Sustainability is coming more and more into the public sphere with movements like the zero waste movement, climate activism and shifts in corporate social responsibility. That being said, its relevance to every part of social, economic and environmental life means it can be a daunting concept to get a hold of!

So, we’re creating an A-Z for those wanting to learn more about sustainability; its concepts, applications and definitions for a few terms that are cornerstones of creating a greener world. Whilst far from comprehensive, we hope this A-Z will be both a great starting point for budding green-livers, and an interesting discussion for those already entrenched in the world of sustainability.

A is for activism

Activism is a central part of sustainability so is a great way to open this A-Z! It is the concept of taking action to change systems that are going against the vision for a more sustainable world. Whilst individual action looks at minimising your own personal contributions to issues, such as going vegan or buying secondhand, activism aims for a community-wide approach to sustainability. This includes pushing for systemic change and holding public figures, corporations and political policies accountable. Some great examples of activism are Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, and a bit closer to home, St Andrew’s own 2019 Climate Strike.

Anyone can take action, and anyone can be an activist, all you need is to find a cause you love, make a plan, and follow through!

B is for biodiversity

Biodiversity, defined as the variety of life in a given location, is the home of movements like Plant Seeds, Save the Bees. In a nutshell, promoting sustainable biodiversity is the conservation of species and protection against monocultures (more on that later!).

We are currently in what biologists are calling the 6th mass extinction as hundreds of species are becoming extinct every year. The majority of the world’s farms are single-crop monocultures, gardens are devoid of pollinator-friendly plant species, and habitat loss and climate change are threatening the few safe havens for biodiversity and species remaining.

Biodiversity can be protected by supporting key organizations and NGOs (WWF, Greenpeace, Save the Seed Movement), political activism, as well as in your personal life and communities by planting native, diverse species in your garden!

Want to learn more? B can also be for… biomimicry, biodegradable, blue economies

C is for circular economies

The circular economy is an economic model for consumption of the products or materials we use in our daily lives. Instead of a linear use-to-waste waterfall that is set to rocket waste from the 2.01 billion tonnes produced in 2016 to 3.40 billion in 2050, circular economy states that products should be re-used, repaired and recycled in a circular loop, minimising both waste and resource use.

Circular economies are all about disrupting the throw-away mentality of consumerism - instead of throwing away old clothes, resell them, donate them to charity, or use the fabric to make something entirely new! Great leaders in advocating for circular economies are The Ellen MacArther Foundation, movements like the Zero Waste Movement, and learning skills like upcycling or thrifting. A little bit of imagination can go a long way when that jam jar becomes a desktop penholder after a quick wash!

C can also be for… consumerism, carbon-neutral, climate change

D is for doughnut economies

Doughnut economics is a model that contextualizes our world in terms of planetary and social boundaries. The inner ring of the doughnut looks at where we shortfall socially: poverty, gender equality, and food security and sovereignty (more on that later). The outer ring is where we overshoot on our planet’s natural resources, from climate change to biodiversity, air pollution to chemical ocean acidification. The basic principle is that for a healthy society, we need to stay inside the doughnut. Despite sounding simple, this idea runs contrary to some narratives of economic growth, which can overuse resources and underfund workers to maximise profits.

Source: Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health

From the original article written by J. Röckstrom et al., to Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics (you can watch her TED Talk here, or read the whole book!), this theory is starting to be realised.

Amsterdam, for example, has committed to modelling their economy on the Doughnut model, as part of their commitment to green recovery post-covid. As with any model, there are some limitations and risks of greenwashing (more on that later!). But, in order to go greener, cities, countries and businesses should look at sustainable adaptations from mainstream economics, of which doughnut economics is definitely one!

D can also be for… degrowth, degradation (environmental!)

E is for ecological footprint

The Ecological Footprint is a measurement of the amount of waste humans produce and the amount of resources we consume, compared to how fast nature can absorb those wastes and generate new resources (its ‘biocapacity’). Essentially, it estimates how much nature we have compared to the rate at which we use it, to help us identify at what point our resource consumption becomes unsustainable.

The Ecological Footprint is measured in global hectares, and is applied to six natural resource categories: crop land, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon sinks. If a city’s or nation’s Ecological Footprint consistently exceeds its biocapacity, it’s natural resources are being depleted in the long term. This is called ‘ecological overshoot’ and is, clearly, unsustainable.

To put it into perspective, we would need 1.6 Earths to support the current rate of global human resource use and waste production. This year, Earth Overshoot Day (the date on which humans used more from nature than the planet can renew in a year) was on the 22nd of August. This means all the waste produced and resources used beyond this point are already beyond what our planet can handle.

You can measure your own Ecological Footprint here!

E can also be for… electric cars, ecoeats

F is for food sovereignty

The concept of food sovereignty advocates for the rights of peoples and nations to define and control their own food systems as an alternative to the global, corporate food system and its harmful social and environmental effects. Instead, food sovereignty promotes ecologically-sound food production methods and prioritises the needs and rights of people over profit. The concept also builds on the limitations of ‘food security’. Whilst food security focuses on providing people with sufficient food through distribution, it doesn’t necessarily give those people the physical capacity, knowledge and rights to produce and access to healthy and culturally sustainable food in the long term.

While the term originated amongst peasant farmers in Latin America, today it inspires a global movement of farmers, communities and indigenous peoples who want to regain control over their foodways.

Read more at: Via Campesina / Declaration of Nyeleni for an expanded definition.

Listen to: Toasted Sister Podcast for a discussion of Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

F can also be for…  farm-to-table, fast fashion

Sustainability is a concept and a growing reality that is always evolving,  which is why at ecoeats we want to promote and educate on sustainable practices, ideas and issues wherever we can. For more on our A-Z of sustainability, see below!