Everyone has wants and needs — be they for basics like food or luxuries such as entertainment. However, everything that we buy and do has an impact, from contributing to global warming to polluting natural habitats. A multitude of small actions is adding up to big consequences.
Let’s face it; sustainability hasn’t been the top priority when it comes to manufacturing, transporting, or consuming goods so far. As a result, we’re now facing more than a few crises, including widespread plastic and microplastic pollution, desertification, deforestation, climate change, and the resulting dangerous weather pattern changes.
And — our only way out is to practice more sustainable ways of living. If you’re new to the topic, you may be wondering what sustainable living is and how you can start. Well, the good news is that it may be a lot simpler, affordable, and easier to do than you think. Here are my top tips on how to live more sustainably starting today.
What Is Sustainable Living?
Sustainability is all about making lifestyle choices that are more balanced and ultimately sustainable long-term. Choices that are in line with nature, not as wasteful, and better for the environment, planet, and future generations. Sustainable living places importance on what impact people’s choices and purchases today have on the future, not just meeting short-term needs.
Reducing water usage, buying less, opting for better-quality items, becoming self-sufficient, and reducing energy consumption, are just a few examples of sustainable living. As such, it can seem more of a sacrifice than an improvement. However, sustainable living also comes with its benefits — including reducing your household expenses and improving your health and quality of life.
What Does It Mean to Live Sustainably?
Living more sustainably is about safeguarding our future, not just living in the here and now. Every item we buy or thing we do has an impact on others and the planet — but it’s not always apparent immediately. It takes time for problems like global warming, pollution, and climate change-related weather patterns to worsen.
Thinking responsibly, ahead, and sustainably is the best course of action to take to tackle these issues. Before they become unavoidable (and potentially crippling to humanity):
- We’re already facing a surprising increase in catastrophic weather events like droughts, floods, and heatwaves related to climate change and global warming.
- En-masse emissions from fossil fuels, as well as industries like agriculture, electricity, logging, manufacturing, fast fashion, and food production, are only set to increase as the population does.
- Additionally, we’re still struggling to find effective solutions to sustainably reuse and dispose of excess post-production waste, such as unsold clothing, single-use plastics, and recyclable materials.
Sustainable living can lessen, and perhaps even mitigate, the negative impact in all these sectors and more.
The Top Ways To Live More Sustainably
Sustainability isn’t just a lifestyle trend; it’s something each and every one of us can adopt — and in our own unique ways, too! Sustainability covers a wide variety of lifestyle choices, from clothing to commute, activism, dining, decoration, and more.
Here are some easy-to-adopt tips on how to live more sustainably today.
1. Commute Greener
Transportation is the top greenhouse gas contributor globally, making up an estimated 27% of US emissions in 2020 alone. Besides the burning of fossil fuels, the refining of these also contributes to this figure. It’s estimated that this sector emits 6% of all greenhouse gases annually worldwide.
As such, your commute is a key area where you can make a meaningful impact. Ways to commute more sustainably include:
- Work from home. If you can, try to work from your house or home office rather than heading in. Remote or hybrid work is an excellent opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint. Hopefully, more workplaces will adopt or offer work-from-home options in order to meet sustainability targets and agreements going forward.
- Share transportation. Of course, we can’t all opt out of working at physical locations. Those who do need to get places can still choose public transport or even ride-sharing options to reduce emissions, however.
- Try micro-transportation. Otherwise known as micro-mobility vehicles, these forms of transportation are not only lighter on fuel but much more convenient for city commutes. Motorized micro-vehicles include e-bikes, motorbikes, e-scooters, and lightweight passenger vehicles such as Microlinos and Smart cars.
- Go green-powered. Fossil fuels aren’t the only way to power a vehicle. Yachts can even sail using only the wind. For land, electric cars are a greener choice when it comes to emissions while driving. They also have the potential to run entirely off sustainable energy sources such as renewables in the future, even though they don’t all at present.
2. Go Plastic-Free (Or at Least Single-Use Plastic-Free)
Plastics, and the manufacturing and incineration of these, are major contributors to both non-biodegradable waste and emissions. Plastics are also generally made from fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gas, that need to get mined or extracted from the earth. Switching to zero-waste and non-plastic options, like reusable or biodegradable food containers, toiletries, eating utensils, and other household products is a sure way to help with our current plastic pollution crisis.
3. Fine-Tune Your Energy Consumption
Energy is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity production and usage took up an estimated 25% of the US greenhouse gas emissions pie in 2020. Luckily, there are various ways to cut your energy consumption — bonus — doing so can also save you money on your energy bill!
The top ways to use electricity more sustainably include:
- Swap to energy-saving lightbulbs. Lights tend to be the most used or, at least, abundant, electrical apparatus. Though their footprint may be small, it can add up, especially if you’re wastefully using less energy-efficient options. LEDs are the top sustainable option for brightness, using up to 90% less energy than incandescent, while solar lights are excellent for soft illumination.
- Switch off lights & appliances. Not all electricity expenditure is necessary, so if it is not being used, switch it off. Using the lowest settings on often used or heavy-duty appliances such as TVs, fridges, microwaves, fans, heaters, air conditioners, and ovens also helps. Reducing your digital carbon footprint is also important, from minimizing your cloud storage to lowering streaming display quality when you watch.
- Choose energy-efficient appliances. In various regions, electrical appliances get graded for energy efficiency. Opting for appliances with the best energy-efficiency ratings will ensure that you keep your energy consumption to a minimum — and save on your electric bill.
- Get off the grid. Renewables aren’t just for large-scale projects; they’re also available for homeowners. From solar panels to wind-power, hydropower, portable solar generators, and biogas generators, there is a multitude of sustainable energy-generating technologies in which to invest in for your home.
4. Opt For Slow Fashion
Fast fashion is a huge market, with many top fashion brands releasing collection after collection—not just seasonally, but now weekly and even daily! Unfortunately, not all that ready-to-wear clothing sells or even stays long with its new owners. Aside from the waste resulting from unsold and discarded pieces, the actual manufacturing process of these items just isn’t sustainable.
The slow fashion ethos is the antithesis of the fast fashion equation, with devotees focusing on quality, durable, and timeless pieces instead. Slow fashion also encompasses shopping sustainable, ethically made, preloved, thrift, vintage, and second-hand items. When taken care of, quality clothing can last a decade or more with minimal wear and damage. Plus, it’s very easy to swap, sell, or revamp pieces again and again if you’re trend inclined.
5. Give Your Kitchen Pantry a Revamp
Revamping your pantry (no, not re-decorating it) can also have an impact on your carbon footprint. Agriculture, particularly animal husbandry, and monoculture, contribute not only to emissions but pressing issues like deforestation and desertification.
Changing how you eat is sure to make a sustainable impact and may not be as difficult as you expect. Ways to eat more sustainably include:
- Ditch red meat. Eating red meat, particularly beef, and lamb, can triple to quadruple your dietary carbon footprint compared to vegan, veggie, and red meat-free diets. Swapping to pork, fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy only makes a big difference.
- Swap to egg- & dairy-free options. Cheese made from cow dairy also ranks high on the emissions scale. Vegan, egg- and dairy-free products, such as nut cheeses, egg-free mayo, plant milks, and vegan butters, may be better. You can swap out your regular brands for these options, even if you aren’t vegan and hardly notice the difference.
- Go organic & fair-trade. Organic foods aren’t grown using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Not only does this process result in healthier food for you, but also safer environments for pollinators and animals. Besides organic, buying fair-trade goods, which get ethically traded, supports the growers and manufacturers on the ground.
- Grow your own & shop locally. The harvesting, transportation, processing, and storage of foods and produce are major contributors to emissions. Only shopping in-season, local produce, or growing your own right in your garden can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. You also safeguard soil health when you opt for organic, permaculture, and regenerative options and growing practices.
6. Hold Decision-Maker’s Accountable
We can all aim to live more sustainably — and certainly should be responsible for doing so. However, to meet even conservative emission- and waste-reduction targets, much more needs to change. From transportation to manufacturing, laws to incentives, companies, and governmental organizations hold the key. The fact of the matter is that not everyone has a say on how things are done — especially those who aren’t in prominent positions in these establishments.
Even if it seems an insurmountable task, speaking out to get those key decision-makers to take action is part of the process. Activism comprises several activities, including speaking up at work, signing petitions, protesting, and donating money to organizations making a change. One thing to remember is that the future of the planet affects all of us. Investing in unsustainable practices or avoiding tackling these issues now may cost companies and organizations just as much as the rest of us in the future.
7. Reduce Wasted Resources
Every item we use, consume, or buy is made from or using something, be it wood, ore, minerals, water, or fossil fuels. Shopping for anything, be it groceries or new clothing, can result in unnecessary waste if not done wisely. From plastic shopping bags to food packaging, these bits and pieces add up — not only to waste but emissions, as well.
Shopping and consuming more sustainably involves reducing the wastage of as many resources as possible. Some keyways to minimize your waste include:
- Invest in quality, durable items. In a world of convenience, cheap and quickly manufactured items have grown to prominence. Unfortunately, many of these end up in the bin sooner rather than later. Spending a little more on items that are quality, or can even be easily repaired, is ideal to reduce wasted resources.
- Recycle, upcycle & reuse. The life cycle of items doesn’t need to end at the point they are no longer usable. Cleverly recycling, upcycling, composting, or reusing your “trash “gives it that extra lease on life — in doing so, minimizing your emissions and reducing the general waste that ends up in landfills.
- Buy second-hand goods. The preloved market has grown year on year, with these items not only reducing waste but also helping people save money. It’s no longer necessary to buy new full-price. Instead, you can choose from a wide range of goods, including sports equipment, electronics, home decor, clothing, jewelry, vehicles, furniture, books, appliances, and more.
- Adopt water conservation. Water is a particularly valuable resource required for the growing, processing, and manufacturing of goods as well as everyday use. We drink it, water our veggie gardens with it, wash in it, and cook with it. However, we rarely conserve it, though doing so is important, especially in drought-prone areas. Switching off taps, using the dishwasher, installing water-conservation timers, and more can help to do so.
There are many ways to live more sustainably, starting today — from growing your own veggies to changing your fashion ethos. Besides tackling the emissions driving climate change, sustainable choices also help in other areas. Conservation, deforestation, desertification, waste management, and community & social projects are just some examples. Adopting one or more (the more, the better) of the above-mentioned practices is an excellent way to start on your sustainability journey!