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Being sustainable means being more efficient, wasting less

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Signs of spring are all around. The morning chill, the warm midday sun and the colorful petals of tree blossoms scudding along in the fresh breeze. The greening trees and grass bring color to the landscape as drenching rains fuel new growth. For our corner of the world, spring has arrived!

It is during this time of the year, and with Earth Day right around the corner, that it is beneficial to take stock of our efforts toward a more sustainable future. This article will take a closer look at what sustainability means, and provide resources for you to explore.

A common definition of sustainable development, the Brundtland definition, refers to sustainability as the ability to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Through acting sustainably, we will find ways to be more efficient, waste less and work to better manage finite resources.

In defining sustainability, the Brundtland Commission — an independent organization created by the United Nations in 1984 to seek solutions to environmental and developmental problems — also established the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social.

Each of these pillars are equally important. It is often economics, though, that drive high-level policy decisions and practices, often to the detriment of the social and environmental considerations.

A healthy economy is important for the well-being of humans. Manufacture, trade and consumption of goods and services are the bases of economic growth and prosperity. Becoming more sustainable doesn’t mean we have to give up a standard of living or do without — rather, that we work to rethink the way we approach consumption.

We can do this by focusing on the life-cycle value of products and purchase more durable goods, not purchasing things that we don’t need, reusing things that are still useful, repairing broken items instead of tossing them and rethinking the value of single-use and disposable goods. Realizing that “cheap” items aren’t really cheap at all is a great first step.

The social pillar is significant because it is important to recognize that all humans have the right to grow and prosper. No one segment should be burdened by the actions of others, nor should barriers be placed in the way of humans to attain their needs. Equity is integral to building social cohesion and preventing the breakdown of societal norms that would lead to chaos.

The environmental pillar is a tangible and vital component of sustainable development. It is, for most of us, also the most relatable. We can directly see many of the effects of development, waste and poor management of resources on our environment.

Taking actions at the personal and community level helps build awareness and generate support for sustainable development locally. Learning about policy initiatives that affect sustainability, and their consequences, helps us make decisions that are more informed. We can also take it a step further and become more active in the decision-making process, and help shape policy.

At the Sustainable Living Center (SLC), we work through programs and partnerships to affect change toward a more sustainable future. Our Community Energy Efficiency Program (CEEP) drives residential energy savings. CEEP also helps participants gain a better understanding of home systems and how energy saving measures can increase home comfort.

Through our Builders ReSupply store, SLC offers an alternative to taking good, usable building materials to the landfill. Purchasing these used items also saves community members money on their projects.

SLC’s $mart Business Partner program helps local businesses and organizations reduce their consumption of energy, water, waste and materials in their operations. These reductions usually generate savings in operational costs for participating partners.

Finally, outreach and education on sustainable topics helps community members learn and access resources to help them take actions at home, school and work. To learn more, visit SLC’s website at, or call us at 509-524-5218.

Celebrate Earth Day next Sunday by enjoying spring, and resolving to treat every day like Earth Day!

Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.

Link to Union Bulletin here.

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