With so much focus on sustainable lifestyle and green living these days, more people than ever before are looking to make changes to their behavior that positively impact the environment.
And if you’re searching for new and creative methods of reducing your ecological impact, we’ve put together a list of the top 15 ways that you and your family can live a greener, cleaner, and more earth-friendly lifestyle.
1. Eliminate Unnecessary Mail
We all know that annoying feeling of opening the mailbox and finding it packed full of unwanted letters and catalogs. And despite the prevalence of the internet, junk mail is still a frustrating part of our daily lives – and a significant burden on the environment.
It’s estimated that the average US home receives 1.5 trees worth of junk mail every year – which adds up to more than 100 million trees country-wide. Unsurprisingly, 44% of junk mail is never opened, but unfortunately, only 22% of it is recycled.
“According to Edward Humes, author of the book “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” the energy used to create and distribute junk mail in the US for one day could heat 250,000 homes.” wasteawaygroup.com
If you want to reduce your ecological footprint, you can start by placing a “no junk mail” sign on your letterbox, and you can also join a national registry that will put you on a “do not mail” list.
In a similar vein, you can also switch all of your phone bills, credit card statements, and other notices to an electronic format. The next time you receive an invoice or account statement in the mail, contact the sender and request it as an email instead.
While these measures won’t guarantee that you’ll never receive another unwanted piece of mail, they’re definitely a move in the right direction.
2. Start a Home Compost
When we send food waste to an ordinary landfill, it releases methane gas, which is 84 times more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent. However, when we compost food scraps instead, they break down into natural organic matter and create healthier soil.
If your area has a curbside organic compost system, be sure to use that for all of your kitchen scraps and organic material. And better still, you can start a home compost and create nutrient-rich material for your garden and lawn – while keeping your household waste to a minimum.
3. Walk or Cycle Instead of Driving
For many of our everyday journeys – even the very short ones – we jump straight behind the wheel without a second thought. But in many cases, we can easily make these trips on two feet – or even two wheels.
Motor vehicles are one of the biggest producers of US air pollution, and leaving the car at home and walking or cycling instead is of great benefit to the environment, your health, and your wallet.
4. Reduce Your Meat and Dairy Consumption
Meat and dairy have been staples of the American diet for a long time, but our love of animal products also takes its toll on the environment. Producing 1 kg of beef creates 60 kg of greenhouse gasses – which may not sound like a lot – until you discover that last year in the US, we consumed over 27 billion pounds of beef.
“Skipping one serving of beef every Monday for a year saves the equivalent emissions to driving 348 miles in a car.” mondaycampaigns.org
If you want to reduce your intake of animal products, but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips:
- Try to avoid eating meat one day a week, such as “meat-free Monday”.
- Consider replacing milk with non-dairy alternatives, such as soy, oats, or almonds.
- When eating meat, try to reduce your portion sizes, and source it from your local area to reduce transport emissions.
The good news is you don’t need to drastically change your diet or become a vegetarian overnight – even just making a few small changes can have a significant environmental impact.
5. Embrace Reusable Bags, Bottles, and Coffee Cups
One of the biggest challenges we face as a society is our culture of disposable, single-use products. Grocery bags, plastic water bottles, and coffee cups clog up our landfills, rivers, and oceans, and many of them will take hundreds of years to decompose – if at all.
Reusable bags and containers are some of the simplest items that can help you to live a waste-free lifestyle:
- Take reusable bags to the grocery store, and always keep a spare one in the car.
- Instead of buying single-use plastic bottles, use a refillable bottle and take it with you when you go out.
- Buy a reusable coffee cup to replace disposable cups (the café might even give you a discount!)
In the US, we throw away around 50 billion disposable coffee cups every year – which is about 150 per person. By replacing single-use items with reusable alternatives, we immediately reduce our carbon emissions and landfill waste – and improve the quality of our air, soil, and water.
6. Recycle as a Family
Recycling is arguably one of the most beneficial things we can do to live more sustainable lives, and while it can require some small changes to your habits – it doesn’t need to be a chore. In fact, recycling is something you can do as a family – and it’s a great way to educate your children and help the environment at the same time.
You can teach your children to identify the different recycling symbols on containers, and educate them about the benefits of reusing materials and eliminating waste. You can even head to the local library and borrow some books about recycling, which explain sustainability in a fun and relatable way.
7. Buy Local Food
Our supermarkets are packed with all the food we could ever need, but many of us don’t think about the carbon emissions associated with how it’s grown, transported, and stored.
When you’re at the grocery store, buy as much local food and produce as possible, which benefits growers in your local area – and significantly lowers the associated greenhouse gasses.
Better still, try to shop at community co-ops and markets, and buy directly from farmers and local growers. This not only reduces the carbon footprint of your food – but it’s great for the local economy too.
8. Teach Your Children to Value Water and Electricity
It’s often said that when you learn something at a young age, it becomes a life-long habit. And the way that you teach your children to use water and electricity is no exception.
For example, reducing the length of a shower by just two minutes can save around ten gallons of water – not to mention the electricity or gas needed to heat it. Similarly, many homes waste power and money by leaving lights on in empty rooms, and leaving appliances turned on when they’re not in use.
Children love games, and simple challenges such as seeing who can have the fastest shower or turn off the most lights each day can dramatically reduce your family’s environmental footprint – not to mention your utility bills.
9. Turn Down the Thermostat
While our heating and cooling systems keep us comfortable all year round, some small changes to your thermostat can see noticeable reductions in your energy use – without compromising your lifestyle.
According to the Department of Energy, you should set your thermostat to 68°F in Winter, and 78°F in Summer. When you’re asleep or away from home, you can reduce the settings even further to maximize energy efficiency.
“You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.” US Department of Energy
Similarly, the temperature of your washing machine also has a direct impact on your energy consumption. Wash your clothes in cold water wherever possible – and air-dry your laundry to avoid using a power-hungry tumble dryer.
10. Make the Switch to Renewable Energy
It goes without saying that using renewable energy to power your home is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And when it comes to sourcing clean energy, there are a few more options than you might think.
The most obvious way is to install solar panels on your roof and generate your own clean electricity. But if your living situation or finances prohibit you from installing solar energy, there are several other ways you can achieve the same environmental benefit:
- Join a community solar farm in your local area.
- Purchase green power from your electricity retailer.
- Buy renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset your monthly or annual electricity use.
For further help, you can also use the Terrapass ecological footprint calculator to discover how you can offset – or even completely eliminate – your annual greenhouse gas emissions.
11. Cut Back on Single-Use Packaging
Around 50% of all plastic is made for single-use purposes. Many of the supermarket items we buy every day come in packaging that immediately ends up in the trash, placing extra burdens on local services, landfills, and the environment.
Here are some of the most effective ways to reduce or eliminate single-use materials:
- Buy items in bulk to avoid excess packaging.
- Shop at “zero-waste” stores or local markets using your own bags and containers.
- Choose supermarket items with minimal packaging, or those offering biodegradable or paper-based alternatives.
In the US, each of us creates around 4.5 pounds of waste every day. Purely by making smarter consumer choices, we can significantly lower this number – and reduce the depletion of our precious natural resources.
12. Buy Ethical, Durable, and Second-Hand Clothing
Our love of “fast fashion” might keep us looking good, but it’s placing an extraordinary burden on our environment, with every item requiring a substantial amount of energy, water, and natural materials.
In the US, we’re buying more clothing than ever before – but we’re also wearing each item fewer times. And worst of all, almost all unwanted clothing ends up in landfill, or is incinerated on mass.
“It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, enough to meet the average person’s drinking needs for two-and-a-half years.” World Resources Institute
If you’re looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle, try to reduce the number of individual pieces of clothing that you buy, and when you do, purchase durable items that you’ll keep for a long time.
Better still, you can reduce your environmental impact even further by purchasing pre-loved clothing, or sharing items with friends and family.
13. Aim for a “Zero-Waste” Kitchen
The most effective way to change your behavior is to set goals – and even small ones can make a big difference.
One day a week, try to make your kitchen “zero-waste” in which every item is composted, recycled, reused, or repurposed. This has the immediate benefit of not just eliminating household waste, but it will also make you reconsider some of your shopping choices and your methods of packaging.
And once you achieve a waste-free day, try to extend it to several days or even an entire week. You’ll be surprised how quickly the changes become second-nature – and it’s a great way for the whole family to work together towards a common goal.
14. Upgrade All of Your Lighting to LEDs
This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many homes still waste power on outdated and inefficient forms of lighting – which contribute to around 6% of global carbon emissions.
If you still have CFL light globes – or even worse, halogens and incandescents – consider changing your lighting over to LEDs. For example, a recessed halogen downlight typically uses 50w of power, but the equivalent LED consumes only 5w – and produces far less heat.
By upgrading to LEDs, you can immediately save up to 70% on your lighting bill and significantly reduce your home’s carbon footprint. And as you replace your old globes, don’t forget to recycle them to prevent them ending up in a landfill.
15. Purchase Carbon Offsets to Balance Your Emissions
Last but certainly not least, you can balance out many or all of your remaining emissions by purchasing carbon offsets. Using our simple online calculator, you can see exactly how many pounds of CO2 your family creates every year, and then offset them on an annual or monthly basis.
As you’ve seen from the list above, there are choices we can make every day that reduce our impact on the environment. And for those emissions that we can’t eliminate overnight – we can use carbon offsets to restore the balance – and help our children grow up in a cleaner, greener world.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels