While we’re increasingly becoming more aware of the impacts of our changing climate, we’re also finding easy ways to become more sustainable. If you want to take steps to reduce your waste and energy use, it no longer takes hours of research or a big budget. An environmentally-friendly lifestyle is for everyone, and here are 20 easy ways to live more sustainably.
What is sustainability?
When it comes to defining sustainability, it helps us to focus on the word sustain. In simple terms, sustainability involves maintaining what we have so that resources and benefits are available in the future.
In fact, many modern definitions are based upon the 1987 United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development report, or “Brundtland Report”, which defined sustainability as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Our take is that the term ‘sustainability’ is a little overrated. When we employ sustainable practices and minimize our consumption, our actions can be regenerative—which can boost the health and viability of the systems that we depend on. Ultimately going beyond maintaining what we’ve got, we can make the world a better place to thrive.
Why does sustainability matter?
Why should we all aim to live more eco-friendly lives? Well, to state the obvious, the first reason is because we, and future generations, depend on it! Our current world is one marked by high levels of human migration, sea level rise, extreme weather events that jeopardize food security, and climatic changes that impact human health. Unless we make significant changes, these problems will intensify and reach new areas of the globe in the future.
Our influence on the planet has been so drastic that this period of time has been given a name: the anthropocene. Indicating that human activity is the top cause of an acceleration in global warming, the anthropocene describes our current geological epoch—and all of the changes in agriculture, deforestation, pollution, and urbanization that come with it.
While these changes are significant and certainly worrisome, doing our part to minimize them is easy! As you’ll see in the following tips, reducing our footprint doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive—there are easy ways to make a difference.
20 Ways to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle
1. Buy a reusable water bottle
Every year, Americans alone use around 50 billion plastic water bottles. With a depressingly sad recycling rate of just 9%, more than 40 billion water bottles end up in landfills every year—slowly releasing toxic chemicals and microplastics as they degrade (but never fully decompose).
Alternatively, a reusable water bottle is:
- Healthier because it minimizes our exposure to toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates
- More affordable because, compared to plastic water bottles, a reusable water bottle can save the average person $1,236 a year!
- Better for the planet because it’s been suggested that around 17 million barrels of oil are required to produce plastic water bottles. Not to mention their impact after they’re disposed of.
Purchase a reusable water bottle: Amazon
2. Use reusable grocery bags
Globally, there are more than 500 billion plastic bags used annually. In the US alone, this equates to over 100 billion. Taking around 300 years to photodegrade (by the sun), plastic grocery bags produce microplastic pollution—or they end up in waterways where they pollute aquatic ecosystems and harm marine life.
As a great alternative, an organic cotton reusable grocery bag is made with environmentally-sustainable materials, can be used for years (if not decades), make every trip to the grocery store a little easier, and can be composted at the end of their life.
Purchase reusable grocery bags: Amazon
3. Be energy conscious
“Don’t forget to turn off the lights” is an important sustainability tip for a few reasons. For traditional lighting, 90% of the energy produced is heat, with just 10% actually resulting in light! In the summer, this has the potential to drive up air conditioning requirements, causing a double whammy for our planet.
By remembering to shut down computers, unplug electronics when not in use (to prevent phantom loads), and consider Energy Star certified appliances, you can help save our planet—and on your monthly electricity bill! In fact, by switching to LED light bulbs alone, an average household can save around $225 every year.
Purchase LED light bulbs: Amazon
4. Use eco-friendly kitchen products
We spend a lot of time in our kitchens, and unfortunately many of the products we use end up contributing to plastic pollution and toxic chemicals lurking in our environment.
Fortunately, we can still whip up a delicious meal with some eco-friendly kitchen alternatives. Reusability is the best thing to consider when it comes to reducing the impact of our meals. And changes can be as simple as ditching plastic sandwich bags and reusing glass jars (from pasta, nut butter, salsa, etc.) to store food instead!
5. Grow your own produce
An average meal will travel 1,500 miles before it ends up on your plate. Not only does the transportation itself require fossil fuels, but to keep the produce, dairy, meat, or seafood at an adequate temperature, refrigeration does, too.
Growing your own produce is one of the most rewarding things you can do to support our planet, and yourself. You’ll benefit from healthier, tastier, fresher fruits, herbs, and veggies—and all the benefits that come with spending time outdoors. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, raised garden beds can help you get started.
Purchase a raised garden bed: Amazon
6. Donate clothes
In the last 20 years, Americans have doubled the amount of clothing we throw away—averaging around 14 million tons every year, or 5.8% of the solid waste that ends up in landfills. Not only do our garments take up to 200+ years to decompose, but it’s also an insane waste of resources (like the 2,700 liters of water required to produce a single cotton t-shirt!).
Not only does donating clothes mean that your formerly-favorite dress can end up on someone else, but it can also help to support your local community by providing jobs or clothing for those in need.
7. Eat less meat
Over recent years, researchers have found that roughly 23% of the total greenhouse gas emissions are a result of agriculture—and most of this is related to animal agriculture. Raising animals for meat and dairy is associated with deforestation, nutrient pollution, and emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 80 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
With an abundance of available plant-based alternatives, reducing meat consumption is easier than ever before! Even better, a plant-forward diet has been associated with a decreased risk of many cancers, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. If the global population celebrated a weekly ‘Meatless Monday’ it would have the impact of taking 240 million cars off the road each year!
8. Eat in season
In our increasingly globalized world, we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want. But our cravings for wintertime peaches, out-of-season watermelon, or broccoli from thousands of miles away is undermining our environment, economy, and health. Most notably, it’s been associated with increased water stress, greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, and biodiversity loss.
Seasonal produce is better because it requires less inputs (pesticides, fertilizer, water) to grow, less fossil fuels to transport, and less energy to refrigerate. Plus, eating seasonally tastes better and has been associated with higher levels of vitamin C, folate, antioxidants, and beta-carotene—to name just a few.
9. Drive less
In the US, transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest source. Not only does driving require fossil fuels, but it leads to what’s been deemed a ‘silent killer:’ particulate matter pollution. In addition to sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide, our cars’ exhaust releases tiny particles of dust, smoke and soot, also called particulate matter, which is associated with around 4.2 million deaths annually.
By minimizing how far we drive, or using alternative modes of transportation, we can reduce the impact of our transportation sector, and likely get some exercise in the meantime!
10. Buy fair trade products
When we think of sustainability, it’s important to remember its social side. Many of the products and goods we welcome into our home come at the cost of a human worker. Globally, less than around 327 million wage earners earn less than minimum wage, and many are exposed to inhumane work conditions, toxic chemicals, and even forced or child labor.
By seeking products that are Fairtrade or Fair Trade Certified, we’re ensuring that workers and farmers are paid fairly, and supported with safe working conditions and programs to help support their entire communities.
11. Save water
It’s important to realize that water is a finite resource and just one-hundredth of 1% is available as potable (drinkable) water. With increased periods of droughts, many areas around the world are experiencing shocks to their food systems, as a result of water shortages and polluted water. It’s estimated that by 2025, around 67% of the world’s population might be experiencing a water shortage.
By reducing your water consumption, you can help to keep water where it’s needed—in rivers, bays, and estuaries. Water-saving techniques also minimize the needs for the water and energy associated with wastewater treatment. Plus, you can save money!
12. Wear sustainable clothing
When it comes to carbon emissions, the fashion industry is responsible for more than maritime shipping and international flights, combined—totaling around 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Fast fashion specifically has meant that we consume more clothes than ever before, dispose of them at higher rates, and require more water, energy, chemicals, and oftentimes, plastic, to produce them.
Sustainable clothing brands have stepped in to make the fashion industry better. They’re using natural and recycled materials that have a lower impact, better manufacturing practices, and taking an ethical approach to support workers.
13. Use reusable alternatives
As plastic became popularized decades ago, it brought with it increased convenience, but also a move to single-use, disposable items. Single-use plastics contain toxic chemicals that can harm human and planetary health, and take hundreds—if not thousands—of years to degrade.
They may cost a little more up front, but reusable alternatives can save money in the long run—and save our planet.
14. Go paperless
Of the total waste in landfills, paper accounts for about 26%. Not only is paper associated with deforestation, but it also accounts for huge amounts of pollution and waste problems, and it requires enormous amounts of water and energy to produce.
Bamboo is a grass that has a far quicker growing rate than paper, making it a better alternative. In recent years, many reusable products have been launched to also replace paper. Each ton of paper generates 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide, so if we all do our part to go paperless, we can significantly cut these emissions.
15. Use renewable energy
In the US, roughly 20% of our total greenhouse gas emissions comes from residential energy use. Natural gas, petroleum, and coal make up the majority of the energy that powers our homes. Currently, just 7% of our electricity comes from renewable energy sources.
The sun meets nearly four times our energy requirements! It’s been discovered that by 2030, we could harness wind, sun, and water to meet up to 85% of our energy demand—and you can jumpstart this by using solar panels or switching to an energy provider that uses renewables.
16. Reduce, reuse, recycle
Those three R’s that you learned in elementary school are more important now than ever before! It’s important to focus on the first R, because we should all be taking steps to reduce our consumption.
Focusing on the other two R’s—reuse and recycle—can be fun and rewarding. DIY projects are a great way to reuse the materials you already have. Composting is the best way to recycle; it puts those food scraps to good use and helps to build healthy soils (a great benefit when you’re growing your own food).
17. Take up thrifting
The average American sends 81 pounds of clothing to landfills, every single year. We already mentioned the impact of our wardrobes, so it’s good to know that we can use thrifting as a way to stay stylish, comfortable, and sustainable.
Around 95% of the clothes that are thrown away can be reused or recycled! Thrifting gives valuable materials a second lease of life. Plus, there’s no greater reward than finding a designer piece or pair of perfect-fitting jeans on a Goodwill rack! Even better, it can keep valuable materials out of landfills! It’s been found that when a donated outfit ends up being worn for an additional nine months, it can slash its environmental impact by up to 30%!
18. Buy in bulk
While it’s made food safer and lasts longer, packaging has a significant impact on our planet. It requires chemicals, petroleum, energy, water, minerals, and fibers to create. The manufacturing process is associated with not only emissions, but also heavy metal, gas, and particulate pollution. As it’s used and disposed of, plastic also contaminates water and soils with toxins.
Buying in bulk helps to minimize the amount of packaging that’s required, and it makes for an excellent way to reuse packages that you already have (glass jars, plastic yogurt containers, etc.). Per unit, buying in bulk is almost always cheaper, too.
19. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle
Overconsumption is obviously wreaking havoc on our planet, and it isn’t even making us happier. Our homes may be larger and our relative spending and connectivity is higher than ever before—but according to the General Social Survey, since 1988, there’s been a decline in happiness.
By taking time to connect with what makes us truly happy, many of us will find that it isn’t the latest iPhone, new fashion product, or weekly delivery of impulse buys. By living with less, we can discover how to live more.
20. Divest your funds
When it comes to tips to live sustainably, most of us think about what changes we can make in our day-to-day life. But changing how we bank might be even more impactful. In the past 5 years, the world’s (and America’s) biggest banks have funded fossil fuel projects, to the tune of trillions of dollars.
Today, there are more environmentally-conscious funds than ever before, making divestment much easier. If more of us shift away from some of the major banking corporations, fossil fuel projects will have less money to move forward. And it’s actually working! Over the past decade, fossil fuel companies like Chevron, Shell, BP, and Exxon have hurt from decreased funding.
Final thoughts on easy ways to live more sustainably
There’s no time like the present to start making changes to support our planet. We hope these 20 easy ways to live more sustainably helps to jump start your eco-lifestyle. If you have any other tips, feel free to jot them down in the comments below!
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- Always consult your physician before beginning or changing your diet or exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition, nor to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise and diet plan. If you experience any pain or difficulty with any exercise or diet changes, stop and consult your healthcare provider.