When I first started down the path towards living a sustainable life – a path that I am still following but am nowhere near finished (and a path that I didn’t even know I needed until a few years ago) – it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of changes I needed to make to create a life which was more green and more sustainable. I was starting from a long way back!
I decided that I could make one change at a time, as I became comfortable with that change, then I could make another change. And I am still adding changes to my life and it’s still a challenge – but when I look back at how far I’ve come I know I could never have changed this much overnight.
We need to make a change every day and practice that habit every day until it becomes natural. A friend of mine said to me recently “It’s really hard isn’t it!”. Sometimes it feels like that, but one step at a time makes a big difference over several years. Just start. One thing at a time.
“You cannot change your future, but you can change your habits. And surely your habits will change your future.” APJ Abdul Kalam
If you need some motivation to change your lifestyle, you can start with understanding how big your ecological footprint is – that is how many of the earth’s resources are needed to sustain your lifestyle. Another way of thinking about it is how many planets’ worth of resources are needed to support your chosen lifestyle.
There is a really easy and fun, interactive quiz you can do here which can start you thinking about the impacts of your choices – personally it doesn’t do enough for me in terms of the details, but it is a good place to start and will only take about 5 minutes for you to get a quick snap shot of your lifestyle. So once you know the impact of your lifestyle, here are 10 things you can do to reduce your ecological foot print and live a greener, more sustainable life.
Carpool – can you share a ride to work or catch public transport even one or two days a week? By reducing your single-occupant car usage for one trip a week, you will be reducing your car use by around 10%. Along the way you will save some petrol, maybe get a chance to talk to a friend or colleague while you travel together or spend some time catching up on your reading or podcast subscriptions. I only recommend the reading if you are on public transport and not responsible for the driving!
Source your food locally – find your local farmers’ market, farm gate or at the very least shop at the locally owned grocery store rather than the big multinational stores. Look for products made in your state, or at least in your country. Avoid imported products. Things produced in your local region are even better because they will have much smaller food miles, although if you are purchasing from a supermarket chain the food miles may well be high anyway as they have travelled from the place of production, through a distribution warehouse and back to you – perhaps many more miles than they needed to do if you purchased directly from the grower or producer. Purchasing direct from the grower or producer also means they get to keep more of the profits so you are directly supporting small business, not just another corporation.
Grow some of your own food – I’m not suggesting that you sell up the city pad and move out to the country to grow cows, sheep, chickens and pigs, but you can certainly grow some of your own fruit or vegetables even if you only have a small space. Consider a pot of herbs for your sunny balcony, or a tub with a couple of tomato plants in it. Try espaliering a fruit tree on your back fence or growing a lemon tree in a large wine barrel or similar.
If you have more space then invest in durable materials to make raised garden beds (leave the chemically treated sleepers at the hardware store and opt for hardwood sleepers). Old rain water tanks cut down make amazing raised garden beds or if you have a protected courtyard garden, try growing straight into the ground. If you want to move to the country and grow your own cows, sheep, chickens and pigs I say “go for it”! We love it!
Choose energy efficient appliances – if you need to buy a new appliance, make sure you look for energy efficient models, not only will they help our planet, they will save you money over the life of the appliance. I have tried buying second hand appliances in the past, but honestly the energy efficiency of these things is improving all the time and what little you might save up front by buying second hand, you will lose in having no warranties and old technology which is generally not as energy efficient. So buy the most energy efficient new models you can afford – they will save you in the long run.
Use biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products – look for products which are made of natural substances rather than laboratory produced chemicals. Or try carb soda and vinegar which cleans just about anything given half a chance – from your oven to your toilet you can get things clean by scattering carb soda on the surface then applying vinegar and letting the combination fizz and do it’s magic.
Lemon juice is a great bleacher, especially if paired with a bit of good old-fashioned sunshine. Try making your own moisturisers by combining simple ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, almond oil and your favourite essential oil – easy – and easy on the planet!
Insulate – your walls and your ceiling – insulation makes a big difference to the way your house performs, especially in the height of summer and the cold depths of winter. Check for gaps around doors and windows and get them sealed up so the wind can’t get in. In the southern hemisphere, if you have north facing windows then open the curtains in winter to let the winter sunshine in to passively warm your house.
Keep the south side curtains closed in winter, if you can, to keep the warm in and the cold out. In summer do the opposite – shade the north facing windows to reduce the heat coming in through the windows and use the south side windows to draw in fresh breezes and keep a nice temperature in the house without having to turn on the air conditioner.
Dry your clothes outside whenever you can – sounds simple enough but it can be challenging if you live in a wet environment! But on days when the sun is shining, hang your clothes outside, not only will they dry nicely, but the Vitamin D on your clothes helps kill any germ bugs that might be lurking around. And you get to spend time in the great outdoors soaking up some Vitamin D too which is great for your own health too.
You can purchase clothes airers for indoors to dry clothes inside when it is raining without having to start the dryer up – for less than $100 they are a valuable resource and will last for years and cost you nothing to run.
When you shop, choose foods with less packaging – if you are a regular at your farmers’ market you can probably get most fresh produce without wrapping – or bring your own cloth bags in which to put your produce. Most producers will happily weigh it ‘naked’ (the food, not the farmer) and then allow you to place it into your own bags. Avoid foods with non-recyclable packaging if it must be packaged at all. If it’s not recyclable then try to find another use for it once you have used it to transport the food to your place. Pots for paints, seed-raising, keeping pens on your desk or organising small items in drawers are all ways of re-using packaging you get that can’t be recycled.
Learn how to repair things. Whether it is darning socks, putting up your hems, getting your shoes re-soled or fixing appliances when they break down – all these skills can be learned – the tutorials you find on You Tube are amazing – people are always willing to share their skills and help you to learn something new. If you can’t figure out how to repair something, find someone else who knows how to repair things – the shoe repair man is there for a reason and dry-cleaners often have people who do repairs (although personally I’d avoid the dry cleaner and their horrible chemicals). Perhaps you have a repair café in your neighbourhood?
Consider your travel needs – rather than taking a short flight, is there a train journey that you can take instead? Not only will you reduce your ecological footprint, you will have time to catch up on your social media or simply enjoy the scenery. Flying has two to four times the impact of CO2 emissions on climate change because it releases water vapour and nitrous oxide at high altitude. If you can’t avoid flying, make donations to projects on climate protection. Try this emissions calculator to see what the damage is, if you dare. You can use this calculator for cruises as well or events that you might be holding or for your car usage. Did you know that an average car that travels 12,000 kilometres a year produces 2,000kg of CO2 emissions? Offsetting some of this by making a donation to climate protection projects is good for the planet and good for your conscience!
I’m not suggesting that you put all 10 of these on your “to do” list for tomorrow – just one of them if you can – consider consciously what might be an easy one for you to tackle, depending on your individual lifestyle and do that one. And do it consistently for six months until it becomes a natural part of the way you live your life. Then try starting another one and then down the track, another one.
Before too long you will be living noticeably more sustainably and it won’t seem like a huge change or a massive effort to get there. What one change would you recommend others make to live a more sustainable life?