The benefits of sustainability are wide-ranging. Sustainability maintains the health and biocapacity of the environment. Sustainability supports the well-being of individuals and the thriving of communities. Sustainability promotes a better economy where there is little waste and pollution, fewer emissions, more jobs, and a better distribution of wealth.
Getting the priorities right
It is important to consider where individuals, society, the economy and the environment derive their well-being. Many people think that the health of the economy is paramount and that individual and social well-being derives from that. This is not true. Whilst the economy exists to support the well-being of society, it is still only a subordinate component of society. Also, the economy is entirely dependent on resources from the planet to support it. Society is also a part of the environment and is therefore reliant on the well-being of the environment for life itself, and for the full range of human activities and experience.
So the priority of sustainability is Planet first, People second, Production third
Environmental well-being is crucial to human well-being because that’s where all our physical resources come from. However, each year, humanity uses over 1.5 times the biocapacity of the earth. Biocapacity is the amount of renewable resources produced by the earth that can be used by humans. It is only possible to demand and use more resources that are supplied by diminishing and degrading the environment. Consequently, humans continually reduce the ability of the environment to provide the resources we will need in the future. The very definition of sustainability is ‘living within the earth’s biocapacity’. The benefit of this is that the environment can thrive and continue to sustain people, and all life, indefinitely.
Social and Individual well-being
Sustainability supports individuals in many ways. This is epitomised in the practice of Voluntary Simplicity where the focus is on having less but experiencing life more.
The benefits of a simpler life are profound. Instead of the produce-and-consume way of life, people are able to focus more on the things that really support well-being such as relationships, self-improvement and meaningful pursuits.
Also, sustainability tends to promote healthier living, for example, it promotes walking or biking over cars. It promotes fresh local produce over processed food. Sustainability promotes warm, dry homes which ward off illness. It promotes the use of natural products over synthetic ones.
Read more about the benefits of sustainability in supporting well-being »
Society as a whole also benefits. If individuals are well it will help make a healthier society overall, and vice-versa. Sustainable practices include sharing, giving and supporting each other to achieve a higher level of well-being in our communities.
“We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.”
– from ‘The Earth Charter’
A sustainable economy
Sustainable development is about improving the quality of the economy, not the size of it. The fact is we need a better economy, not a bigger one. Sustainable practices will make the economy better through reduced consumption overall and more equable distribution of wealth. People’s lives will be richer through better quality products and services.
Sustainable economies encourage local production over centralised production. Local production has many environmental benefits over centralised, or even offshore, production including reduced emissions, pollution and waste. Localised, smaller-scale production has societal benefits of creating jobs and boosting local incomes.
Sustainability encourages better design as well as less production. This means that products and services will be better quality, more durable and more useful. There will be less junk and less waste.