Product sustainability paves the way for a zero-waste lifestyle

The production of meat takes a significantly higher amount of energy to produce than other foods such as fruits and vegetables, Grover said.

For the past decade, the principle of sustainability has slowly grown into a major movement in fashion and lifestyle. Bloggers and other internet personalities document their “zero-waste” lifestyles via grocery haul videos and sustainable product reviews. Major fashion and lifestyle brands such as Stella McCartney and Lush have made notable strides toward minimizing their environmental footprints through alternative material sourcing and package-free product lines.

Last November, UTA appointed its first chief sustainability officer, further solidifying the university’s mission to become an exemplar on environmental sustainability.

This movement is in full force prompting many to ask what they can do to preserve the environment.

“I think people are looking for ways that they can do something in their personal lives,” said James Grover, College of Science associate dean. “That has made it popular, I think, for companies and marketers to claim that whatever they’re selling is in some sense sustainable.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as the pursuit of conditions under which humans and nature can exist harmoniously in order to support present and future generations.

For a product to be sustainable, it should use less energy, generate less carbon dioxide, and waste or use less water than typical alternatives, Grover said.

Most people probably don’t think about the carbon dioxide produced by the manufacturing of their clothes when shopping or the energy used to produce the unfinished lunch that they’re about to throw out.

However, these small choices individuals make mindlessly everyday are the ones that matter most, GreenSource DFW editor Julie Thibodeaux said.

“Our culture is going to have to change this idea of just making a bunch of stuff,” Thibodeaux said. “Manufacturers have to look at what is going to happen when this product is no longer useful.”

Shelbi Orme, a sustainable lifestyle vlogger and Austin native, lives what is called a “zero-waste lifestyle.” This lifestyle is largely based on the principle of minimizing her environmental footprint, or human impact on the environment, by limiting what she needs and buys.

Reduce, reuse and recycle are the pillars of sustainability. Orme takes what she calls an “anti-consumerist” approach to sustainable living, with an emphasis on reducing what she buys to decrease the impact that those purchases will have on the environment.

“The end goal is to have a society that doesn’t extract and create products that are meant to last forever in the environment but only use for moments,” Orme said. “What I’m striving for is to look at resources as finite instead of infinite.”

A completely zero-waste lifestyle takes time, Orme said. There are a number of things people, especially students, can do should they be interested in minimizing their environmental footprint.

To start, Orme recommends tackling “the big four.” Eliminate plastic water bottles, nonreusable coffee cups, plastic bags and straws. Instead, replace those items with reusable alternatives.

Canvas bags, bamboo, or metal utensils and straws all serve as useful replacements.

Thibodeaux and Grover both agree that reducing the amount of meat in a diet can have a significant impact on the climate because the production of meat uses more water and energy than that of plant foods.

There’s a limit to what the individual can do when it comes to the large-scale issue of climate change. Ultimately, collective action is needed to make a significant change, Grover said.

The economic choices an individual makes can drive a market and eventually influence the demand of a nonsustainable material, Orme said. For her, it’s simple: People caused the problem, so they’ll be the ones to fix it.

“You cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do,” Orme said.

@edmedeles

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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