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10 popular sustainability myths

Everybody’s talking about sustainability these days and there is no shortage of ideas about it, what it really means and how to achieve it. However, there are a lot of sustainability myths that exist because of misunderstandings, but sometimes even for malignant purposes.

What are the facts and what are the most common sustainability myths?  In this article, we will try to sort out 10 of the most popular sustainability myths and sort out the facts from fiction.

Sustainability isn’t well defined

While the word may seem vaguely defined, at best, it was actually defined by a United Nations committee as “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

While opinions may differ, this is a very good reference point whenever the subject is being discussed.

Sustainability is all about climate change

Whilst it’s true that the current CO2 emission levels are not sustainable, if we want to maintain life in a liveable climate, sustainability is actually much more than this. The definition and impact is much wider and covers all human activity. 

We do need a sustainable climate, but we also need a sustainable economy and sustainable political systems in order to achieve overall sustainability. 

It’s too expensive

If sustainability is too expensive, then the world as we know it, will end.  Ask yourself this, what is the more expensive, achieving a sustainable society or continuing the march towards collapse? 

It’s a popular sustainability myth, that it will be too expensive to make a difference to the planet. Yes, there will be a financial cost, but progress and survival is dependant on it.

Sustainability is equal to recycling

People like simple and easy to understand solutions, so it’s understandable that a sustainability myth like this grabs the headline, but wait! 

Recycling is an important component of sustainability work, but it’s only a part of the story. A greater consideration is the long term protection of the raw material; the seed from which nature can grow in the most natural way.

In many cases, recycling may act as a band-aid plaster, but the real solution is something else.

Sustainability will take us backwards in time and make us poor and miserable

Actually, it wouldn’t be possible for us to move back in time as we wouldn’t be able to sustain the Earth’s population as it is today.

The way towards a sustainable society is through innovation and efficient use of resources. We will have to become much more technically advanced to pull through this. Only through properly directed and thorough research will we be able to identify the solutions today that will make for a sustainable future.

Life, for everyone, will get better, not worse.

Free markets and well-informed consumers are the only way forward

It is a stubborn sustainability myth, that the market will take care of everything. As limited natural resources run scarce, they say that increasing prices will steer consumers away, towards more modern and sustainable alternatives. Unfortunately, this will not work. 

To begin with, we may not have time to wait for this to happen as we may run into a completely unsustainable situation long before the market correction ever happens. 

In addition, the kind of market correction envisioned will be violent and wreak havoc with the global economy, which is also an important component of the sustainability puzzle.

Technology will solve all our problems

Technology certainly helps, but sustainability hinges, to a high degree, on each and every one of us making smarter decisions and planning our lives better. For example, we may all get electric cars that run on renewable energy in the future, but ultimately it won’t help if we just keep on consuming resources as we do now. 

We need to give greater thought to what we really need and plan our lives better. Perhaps many of us don’t need a car at all and maybe virtual communication will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint. 

Sustainability is the same as going green

Going green, using only what’s natural, is what many think of when sustainability is discussed. It’s one very popular sustainability myth and there is some truth to it, but it’s not the whole truth. 

Making “green” choices for food, energy and lifestyle will make you feel good and it’s probably good for your health, compared to many other options, but it doesn’t make it sustainable. Achieving sustainable development will force us to make some tough choices, not all of them very green at all. 

Getting electricity from nuclear power, for example, is hardly considered green by anyone, but it may still be the sustainable choice, in some cases, if we want to keep on living the way we do.

In a similar way, we may have to make other choices that can’t be considered green, but that will actually take us in the right direction, nonetheless.

The Earth’s population is unsustainable

Reducing the Earth’s population could make things easier! but where does that line of thinking end up?  Suggesting we have an overpopulated planet, won’t take us anywhere and it won't allow us to solve the conundrum.  

It is a popular sustainability myth that there is a known population limit for planet Earth.  It’s a matter of managing our resources and doing it in a reasonable way, for the benefit of everyone.

Sustainability is just a matter of making some small adjustments to our lives

If the sustainability question was an easy nut to crack, we wouldn’t be in the current situation to begin with. Yes, it is true that we all have to make adjustments to our ways of living and most of them may be rather small, but it’s hardly enough. 

This sustainability myth builds on the assumption that all problems are local. They are not. Most sustainability problems are global and require large scale solutions. 

Only when we work with sustainability on all levels of society will the road forward emerge.

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