By Naume Guveya

Building covered in plants
Waterfalls surrounded by trees
A field of solar panels on the ground

Human society is under threat from climate change and the loss of Earth’s natural life. For many, sustainable living is one way of dealing with this issue.

Maybe you’ve been growing your food, recycling and composting your waste, but sustainable living entails much more than watching your carbon footprint or developing and preserving ecological systems.

So what exactly is sustainable living?

What is sustainable living?

Sustainable living is the practice of a lifestyle whose aim is to meet present environmental, societal, and economic needs without compromising those of future generations.

Some proponents of sustainable living focus on reducing their carbon footprint, for example, by altering their consumption, diet, energy sources, and modes of transport. The problem with this approach is that it’s limited to only sustainable ecological development.

Sustainable living is far-reaching, including not only environmental sustainability, but economic and social sustainability as well. Together, these three pillars are considered the principles of sustainability and sustainable living.

If we are to better understand sustainable living, we need to understand these three principles.

The Three Principles of Sustainability

“Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.

Ralph Bicknese

1. Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability can be defined as the responsible interaction with the environment such that the demands placed on environmental resources can be met without depleting or damaging the resources in the long run. Put simply, practising environmental sustainability allows people to live well now without reducing or jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

When left alone, nature has a way of taking care of itself, however, human activity is affecting nature’s restorative ability. For example, it’s estimated that humans cut down around 15 billion trees annually but only replant 5 billion. With a net loss of 10 billion trees each year, it’s easy to see how we are throwing nature off balance. What will this imbalance mean in the next two or three decades?

Without environmental sustainability, the environment’s long-term ability to support humans is compromised.

Since ecological conditions and systems differ by geographical location country, there are various ways to practice environmental sustainability. Nonetheless, one universal way to practice environmental sustainability involves adjusting your lifestyle to conserve natural resources. This means reorganising how you live to accommodate things such as ethical fashion, sustainable food, and green beauty.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

On a bigger scale, environmental sustainability also includes building sustainable homes and cities that adapt to green technologies, renewable energy, sustainable architecture, and sustainable agricultural practices. 

Now, onto the other types of sustainability!

2. Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability is concerned with safeguarding resources (both material and human) to create sustainable value and long-term economic growth that will meet future generations’ needs. This means economic sustainability practices support economic growth without negatively impacting any environmental and socio-cultural aspects of the community.

Achieving economic sustainability involves being more efficient with available resources, identifying underutilised resources, and managing consumption effectively. This is all hypothetical of course. In reality, achieving economic sustainability is difficult due to several root problems.

Problem #1: Energy

The rise in urbanisation and complex lifestyles (think about all the systems and gadgets needed to fulfil the daily needs of modern living) is increasing energy consumption.

Zhenya Liu’s Global Energy Interconnection, which was published in 2015, highlighted that between 1980 and 2013, world annual electricity consumption grew 203% from 7300 TWh (terawatt hour) to 22,100 TWh. The world population has increased by over 8% since then and with it, energy consumption.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.


A graph showing the global electricity consumption between 1980 and 2013
Source: Global Energy Interconnection

Fossil fuels (e.g. coal, oil, and natural gas) are the easy solution for keeping up with increasing energy demand.

Grapgh showing global energy consumption between 1965 and 2015

This is because they are easy to access compared to renewable energy sources which tend to have higher infrastructure requirements. However, fossil fuels are finite resources and their extraction is becoming more difficult and costly.

In developing countries where traditional biomass (animal dung, agricultural waste, wood) is the main source of energy, deforestation is rampant. Deforestation is affecting environmental quality which, in turn, is affecting economic growth and economic sustainability.

Increased energy demand is also making it more difficult to get clean energy, even in developed nations. This is because higher consumption exerts more pressure on resources and increases the cost of accessing clean energy.

To top it all is the problem of energy waste. In some instances, wasted energy exceeds the energy used every year.

From all this, we can deduce that the current energy system is being affected by several things:

  • An increasing population that’s leading to overconsumption of energy
  • Unexplored renewable energy options
  • Energy wastage
  • Poor infrastructure to harness renewable energy sources
  • Poor distribution systems.

Our current energy supply system is unsustainable and it makes it hard to achieve economic sustainability.

Problem #2: Water

Annual global freshwater consumption is around 4 trillion cubic meters. Even with this high consumption, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates that around 1.1 billion people (14.5% of the world population) don’t have access to basic drinking water. The WWF also estimates that water shortages have the potential to impact two-thirds of the world’s population by 2025.

The World Bank has highlighted that countries need to spend about $150 billion annually to deliver safe water and sanitation in order to boost economic growth.


Without access to clean water, disease will become more prevalent and this will affect economic development and the ability to reach economic sustainability.

Problem #3: Food

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), around 820 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

This food insecurity has a cost. For example, according to the Iowa Food Bank Association:

  • the illness costs linked to hunger and food insecurity amount to around $130.5 billion
  • the poor education outcomes and lower lifetime earning potential linked to hunger and food insecurity cost around $19.2 billion
  • the charity contributions required to address hunger and food insecurity amount to $17.8 billion

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: Zero Hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Hunger affects economic sustainability. But waste exacerbates hunger.  At present, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food (around a third of all the food produced for human consumption) are wasted every year. Addressing food waste can curb hunger and ultimately, boost economic sustainability.

Achieving economic sustainability comes down to balancing long-term resource consumption and conservation.

3. Social Sustainability

Social sustainability is about identifying and managing systems, processes, structures, and relationships that promote wellbeing. It’s also about supporting both current and future generations in creating healthy and liveable communities. This form of sustainability involves understanding what people need in the places they live and work so as to create successful places that corroborate with these needs.

The concept of social sustainability encompasses a wide range of issues including:

  • social justice and equity
  • labour rights
  • environmental resource conservation
  • sustainable community development
  • health equity
  • cultural competence
  • human rights
  • social responsibility

Although often overlooked, social sustainability is the aspect under which all the other domains of sustainability (economic and environmental) fall.  This is because social sustainability encompasses all human activities including the economic and ecological dimensions.

Environmental sustainability has become mainstream and so its interconnectedness with social sustainability is quite apparent. On the other hand, the overlap between social and economic sustainability is still in its early stages. However, this overlap is already reshaping the business world.   

Business and social sustainability

Social sustainability in business is based on the idea that there is a human cost to doing business. As such, social sustainability in business is about proactively identifying and understanding how businesses affect society. By doing this, businesses can determine how to ensure longevity in communities.

Social sustainability in business encompasses the local community, all employees in the value chain, and customers. Everyone has to be considered including secondary stakeholders, minor shareholders and people who belong to other minority groups.

Some of the biggest aspects that businesses consider when it comes to social sustainability include health and safety both at work and in the community, acceptable working conditions, fair labour practices, equity, diversity, work-life balance, effective community engagement, how products affect lives, philanthropy, and transparency.

The United Nations Global Compact is one of the key pacts encouraging businesses all over the world to adopt socially sustainable policies and to report on their implementation. The pact highlights how businesses can benefit from social sustainability. Some of these benefits include:

  • Helping to build long-term business partnerships since socially sustainable businesses tend to attract and retain partners.

  • Unlocking new markets as more consumers are interested in sustainability. Modern consumers are even willing to spend more on brands that are transparent and products that are ethical.

  • Improved risk management since poor social sustainability in business risks brand reputation and product quality.

  • Improved employee engagement and retention. When a business values employee welfare, the employees are likely to stay.

  • Minimising community-company conflicts as businesses will be concerned about the impact of their systems, processes, and policies on society.
Chart showing the 10 UN Global Compact principles
Source: UN Global Compact

Social sustainability in business promotes social cohesion and improves the quality of life. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that despite efforts to increase the implementation of social sustainability, measuring success is hard. Some of the aspects of social sustainability are not easily quantifiable.

For instance, measuring the impact of a product on health is not as easily measurable as the effectiveness of labour practices. In some cases, there are a lot of information gaps and businesses have to come up with creative ways to measure their efforts. Hopefully, more solutions to this problem will emerge as social sustainability in business continues to grow.

Merging environmental, economic, and social sustainability

Bringing together all the elements of sustainability ensures a comprehensive approach to creating sustainable communities and sustainable lifestyles.

Where can you apply the principles of sustainable living?

The three sustainable living principles can be applied to all areas of life. The following are some of the common application areas.


Living sustainably usually entails relying on renewable energy sources such as hydropower, solar, and geothermal energy. Renewable energy sources do not harm the environment and they tend to be more economical. For instance, solar and wind energy are cheaper than fossil fuels. This means that replacing non-renewable energy sources with renewable ones is not only energy-efficient but financially efficient as well.


Environmental sustainability emphasises the need to adopt efficient water utilisation practices that conserve the precious resource. How well water is used and conserved will impact the environment, communities, and the economy. Think about how water is used in homes, farms, manufacturing, and construction, just to name a few places.

With increasing water shortages, it’s become increasingly important to design water management systems that deal with issues such as pollution, water wastage, destruction of water sources, and flooding. When it comes to water, no effort is too small – simple things like using water-efficient showerheads and toilets can go a long way in conserving water.


According to FAO, an estimated 36% of the world’s land surface is suitable for crop production to some degree. But the world population is increasing and there’s a need for more efficient land use if the entire population is to be fed. This is where sustainable living principles are applied to support sustainable agricultural practices.  


In addition to using land well, there’s also a need to protect biodiversity since different forms of life create a vital balance in ecosystems. Sustainable living principles include practices that help to protect life in our surrounding environments. These practices include restoring biodiversity, protecting animal habitats, and creating new habitats where necessary.

Ecological Development

Sustainable ecological development promotes living within limits so as not to deplete scarce resources. It ensures that current economic and ecological needs are met without compromising those of future generations.

Ecological development is promoting the use of sustainable design to produce appropriate technologies that support sustainable living. For instance, technologies in the ecological development space are being used in infrastructure.


Sustainable living encompasses living and working in sustainable spaces. This requires sustainable construction practices that, for example, promote the building of more energy-efficient spaces and the use of sustainable materials. Such materials are durable and efficient and examples include those with low embodied energy and those manufactured using renewable resources (e.g. bamboo, reclaimed brick, and recycled metal). Sustainable construction also involves designs that have the least impact on ecosystems.

Chart showing the various components of sustainable green building
Source: Renewables in Africa


The principles of sustainability affect the quality of people’s health. While unsustainable products are not necessarily concerned with health consequences, sustainable products are built to improve or maintain health. This means that with sustainable products, careful attention is put into eliminating any harmful elements from the product lifecycle. From sustainable food to sustainable clothing and personal care products, these products are built with your health in mind.

Local Cultural Values

One of the primary applications of social sustainability is preserving and enhancing local cultural values. This, in turn, impacts environmental sustainability since local cultures tend to promote the conservation of local resources. When local cultural values are strong, people collectively come together to contribute to sustainable practices.

For example, due to most rural communities in Zimbabwe relying on firewood as a fuel source, deforestation had become rampant. However, since 2005, the country’s forestry commission has been working with traditional leaders to educate people on the importance of trees and reforestation.

In these rural communities, traditional leaders are responsible for helping people uphold their cultural values, and as such, they are normally held in high regard. As a result, many communities have become more accountable and they are now taking reforestation seriously. To date, over 8 million trees have been planted with a survival rate of 65% to 70%.


The transport industry has long been characterised by high energy prices and carbon emissions. Sustainability principles are ushering in an era of cutting out unnecessary travel and increasing alternative, more sustainable transportation methods.

For instance, small fuel-efficient and hybrid cars are reducing reliance on big cars that have bigger energy needs and higher carbon emissions. People are also opting for green public transport such as electric trains, walking, and cycling.


Sustainability principles are disrupting the technology space with sustainable technology. Also known as clean technology (clean-tech), sustainable technology is an umbrella term for technologies that reduce technology’s negative impact on the environment. The technologies reduce the negative impact through:

  • More sustainable use of natural resources
  • Increasing the potential for recycling
  • Environmental conservation activities e.g. reducing emissions and contamination.
  • Energy efficiency improvement
  • Shifting from non-biodegradable materials and non-renewable energy (wholly extractive systems) to biodegradable and renewable options (restorative systems).

Although there is no universal definition of sustainable technology, the technology is essentially about reducing material and energy usage while minimising emissions and waste. And even though clean tech tends to focus on environmental aims, it also contributes to economic sustainability by enabling significant monetary savings.

Application, application, application

Ultimately, the application of sustainability principles prioritise actions that enable longevity. These actions include promoting equality, good animal welfare, zero waste, zero carbon emissions and building strong cultural ties that impact communities, the environment, and the economy.

Why live sustainably?

Thanks to its different facets, sustainability not only redefines our lifestyles in terms of how we interact with the environment. It also impacts how we interact with other people and businesses within our communities. Here are some top benefits of living sustainably.

Efficient Use of Resources

One of the main focuses of sustainable living is being able to live well without depleting resources. From using less energy to saving water and trees, sustainable living promotes the efficient use of resources to ensure availability in the long run.

Elimination of toxins

When you adopt a sustainable lifestyle you protect your health and that of the planet.

Truly sustainable food, clothing, and personal care products reduce the chances of harmful products making their way into your body. For instance, sustainable agricultural practices aim to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in the production of food.

Sustainable products will also help ensure that the planet is protected throughout a product’s entire life right up to disposal.


Sustainable living promotes only buying and using what you need. For example, do you need to have a closet full of fast fashion items that won’t last very long or you can be creative with fewer slow fashion clothing items that are built to last? Do you have to buy only the pretty fruit or you can also add some ugly fruit to the mix?

Considering your purchases and simplifying your shopping list to only include what’s necessary means that there’s potential to save money. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some extra money just by making a couple of changes?

Waste Reduction

Waste is one of the biggest challenges affecting sustainability. Many resources are being wasted and the current waste disposal practices are unsustainable. Sustainable living principles aim to minimise waste by promoting “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling.”

Reducing waste includes things such as forgoing products with excessive packaging, opting for products with reusable packaging, buying clothing that lasts, and using food scraps and leftovers.

Increased Awareness

Sustainable living is about being “woke”. You don’t just buy things for the sake of buying. You question your purchases and try to find out as much as you can about, for example, a product or a business.

Does the company follow fair trade rules? Are ingredients sourced sustainably and are the business processes safe? Is the product lifecycle sustainable? Is the brand transparent about its business and is it accountable?

When living sustainably, you are interested in how your choices impact things like your wellbeing and that of the environment and society. As such, you don’t accept everything you are told at face value. You become proactive in making sustainable choices and this leads to increased awareness.

How to get started with sustainable living

Achieving sustainability won’t happen overnight and it can be overwhelming. It will take consistent deliberate efforts to make a change, but there are some simple steps you can take to help you get started on the right path.

Increase your Knowledge

Educating yourself is one of the best ways to get into sustainable living. By learning as much as you can about sustainability, you place yourself in a better position to take action that counts.

There are many resources available to help you. For example, we have content on various sustainability topics here at Fettle Hub. A simple Google search can be a good starting point for your research and you can also learn by joining a community of like-minded people who also want to live the sustainable way. Social media groups and local environmental conservation groups are some great ways to interact with people who share your sustainability goals.  

Review Your Lifestyle

Knowledge on its own is insufficient to help you make a change; you need to know where change is needed. In other words, you need to determine how your current actions and lifestyle are impacting the sustainability landscape. The following calculators make for a great starting point when reviewing your current lifestyle.

  1. To estimate your water footprint – Water Footprint Calculator
  2. For the carbon footprint – Carbon Footprint Calculator
  3. To assess your ecological footprint – Footprint Calculator
  4. For your fashion footprint – Fashion Footprint Calculator
  5. To check out how much food you are wasting and how much this is costing you – Food Waste Calculator

Acknowledge That We All Have To Start Somewhere

There will always be people who thrive on the all-or-nothing way of doing things. But while this is great, it doesn’t have to put you under pressure and leave you feeling like you are not doing enough.

For instance, if you can’t give up eating meat, that’s okay. You can just limit the meaty dishes and go meatless several times a week. Even two or three meatless days every week can shake up your carbon footprint in the right direction. Check out this Calculator by Impossible Foods to measure your impact when you decide to go meatless.

If you can’t afford that wholly sustainable clothing brand, you can mix things up with maybe another brand that is working on cutting out any unsustainable practices.

Being extreme can end up putting you off sustainable living. After all, keeping up with a radical overhaul of your entire lifestyle is not so easy. It’s okay to start small and build up your efforts; we all have to start somewhere.

Consider Minimalism to Avoid Waste or Even Go Zero Waste

Cutting back on the things you don’t need is a great way to start living sustainably. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to live without anything; it simply means that whatever you do have is used to its maximum potential. With minimalism, you are more mindful of what you own and you aim to reuse, recycle, and minimise waste.

One way to get started on your minimalism journey is to take stock of what you need so that you reduce unnecessary purchases. You can use the 30-day rule to control impulse spending on items such as clothing.  Wallet Buddy, a printable paper sleeve designed to help with making sustainable purchasing decisions, is another great tool to help you avoid the nonessentials.  

Go sans Plastic (a.k.a. Ditch the Plastic)

Plastic has been a big part of our lives for a long time and getting rid of it won’t happen instantly. But a few small changes to your relationship with plastic can make a big difference. For example, you can buy reusable bags for when you go shopping (bye plastic bags) or you can buy your fruit and veg without all the cling film (the individual wrapping is unnecessary).

Individual bananas with individual plastic wrapping. This is not good for sustainable living

Go For Sustainable Food

You can up your sustainable living game by making sustainable food choices.

One great way to do this is to buy locally-grown food that is in season. Local food stimulates the local economy and it tends to be fresher. It also comes with fewer ‘food miles’ which mean that there’s less pollution involved in the distribution chain.  

You can also opt for organic food. Although this food sometimes comes with a higher price tag, it provides several benefits including minimising the negative effect of harmful chemicals used in the production of some non-organic food.

However, it’s important to note that despite the numerous advantages of both local and organic food, these two are not always sustainable. You have to differentiate between sustainable food and organic or local food if you are to avoid getting caught in a web of ambiguity.

If organic food production methods use land inefficiently can the food be considered sustainable? If the local farmer exploits workers or uses methods that result in toxic water systems, is the local, seasonal food sustainable?

Check out this sustainable food guide to get some insight into what makes food truly sustainable.    

Monitor Your Consumption

How much water and power do you use?

A little wastage every day adds up significantly. It’s important to watch your consumption and take some measures to minimise waste. For example, you can save power by switching to energy-saving bulbs, using daylight as much as possible, unplugging devices that are not in use, and choosing energy-efficient technology that’s eco-friendly too. Better yet, you can explore renewable energy options such as solar energy.

To conserve water, you can opt for water-efficient toilets and showerheads or add aerators to your sink faucets to reduce water use. Shorter showers are not a bad idea and you can also go for drought-tolerant plants that don’t need so much water to maintain.

Imagine how much impact all these small consumption improvements can have when done collectively.

Create Your Own Little Efficient System

Forgetting to add an item to your shopping list is one of those things that happen often. But what does it mean when you have to drive back to the store to pick up what you omitted on the list?

More fuel use, more pollution, and even wasted time.

Simple things like avoiding unnecessary shopping trips or setting up your sprinkler system so that it only waters the plants (not the sidewalk or driveway) can go a long way in improving your sustainability efforts. You can also ditch the car for walking and cycling and you can try carpooling if you have to use the car. What about flying only when it’s necessary or going electronic, where possible, to reduce paper use?

All these efforts can help you create a sustainable living system that will help you reduce pollution and the resources you consume at any given time.  

Take the Three Rs Seriously

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – that’s the way to go.

  1. Reduce purchases and packaging. Fewer items translate to fewer things that need reusing and recycling.

  2. Next comes reusing or repurposing as much as you can. Those old tees that you are about to throw away can make some good cleaning cloths, produce bags, or lining for a pet bed. The milk carton can make for a pretty nifty garden scooper and the plastic bottle could make a good DIY planter.

    You can also try reselling any items you don’t need. The market for pre-loved goods has grown significantly over the years and you can make yourself some money while saving the planet. If you don’t want to sell, you can always donate the items and allow someone else to give them a new lease on life.

  3. Last in the hierarchy is recycling to minimise what gets dumped in landfills. From aluminium cans, paper, and wood to glass bottles and metals, there is a lot you can recycle.
    Just make sure that your recycle bin contains only the items that can be recycled. Check out this great list by NetWaste to see some common items that cannot be recycled or at least, require special recycling.
    In the spirit of zero waste, you can also take up composting. Composting reduces waste and it’s a great way to create some natural fertiliser.

Get Growing

Growing your food means you know exactly what’s in your food. It’s also a great way to cut down your carbon footprint (think fewer food miles), save money, and even lead a healthier life.


Gardening has been shown to promote good mental health? In fact, many people who suffer from depression and anxiety have found gardening to be incredibly beneficial to their mental wellbeing.

If you don’t have much space you can try food production methods that don’t require much space such as windowsill boxes or balcony gardening. You can also try your hand at vertical gardening using sprawling crops such as cucumbers, melons, and squashes. If you have more space you can even show the environment some love by planting trees.   

A small, indoor vertical gardening system
Source: dieneves

Green Your Beauty and Personal Care

Ever heard of microbeads, or parabens, or sodium laureth sulfate? Lots of ingredients go into the manufacture of your personal care and beauty products, but not all these ingredients are safe.

Microbeads are not biodegradable and they end up in water systems and food chains where they are not needed. Parabens have been linked to hormone disruptions that increase the risk of reproductive toxicity and breast cancer while sodium laureth sulfate is a known skin irritant.

These three don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to bad ingredients and so it’s essential to pick out your personal care and beauty products wisely. No wild guesses or picking products because of their pretty packaging – you have to make educated purchases.

Clean Right

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but just like with many personal care products, many cleaning products are packed with toxic chemicals that are in no way environmentally friendly. From ammonia to phthalates, the list of toxic chemicals is pretty long and environmental experts estimate that the average household has a minimum of 62 toxic chemicals. Long-term exposure to these chemicals can harm your health in addition to affecting the environment.

You can avoid the bad stuff by opting for eco-friendly cleaning products which are way less harmful. Do watch out for brands that thrive on greenwashing. Just because it says ‘natural’, ‘green’ or ‘organic’ doesn’t mean it is.

Check if it’s Fairtrade

It’s unfortunate, but many workers are still being exploited and not getting fair pay for their hard work. Others are exposed to toxins and unsafe working environments then there are issues such as discriminatory labour practices that affect women and child labour. For instance, most of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa where child labour is widespread and ridiculously low wages are the norm.

You can help put an end to these issues and support sustainable working environments by looking for fair-trade certification when you buy products imported from all over the world. To help you get started, you can look for fair trade certification on fruit, cocoa, coffee, and sugar.

The future of sustainable living

Sustainable living is no longer just a buzzword. It’s now an important part of life that we have to embrace fully if we want to preserve the environment and our communities for both present and future generations. The future may be very bleak if we don’t step up our sustainability efforts and ditch unsustainable practices.

Fortunately, more people are joining the sustainable living movement.

Sustainability by continent

According to a study led by Southern Cross University that had respondents from Australia and the US, 93% of the study respondents are concerned about the environment. Additionally, an increasing number of them are interested in learning what they can do to live more sustainable lifestyles.

Most of those who took part in the study have already taken some steps to become more sustainable. However, governments still have a large role to play in promoting sustainable living since close to 80% of the respondents believe that it’s up to governments to tackle environmental issues.

In Asia, sustainable development and sustainable living are becoming popular as more people see the effects of increased water and air pollution in the region. Asia has suffered worsening weather events such as tsunamis and typhoons and the need to act is becoming clearer. People are also advocating for equality and better working environments, especially in factories where safety policies are deplorable.

Since the inception of the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs), more Africans are more aware of the connection between unsustainable practices things such as poverty, water shortages, increased droughts and famine. However, the adoption of sustainable systems and practices has been very slow in Africa compared to other regions.  

This is highlighted by the results provided by the prototype index created by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Bertelsmann Stiftung to measure how well countries are doing in terms of achieving SDGs.

Global map showing the SDG index score by country
Source: World Economic Forum

Some forecasts even show that, except for a few outliers, most African countries will likely not meet the SDGs. This is due to several socio-economic and political factors affecting many African countries. For example:

  • The progress made in reducing poverty and inequality has been slow due to limited employment opportunities and weak social mechanisms.
  • Weak infrastructure and limited value-adding processes are undermining overall economic growth.
  • There is increasing food insecurity and undernourishment.
  • Innovation and technology development are very slow due to limited investment in research and development.

African companies are trying to close the current gaps in achieving the SDGs and they are not alone in their efforts.

Companies rallying for sustainability

Companies and brands are adopting SDGs and adapting to consumers’ need for products and business policies that support sustainable living.

For instance, Air New Zealand has committed to eliminating single-use plastics on flights and Unilever has set a goal to halve its emissions by 2030. Already, Unilever has eliminated 97% of the waste from its production chain and 56% of its raw materials now come from sustainable sources.

Many businesses are following suit, although some brands’ commitment to sustainability is questionable on closer inspection. But this is a story for another day. For now, what’s important is that some of the current collective action we are seeing all around the world is encouraging. This, of course, is despite all the greenwashing and some half-baked sustainability policies being thrown our way. But again, this is a tale for another time.

Living Sustainably

Committing to more sustainable lifestyles is not simple, but it’s worth it. The important thing to remember is that every step counts and you should never feel like you are not doing much just because someone else is doing more than you. The important thing is to start and keep at it.

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