Live Sustainably: The Whats and Hows

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What really is sustainable living?

So, it’s 2021 and you have been hearing from social media and even from the people around about ‘sustainability’. Except, the only thing you understand about it is to go green. Well, you are not wrong because one of the pillars of sustainability is taking care of the environment. 

However, there are also another two equally important pillars which academicians always refer to as the Three Ps: 1. Planet, 2. People and 3. Profit.

Each pillar is quite self-explanatory, sustainability needs these three items to actually work. While we are taking care of the ‘planet’ by using recyclable materials, reducing waste, reusing resources we also need to consider the ‘people’ or community who play an important role in the whole supply chain that would lead to ‘profit’ or money.

“The three Ps are often referred to the Triple Bottom Line, which was a term created by Andrew Savitz. Mr. Savitz wrote a book called the Triple Bottom line which is described as ensuring business success by overlapping interests of our society and the environment, in addition to business interests.” Source: https://sustainabilitydefinition.org/the-3-ps-of-sustainability/ 

Let's say we are cutting down the use of single-use plastic, i.e plastic straws. Imagine if there are hundreds of plastic straws manufacturers that employ thousands of people. These people need money in order to support their lives. If we totally ban plastic straws, without alternatives, these people will lose their source of income and would probably suffer economically and that would lead to other socio-economic problems. Hence, in such a decision, we need thinkers to find ways of reducing the negative impacts of single-used plastics while taking into account the economy. And thus, we have manufacturers that came up with biodegradable materials, reusable straws among others. This is just a super-simplified analogy of how sustainability should theoretically work.

How can we live sustainably?

There are a lot of ways a person can support sustainable living - and it’s not limited to your own personal sphere. As mentioned earlier, sustainability comprises different aspects and could only work when the whole sectors work together. However, these are some of the things that you could do on a personal level at home.

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1. Reduce waste

Well, this is the most important thing in sustainability. We often see waste as the key issue anywhere in the world. Be it food waste, clothes, furniture and more. Majority of the public has problems with their waste management. Anyway, we can always start small by reducing over-packaging. Have you ever thought about why you need a plastic bag to pack your vegetables or fruits when doing your weekly grocery shopping? Like, at the end of the day you would still take them out the plastic bag and place it into your fridge, right? Avoid this by opting for plastic-free shopping - for example instead of buying them at the supermarket you can try shop locally where it is more free to not use their packaging. Go to your nearest pasar tani, or community market and bring your own container. And it’s not limited to grocery shopping. Reduce waste by thrift shopping for clothes, furniture and even almost anything. It seems small but imagine if you can influence hundreds or thousands of people? The world will be grateful. Speaking of shopping locally, it brings us to the next point. 

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2. Shop local

By shopping locally (meaning your neighbourhood kedai, pasar tani) you are supporting small businesses and hey, remember the second P? It’s people! Yeah, supporting them can contribute to many ways which include reducing carbon footprint. Read about carbon footprint here. A supermarket involves moooore layers of logistics compared to a small stall at a pasar tani. Even some brings their crops straight from the farm! Though it could cost a little higher but hey, you are helping a breadwinner to feed their family.

3. Support sustainable brands 

Not to say you need to boycott the huge supermarkets or anything similar. Nowadays, big brands do have more awareness on sustainability and they are also playing their parts. So, it is important to do your research on the brands and see how they are impacting the sustainability of the environment, community and economy. Some food brands are also providing a label that shows they are operating sustainably. For example, cooking oil. Well, controversial topic but hey Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) is really taking sustainability seriously. Hence we do have accredited certification to ensure the product is sustainable, it’s called the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MPSO) certification. To further enhance the efforts, some organisations have also been exploring biodiesel as a replacement for the traditional petroleum fuel - see, being sustainable is all about being innovative.

Is being sustainable expensive?

Short answer: it should not be. Long answer, it’s complicated just because the world supply chain works on the supply-demand basis and of course, better with lesser cost to produce but higher yield. Hence, nowadays, the fastest and cheapest way to produce something is not sustainable enough. We are using way too much resources and most of them are not renewable and would one day vanish. Using sustainable ways could be more expensive because it involves even more research and development. One day, in the future, sustainable living can be cheaper and hopefully it will be soon. The most important thing is, it all starts with you - as an individual.

Read more about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) here


  1. https://mspo.mpob.gov.my/ 
  2. http://www.ibrc.indiana.edu/ibr/2011/spring/article2.html 
  3. https://sustainabilitydefinition.org/the-3-ps-of-sustainability/ 
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/29/50-ways-to-green-up-your-life-save-the-planet 
  5. https://www.curiouslyconscious.com/2020/10/is-sustainability-too-expensive.html/ 

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