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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 also a lot of sustainability myths being perpetuated, 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 precisely 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 source to point to, whenever the subject is being discussed.

Sustainability is all about climate change

While it’s true that current CO2 emission levels are not sustainable if we want to maintain a livable climate, sustainability is actually not only about this. The definition is much wider and covers all human activity.

This is a very common sustainability myth. We 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 we have some bad news for you: The world, as we know it, will end. Ask yourself this: What is the most expensive, achieving a sustainable society or continue the march towards collapse?

You will probably see the point now. It’s a popular sustainability myth, that it will be too expensive. Yes, it will cost something and it may not come cheap, but it’s really the only choice.

Sustainability is equal to recycling

People like simple and easy to understand solutions so it’s understandable that a sustainability myth like this gets a hold, but no.

Recycling is an important component of sustainability work, but it’s only a part of it all. In fact, recycling may not help us at all in some cases as we’re still dealing with limited and sometimes diminishing resources.

In many cases, recycling may work as a temporary band-aid, but the proper solution is something else.

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

No, it won’t. Actually, it wouldn’t be possible for us to move back to old ways of living as we wouldn’t be able to sustain the Earth’s population in that way.

The way towards a sustainable society goes 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 simply 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, if it happens.

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

Technology will solve all our problems

Technology will certainly solve a lot of problems, but sustainability hinges to a high degree on each and every one of us to make smarter decisions and to plan 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 living as we do now.

We will also have to start thinking about what we really need and plan our lives better so that we don’t have to drive around in our cars all the time as this will surely lead to an unsustainable traffic situation.

Perhaps many of us don’t need a car at all. Skipping the car actually means less technology, not more.

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 a grain of truth to it, but it’s not by any means 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 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? Focusing on perceived overpopulation of our planet won’t take us anywhere and the fact of the matter is that nobody knows what the optimal population is.

More people than ever are living on Earth today, but poverty is at its lowest level ever. It is a popular sustainability myth among some people 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 sustainability were an easy nut to crack we probably 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.