Sustainability is top of mind for brands and consumers alike, as more realize how pressing the climate crisis is for current and future generations. In practice, sustainability seeks to meet current needs while ensuring the future inhabitants of the planet can meet their needs as well.
An important aspect of living more sustainably is understanding which resources are sustainable and why.
A sustainable resource is a resource with an infinite supply which can be used to generate energy or utilized for other purposes. Sustainable resources are available long-term and are more environmentally-friendly than non-renewable resources which are finite in supply.
Here’s all you need to know about sustainable resources so you’ll be better equipped to make choices on how you shop for goods.
A Deep Dive Into Sustainable Resources
A sustainable resource is one with infinite supply, and can be used to generate energy or utilized for other purposes. These resources can be tapped into long-term for energy needs.
Examples of sustainable resources include the sun, wind, and water—all can be used to generate energy. Water, when used to generate energy, is called hydropower, and is generated through the use of dams. The sun can be used to generate energy through the use of solar panels and the wind has been used to generate energy through the use of windmills for over a thousand years.
On the flip side, examples of unsustainable resources include oil and coal. These resources limited, and are less environmentally-friendly. Oil is used to generate energy through a burning process which produces gases which spin turbines to generate energy. Coal generates energy when burned, producing steam.
What are sustainable natural resources?
As mentioned, sustainable resources are naturally-occurring resources with nearly unlimited supply which can be used for energy generation or other utility. Sustainable natural resources are naturally occurring resources with nearly unlimited supply and include water, geothermal, wind, and solar, among other resources.
Examples of Sustainable Resources
Sustainable resources include solar, water (or hydropower), geothermal power, and wind.
Solar energy has been used for thousands of years for purposes like banking food and drying items but today is being leveraged to provide electricity through solar technologies. Solar panels are a popular example, where sunlight is turned into electrical energy through panels or mirrors.
Water (or hydropower) is a sustainable resource which generates energy through dams, wave power, or tidal power. Dams generate power through the movement of a river and the flow of water. Waves generate power from the surface of the ocean using floating devices. Tidal power captures energy through flowing waters using turbines.
Geothermal is a renewable resource that converts heat to electricity from underground hot water or dry steam wells. Because the heat is naturally occurring and renewable, geothermal is an exciting sustainable resource which can meet more electrical needs of countries.
Wind is a sustainable resource which can produce energy through technology like wind towers. As wind is naturally occurring, this resource is sustainable and can be used to generate electricity and power energy needs. Wind power is still in need of further development but more technology is being developed to meet more domestic energy needs.
What Makes a Resource Sustainable?
A resource is sustainable if it has a nearly unlimited supply and is naturally occurring, in contrast to unsustainable resources which are limited in supply and are less environmentally-friendly.
A resource is not sustainable if it is finite in supply and typically environmentally unfriendly. Examples of unsustainable resources include fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. Fossil fuels are formed deep underground from dead plants and animals. Nuclear energy is another type of unsustainable resource which comes from elements like uranium which are radioactive.
Some debate exists about whether nuclear energy is nonrenewable energy as uranium and plutonium used in nuclear fission can regenerate at a similar pace to renewable resources like biomass but the environmental effect of nuclear resources can be hazardous.
Benefits of Sustainable Resource Use
Sustainable resources are beneficial for the environment and economy for three major reasons.
Better for the Environment
The obvious reason for sustainable resource use like wind energy or solar is that these resources are naturally occurring and less harmful for the environment. Switching to more sustainable resources will aid the environment and reduce the effects of climate change. Switching away from nonrenewable energy will have to be undertaken eventually as these resources won’t be around forever and expediting the timeline will only help the planet and its population.
While there are upfront costs associated with sustainable resource use and costs still remain high for the resource to energy generation process, sustainable resource technology is only becoming more efficient and cost-efficient. As more sustainable resource infrastructure is created, the cost-effectiveness for communities and businesses which utilize these resources will only increase.
Better for Human Health
Sustainable resources are healthier for population consumption and worker extraction. Coal and fossil fuel extraction has pretty significantly harmed local populations, and workers are often put in danger by extracting coal and fossil fuel. Sustainable resources like dam or solar panels have a lot fewer negative externalities on local populations and workers.
Sustainable vs. Renewable Resources
Sustainable and renewable resources are easily mixed up. Sustainable resources are resources that renew themselves immediately. Renewable resources are technically exhaustible but replenish indefinitely in the long term. Biomass and trees are technically renewable resources while wind, solar, biothermal, and water are sustainable resources.
Biomass is a renewable energy source from plants and animals. Biomass stores chemical energy from the sun which can be released through burning. Firewood is a common example of biomass. Certain crops like corn and sugarcane are biomass. Animal manure and sewage are other examples of biomass, although less pleasant sources of energy.
Coal, oil, and natural gas are nonrenewable and unsustainable natural resources as their sources are finite and environmentally unfriendly.
Can a resource be renewable but not sustainable?
Yes! Renewable resources can be exhausted in supply while sustainable resources are infinite in supply. Sustainable resources include resources with an infinite supply including water, wind, solar, and biothermal.
While there is a finite amount of renewable resources like biomass and forests, they are usually depleted at a low enough rate to allow for them to be replenished. This should allow them to exist and be consumed indefinitely like sustainable resources but they are not technically sustainable because there is a finite supply.
What are the challenges facing renewable resources?
One issue facing renewable natural resources is their mass use before they can be replaced. For example, forests are naturally occurring but are being depleted through deforestation for lumber or to create more space for development. Likewise, metals like copper are being mined for industrial purposes like phone and computer batteries.
Conservation is one tool available to preserve these sustainable resources for generations to come. Another tool is development of technologies to generate energy or similar utility from other resources to reduce use of specific sustainable resources which are rapidly being depleted.
The Importance of Shopping Sustainably
Shopping sustainably is a key tool consumers can leverage to reduce their environmental footprint while supporting businesses which are prioritizing sustainability.
Increasingly, manufacturers and businesses are recognizing the benefits of sustainability manufacturing, and consumers want to buy products made from sustainable companies. The market for sustainable companies is growing, and it’ll only get bigger if consumers demand it!
Here’s what it really means to practice sustainable manufacturing.
Sustainable manufacturing reduces waste in production processes, prioritizes using sustainable resources over un-sustainable resources in production, and leverages sustainability across the business from manufacturing to packaging and office practices.
An example of sustainable business in practice is clever usage of leftover resources, or by-products, rather than wasting such resources. If trees are cut down for lumber use, a business could require the use of sawdust byproducts for other purposes like creation of products like particle boards.
Businesses can also prioritize the use of sustainable resources like solar energy as an energy source in production over fossil fuels. Businesses can also avoid using mixtures of materials like plastic in manufacturing or packaging, as mixtures can be more difficult to recycle or reuse.
For environmentally-conscious consumers, shopping from businesses that prioritize use of sustainable resources over un-sustainable resources in manufacturing and packaging is a worthy effort.