The 7 Rs of Sustainability

Before I go into further detail with the actual actions we can take, I want to explain what sustainability is about, and what sustainability includes. In my blog post Why sustainability? I already explained, why we want and need to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In this post, I will show the aspects of sustainability, called the 7 Rs of Sustainability. They are Reduce, Reuse, Respect, Rethink, Reflect, Recycle, Redistribute. Everyone of these has its benefits and purposes, and one is easier to realise than the other. But see for yourself what seems doable for you.

Some people talk about the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle. Others even add another 9 – Refuse, Replant, Respect, Replenish, Repair, Reinvent, Recover, Responsibility, Restore, Repurpose, Rot. I will start with the first 7 and will address the additional 8 in another post.

The 7 R’s were identified by Brundtland Commission Our Common Future (1987). OMEP World Assembly (2010) also promoted three integrated pillars into the dimensions – Environmental (Reduce, Reuse), Social (Respect, Rethink, Reflect), and Economical (Recycle, Redistribute).


To reduce means to do more with less, and to cut down on the usage of resources, especially when they are limited and valuable, such as water, fossil fuels and forests.

Consequently, we switch the lights off when we leave the room, to save electricity. We turn the tap off while we brush our teeth, to save water. We read journal articles online instead of printing them, to save paper. We use a reusable cup for our coffee to go, to reduce plastic and paper. We use reusable bags, to reduce plastic and paper. We reduce the amount of toys we buy, and play with a few selected.


To reuse means making more use of old things, and continue using things instead of throwing them away.

Consequently, we reduce the amount of energy expended for manufacture and production of goods as well as we reduce waste (litter, garbage, etc.). Buying second hand in charity shops and online marketplaces, and donating spare goods, reuses everyday goods. Refilling (plastic) containers and jars, which would repurpose them. Reusing cans as plant pots, to build a bug hotel, or pencil cup. Reusing boxes, filling material, and envelopes to send it to somebody else.


Respect can be understood in different ways. On the one hand, it means the respect for resources and nature. It means to be grateful what our planet has to offer, and to value nature’s biological bounty.

On the other hand, it means to respect choices of others in our community. Especially, when it comes to an environmentally friendly lifestyle. We should respect how a person chooses to live their life. We should strive to provide individuals with resources and create a welcoming feeling that fosters their desire to take sustainable actions.


To live a more environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyle, we need to work on our values and state of mind. We need to review our view on natural resources, then sustainability is much more than a set of actions or even a change of lifestyle. It is also about gradual and long-term changes rather than radical, often doomed to fail, changes.

“Every dollar you spend or don’t spend is a vote you cast for the world you want to live in.”

(L.N. Smith)

To live a more environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyle, it is critical to realize that every choice we make is very important to the health of the planet. 


Working towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle also means to reflect on cultural differences, and realities. It also means to reflect on human issues as well as environmental issues.

We all need to learn to live with diversity and complexity, and education […] needs to reflect on this and discover its advantages.

Pramling Samuelsson & Katz, 2008, p. 10


To recycle means to separate and sort waste, following a local recycling program. The most common schemes in the UK are first and foremost, recyclable (green bin) or not recyclable (brown bin). Then there is garden waste (black bin). To decide if it goes into the green or brown bin is not as easy. Especially, different kinds of plastic are either recyclable or not. Symbols on the packet will help. It is also important to check if there’s different material, and the whole package needs to be taken apart. For example, a ready meal has a plastic container, a film, and a wrapper. The film is mostly non recyclable, but the container, and the paper wrapper are. Very confusing. I will write a post about that soon. I will also take a look into recycling schemes of other countries, and compare them.

The idea behind recycling is to either reuse the material and resources, or to properly dispose hazardous material.


To redistribute means to use resources more equally. We share resources with other members of our community, or other countries. I specifically avoid to use the word “poor” here, as we could get something else in exchange. So this is about the process of equal distribution of recources.

The redistribution could include surplus food, essential goods, toys, books, or natural resources. By sharing these we avoid to waste them, and give them to somebody who needs them. In exchange, we might get something we need.

Photos for this post are by Vlada Karpovich, Anna Shvets, Jacob Kelvin, Pixabay, Retha Ferguson, Lisa Fotios, Cottonbro, Tara Winstead from Pexels

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