Are we environmentally friendly??

by Han Yi Chiew

As concerned stewards of the Earth, are we really leading environmentally friendly lives? To answer this, it is important for us to know what being environmentally friendly really means.

Being environmentally friendly is not only about living a green life; it is also about creating an environmentally sustainable future. Living a green life simply means living in an environmentally friendly way. Creating a sustainable future, on the other hand, is about proactively finding environmentally friendly ways to live our lives.

It may seem confusing but living a green life is closely intertwined with creating a sustainable future. Let us take the example of recycling to get a better understanding of this. People are keen to live a green life by collecting recyclables such as plastic bottles for recycling. However, these recyclables are oftentimes dumped into normal bins due to a lack of recycling facilities.

I am pointing this out not to blame anyone, but to remind everyone of our responsibility towards finding sustainable ways to recycle waste. We need to improve accessibility to recycling facilities to make recycling possible. In other words, it is the efforts to create an environmentally sustainable future that makes living a green life possible.

Electronic wastes such as used fluorescent bulbs have to be recycled. This is because they contain hazardous substances like mercury. When mercury is released into the environment, it causes detrimental effects on animals (at times even death). However, even with this knowledge, electronic devices are still thrown into landfills because there is a lack of recycling facilities to handle these substances. This means that while you are enjoying your life, there may be living creatures dying as a result of your actions.

You may be familiar with the concept of green living by cycling, recycling, switching off lights when not in use and other activities. So, how can you play a role in creating a sustainable future?

Engineers can create energy efficient applications. For example, we have been using incandescent light bulbs for years but they are inefficient due to heat loss. Fluorescent light bulbs were invented to solve this problem. They use less power but have the same brightness as incandescent bulbs.

Programming can also help save energy. Many electronic devices and machines require programmes to run. Programmers can come up with new algorithms and codes to make electronic items more energy efficient.

Creating a sustainable future could also mean making small adjustments to your lifestyle. For example, if you are the head of a company, you can implement rules to reduce your company’s paper usage and avoid one-off usage of disposable products like paper cups.

If you are a teacher, you could encourage your students to submit assignments online and also make notes available online so students needn’t waste paper printing them out.

At this juncture, the question “Can we really lead environmentally friendly lives?” comes to mind. My answer is yes, so long as our lifestyles are also environmentally sustainable.

The production, usage and disposal of fluorescent light bulbs can still cause adverse effects on the environment but it is now considered environmentally sustainable because they use less energy.

However, our efforts should not stop there. More energy-efficient bulbs should be invented. Controlled pollution may be permitted under very special circumstances or if there is really no other option, but we should stand firm on blatant, unnecessary and avoidable pollution.

An apt example would be the one-off use of plastic water bottles. They create unnecessary and excessive pollution because people buy and simply throw them away by the millions every day.

In short, we all have to adopt a green lifestyle and simultaneously create an environmentally sustainable future; not adopt a green lifestyle to create a sustainable future. We humans are a flexible and innovative species and we have the capacity to adapt and modify our behaviour. We can do it.

Han Yi Chiew is a second-year Electronic and Communication Engineering student in Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science and the founder and president of the Curtin Environmental Club (CEC) at the campus. He is also currently a student ambassador of the John Curtin Leadership Academy (JCLA), Curtin University’s student leadership programme. He can be contacted by e-mail to