their publicity and disrupt life as we know it.

XR’s strategy is controversial: the impact that many of their protests have on the lives of ordinary people has been seen as counterproductive to XR’s cause, as it alienates many potential supporters. The risks associated with joining protests have also often been viewed as too extreme and consequential. Ultimately, XR believes that such extreme measures are necessary so that the climate crisis is not ignored and gains the attention it deserves from the government and the wider public.

Y is for Yellowstone National Park

Today, national parks and government-protected natural areas are widespread and revered for preserving biodiversity and cultural history. However, few people are aware of the history and origins of the concept of national parks and nature preservation.

Founded in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park, sparking a movement towards nature conservation in the US and other countries. The creation of national parks was directly linked to changing understandings of nature from a resource for human exploitation (a view that dominated during the industrial revolution), to a place for human enjoyment. As people moved from the country to the city, nature began to be seen as ‘wilderness’: a place uninhabited by and separate from humans. Consequently, large areas of seemingly uninhabited and unused land were marked out for protection from human activity such as mining and logging. These newly created ‘parks’ became a place for people - predominantly wealthy, car-owning classes - to escape the noise and pollution of the city.

Yet the idea that humans and nature are intrinsically separate, and that nature should be protected from human activity, had - and continues to have - a disastrous impact on indigenous peoples who have lived in so-called ‘wilderness’ areas for hundreds to thousands of years. For example, 26 current Native American tribes have historic connections with the lands now found within Yellowstone National Park.

Indigenous peoples across the world have suffered from the creation of national parks and the myth of ‘wilderness’. In many cases, their traditional practices and livelihoods - such as hunting, foraging, and ceremonies - have been banned or restricted in the name of nature preservation. Elsewhere, indigenous populations have been forcibly evicted from their own land, or otherwise exploited as a tourist attraction.Whilst protecting nature is important, the idea of keeping humans separate from nature is fundamentally unsustainable and discriminatory against those who rely on the protected land as their home, food source, and sacred space. National parks such as Yellowstone must go beyond merely acknowledging Native American presence, but work with them to protect their lands, their rights, and allow both humans and nature to flourish.

Z is for Zero-waste

Zero-waste lifestyles and initiatives have a clear-cut goal: send nothing to landfill. Instead, consumption is reduced, and what is used is as far as possible reused or repurposed. What is left from there is recycled or composted. The goal of zero-waste is to move from a linear use-to-waste economy to a circular economy (see C!). Zero-waste initiatives prevent the overuse of landfills - which are running out of space and contribute to harmful greenhouse gases - and reduce both land and ocean pollution. All of these elements help to limit climate change.

On an individual level, reducing consumption, reusing and repurposing products wherever possible is a really great step in the right direction. It can also be very fun, and a great opportunity for creativity: check out our blogs on using food scraps and thrift flipping for some inspiration! But with many factors out of individual control, and with zero-waste shops and products often being more expensive, going completely zero-waste can be difficult and unrealistic for some.

Government-funded initiatives and policy changes are required to overcome the structural and economic barriers to zero-waste living. An example is Zero Waste Scotland, a not-for-profit environmental organisation that informs policy and educates individuals and businesses about zero-waste practices and the benefits of a circular economy. Founded in 2014, Zero Waste Scotland has been a crucial player in many positive environmental initiatives, including the implementation of the 5p carrier bag charge which saw distribution of single-use bags fall by 80% in the first full year since it came into effect. The organisation created the Revolve quality standard adopted by many shops, as well as the Circular Economy Investment Fund and Low Carbon Transition Infrastructure Fund that help meet Scotland’s zero-waste transformation goals.

Government-funded initiatives like Zero Waste Scotland are necessary to support the structural changes that individuals cannot fuel alone. As individuals, we must continue to put pressure on the government to increase the pace of change and demand that zero-waste living becomes a norm that is accessible to all.

Z is also for... zero emissions