This Native American proverb speaks to the essence of sustainable living. In modern times, we are endowed with a birthright, taught that the accomplishments of our parents may be used as collateral in pursuit of our own dreams. Each generation is promised that their own lives will be fuller, richer and easier than ever before.

And while automated industries, medical advances and educational opportunities offer great improvement in our quality of life, the real cost of the development and use of these technologies is not something that can be paid for with money. Land and energy utilization, as well as soil, water, air quality are complicated commodities that must be protected through sustainable living.

Our lives are part of a delicate system. Our planet is designed as a web; each species has a purpose. Our ability to live independently of nature gives us a false sense of power. But the rules are very elemental.  Call it yin/yang, give/take, or ebb and flow, the universe is a system that must be in balance.

Balance is the essence of sustainability, which requires us to meet our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. It is analogous to a credit card. If we buy things we cannot afford, debt will mount, polluting our happiness and sense of freedom. Eventually, a bill we cannot pay will come due, and we will be held accountable for our careless actions.

The future is not a far-off event over which we have no control; rather it’s a moment by moment manifestation of every decision we make. We can create a legacy, or we can leave a burden.

Everything that we purchase has a lifecycle much longer than the season or two that we have it in our possession. Raw materials must be harvested and delivered to factories for manufacture. Merchandise is placed in boxes, wrapped in plastic, and transported via diesel engine to warehouses for storage. After we buy it, use it, and decide we’re bored, we throw it away…because out of sight is out of mind.

But nothing disappears. And some things will never decompose! If we truly appreciate the technology behind modern convenience, then we must exercise discretion in it’s use. For example, consider the 24-pack case of single-use plastic water bottles…set in cardboard and wrapped in more plastic. And all the un-recycleable plastic bags we acquire with each trip to the store. Consider the environmental impact just one person can make in a year by carrying a metal water bottle and reusable shopping bags.

It’s breathtaking to consider that every single choice, made on any given day, has both consequence and potential. Recognize your own personal power, and use it wisely. You complete the circle of life when you choose sustainable living.