A universal sustainability toolkit.

A Rwandan boy plays with his new solar light bulbs. Photo by nokero | flickr.com

Our perception of living sustainably is often bombarded with ideas of solar and wind energy, a transition to biofuels, electric cars, energy-efficient appliances, and more widespread public transit systems. These are all very highly-developed ideas and are becoming essential to prolong our existence on planet Earth in the grand scheme. What all of these technologies have in common is that they pertain explicitly to the urbanized world—developed nations in particular.

The majority of the 7 billion people on our planet right now are not North Americans, but inhabitants of poorer, sometimes corrupt, and economically unstable megacities in developing countries. Within the lifestyle third world citizens thrive on, is there still room for sustainability?

Of course there is! I believe this starts with sharing ideas. In particular, I found Alex Steffen, founder of worldchanging.com and a speaker for TED Talks, had a number of enlightening ideas to share.

To accommodate these rapidly growing cities, Steffen insists that ‘leap-frogging’ is essential. This principle means they should forget about investing in last generation’s technologies. A prime example is cell phones, for which it is argued that one should forget about a land line and instead buy the cheapest, locally applicable plan from a provider. Cellular communication permeates throughout society, and is a simple way to network no matter what country you’re in.

On this note, ‘tele-centros’ in Sao Paulo exist that serve as internet cafés freely available to the public. This idea is a wonderfully easy way of enabling people to learn computing skills without buying a laptop.

Another improvement in global sustainability includes distributing portable LED lights to people who live according to daylight and cannot work when the sun goes down.

Many tropical, moist regions use fog-catchers to trap and distill clean water from the air.

Another example: something called a ‘life straw’ has also been distributed among third-world nations which instantly filters unclean water, making drinking water quickly accessible.

In a humanitarian sense, a novel plant has been created that literally acts as a land-mine detecting flower. This remarkable piece of biotechnology has a root system that chemically detects unaccounted for mines. Flowers on the plant grow red to signal the presence of a bomb, so that people know exactly where not to step. Pretty fascinating, yet a simplistic way of living sustainably in terms of remote mine detection.

Because we do not yet know how to build an environmentally sustainable planet, sharable among all of Earth’s inhabitants while accounting for every individual’s human rights, transforming people’s lives to be more resourceful is one essential way of increasing global sustainability.

You may be wondering how much of an impact enforcing sustainable habits is upon third-world people who already live such simple lives. Most importantly, it helps low income and impoverished families make long-term use of the little they do have. Any environmentally conscious North American would know, however, that green initiatives are still equally—if not more—focal in developed countries. North America’s ecological footprint is the reason why, nearly doubling impacts by Europe or Oceania. In global hectares per person, North America’s footprint is also over threefold that of Latin America, Asia or Africa’s.

It is projected that our current utilization of natural resources translates to the need for around 5 Earths, in order for the global population to sustain itself. That is not an option. Knowing this, hopefully the concept of living in an environmentally sustainable fashion begins to settle in more universally.