This comprehensive list should get you well on your way to more sustainable living. It may look daunting, but remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one or two ideas that sound good to you. When you’ve mastered those, pick one or two more.
How many planets would we need if everyone lived like you? Calculate your impact at myfootprint.org.
Many conventional cleaning products are full of chemicals that are harmful to the environment and your health. Do you want to eliminate these chemicals from your home? If so:
- Make your own cleaning products. It’s easy and sustainable. There are many ideas online for just about everything from vinegar and water floor cleaners to replacing harsh powdered cleaning agents with baking soda.
- Purchase eco-friendly cleaning products. More and more companies are developing earth-conscious cleaning products. Seek out these options, but be sure to do your homework – just because the label says that it is “green” doesn’t mean that it’s non-toxic!
Does organic cotton sound like a dream come true? Love vintage clothing? Hate your dryer? If you answered yes to any of these, one or more of these tips are perfect for you:
- Dress the part. When you buy new clothes, choose items made of organic cotton or hemp. Even better, save money and the environment by buying clothes from secondhand shops or mending or altering old clothes. The more ambitious can also try out “junk fashion.” Make buttons out of bottle caps, purses out of cardboard boxes, or a necklace from old wire.
- Line dry. If it’s not raining or snowing, you can hang your clothes outside to dry. It may take a little longer, but they’ll smell great using the natural power of the sun and wind to dry.
Want to reduce your electricity bill and greenhouse gas emissions?
- Change your light bulbs. Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy than conventional incandescent lights.
- Unplug. Did you know that your computer, television, microwave, toaster, cell phone charger, and other small appliances draw power even when switched off? Unplug these items when not in use and you could reduce your electricity bill by as much as ten percent.
- Seal leaks. Add extra insulation to maximize your heating and cooling energy.
- Switch to Energy Star appliances. Energy Star is a labeling system run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy-efficient products including major appliances, lighting, and home electronics.
- Invest in a programmable thermostat. Set your thermostat so that your heater or air conditioner will shut off during the day while you are gone, but will turn on again when you get home, or just a little while before, rather than letting it run all day.
- Learn about energy-efficient cooking. Guidelines are available from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
- Setup your own solar panels or windmill. Do-it-yourself instructions are available at YourGreenDream.
Most of us eat several times every day, thus our food choices have a significant impact on the earth. We can improve that impact by changing our food choices just a little bit:
- Buy organic food. Organic fruits and vegetables are cultivated without pesticides, which can contaminate water and pose health risks for humans. These products are grown on farms that share agricultural land with native plants to preserve local flora, which provides habitat for native animals. Organic farming also promotes water conservation and builds up healthy soil as part of the growth process. Organic dairy and meat products are free of hormones and antibiotics that may pose health risks.
- Eat fewer animal products. Switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet or just eat less meat and dairy and more fruits and vegetables. Even one extra meat-free meal a week makes a difference. According to BBC Green, consuming 2.2 pounds of beef is equivalent to driving a car for 3 hours with your lights on.
- Start a food co-op. Read the online guide by Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network.
- Grow your own food. It doesn’t get any more local than your backyard. Plant a small garden or try to grow all your fruits and vegetables – either will be good for the environment and can provide a fun way to relax outdoors.
Fuel costs are continually on the rise, a great way to save some money is to choose sustainable transportation options and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Try a combination of these ideas to find the method that works best for you.
- Combine errands. Post office and the grocery store in the same area? Wait until the afternoon to go grocery shopping and stop by the post office on your way home instead of making two trips. You’ll save fuel, money, and time, while reducing your carbon emissions.
- Carpool. Commute with co-workers or neighbors. Take turns driving and you’ll save money on gas and reduce carbon emissions (find 5 friends and you’ll only have to pay for one trip per week). You’ll also be taking one or more cars off the road, reducing traffic for you and your fellow drivers. Plus, you get to drive in the carpool lane.
- Change your method of transportation. If you need a car, buy a biodiesel, electric, hybrid, FlexFuel or more fuel-efficient car. If you’re ready to give up cars altogether, take public transportation, get a scooter, walk, bike, skateboard, rollerblade, or find another fun alternative.
- Work from home/telecommute. Skip the commute and save on fuel. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and get back that valuable time you spend traveling back and forth from work everyday.
- Make your own biodiesel. Get started with the Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial.
Most Western countries have organized, convenient waste management systems that make it all too easy for citizens to get rid of their trash without a second thought. How many trash bags do you fill at home each week? Can you fill fewer bags next week? Here are some ideas to help you buy fewer trash bags:
- Buy in bulk to reduce packaging. Buying in bulk helps reduce trash created from packing food into several smaller containers instead of one large container.
- Choose reusable. By using reusable plates, cups, napkins, and flatware you can cut costs at the grocery store, save space in your trash can/landfill, and help the environment. Can’t give up these types of items completely? Try to use them less and look for compostable brands when you really need them.
- Donate. Instead of throwing out that sweater in the back of your closet or the CD player collecting dust in the garage, donate them to a local charitable organization.
- Reduce paper waste. The three easiest ways to reduce paper waste are to print less, use both sides of every sheet of paper and to use scrap paper instead of buying notepads. Keep a stack of pages you don’t need anymore and use them for things like grocery lists or drawing paper for your kids. Recycle what’s left instead of throwing it out.
- Bring your own bags. Grab some old totes or invest in canvas, hemp, or string grocery bags. To take it a step further, buy reusable produce bags, too.
- Keep toxins out of your trash can. Don’t just throw away paint, oil, batteries, and CFLs. Call your landfill and find out how to dispose of these types of items properly.
- Compost. Learn to compost your food scraps. It will cut down on trash in landfills and you can use it to fertilize your home garden.
- Refurbish and reuse. Instead of throwing something out and buying a replacement, try fixing up that old toaster or mending the hole in your favorite shirt.
- Start a recycling program. Upset that your neighborhood doesn’t have a recycling program? Start your own.
Water flows out of our Western pipes like an infinite resource – making it all too easy for us to abuse it. A couple of quick fixes and water-saving tricks will help you conserve water with minimal effort:
- Repair leaks. Check your pipes and faucets for leaks and patch any you might find. A faucet leaking one drop per second can release 2,700 gallons of water in one year. (Source: American Water and Energy Savers)
- Save water at the sink. Don’t let the water run when brushing your teeth, washing your face, or shaving. Instead of letting clean water run down the drain while you’re waiting for it to cool down to drinking temperature or heat up for washing, collect that water in a jug and use it later.
- Conserve water. Install low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets.
- Wash dishes and clothes less often. Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they are full.