So, you want to live more sustainably, but you also have a busy career, active social life, and you aren’t a gazillionaire.
You might live in an urban area with an apartment that makes composting and/or gardening very difficult or even impossible.
Additionally, you might already be on a budget and unfortunately most ethical and conscious brands tend to be on the more expensive side.
Ever gotten little carried away at Whole Foods and regretted it afterwards?
It can put a “hole” in your wallet.
You KNOW climate change is real, and you have to do something. We all do. We’ve all seen the nasty effects on unregulated capitalism on our environment, and it seems to be accelerating.
Just in the last year alone, we have watched the Amazon rainforests burn, increasing catastrophic weather events around the world, rising temperatures and oceans, and the demolition of many species and their habitats.
Similarly, we have also seen the rise of political leaders that either don’t believe in climate change, or don’t care. I’m honestly not sure which is worse!
Although it seems that more and more people today (especially young people) care about the environment and the reality of the climate crisis, in many ways, we seem to be going backwards politically and economically.
But here’s the good news: virtually every movement that mattered in history was started by regular people, just like you and me.
Women’s right to vote. Civil Rights. The LGBTQ+ movement.
These were all grassroots movements!
In fact, in most cases in the past, there was RESISTANCE from politicians and businesspeople, not help.
So why would we expect their approach to climate change and the environment to be any different?
So the best place to start, the only place we have any real and lasting control, is our own behavior.
The key to creating long last change is to make sustainable living both convenient and affordable!
So here are 3 ways to live more sustainably that aren’t a pain in the ass (or a fortune!):
1) Say Goodbye to Single Use Plastic – EVERYWHERE!
This one is pretty obvious but from an environmental perspective, but it’s incredibly important. I could go on for pages and pages about the CO2 footprint, the lack of recyclability of plastics overall, the destruction of marine ecosystems and wildlife, or the dangerous impact of microplastics in our bodies, but we have saved that for another post.
The best way to do this is to have your own sustainable “kit” that goes everywhere you do.
The most important staples of your kit are a reusable water bottle as well as reusable grocery/shopping bags. If you forget and are really in a pinch, remember that aluminum cans are far more sustainable that plastic bottles and have a lower carbon footprint and a much higher recycled rate (67% vs. PET plastic bottles that are only 25-30%).
Use reusable sandwich bags, and other reusable containers for leftover food.
Once you get in the habit of living plastic free, trust me, you will have no interest in returning (and you will save money bringing all of your own, reusable stuff!)
And here’s the important part – try not avoid buying any product that uses single use plastic packaging.
I say “try,” because there might not be any alternatives for every product near you….yet. The truth is, that so many products “could” easily be made without plastic packaging for a minimal difference in cost, and aren’t.
If enough people avoid products solely due to plastic packaging, companies will notice and they will change their behavior over time.
2) Eat. Less. Meat. (Or better yet, none)
If you’re already a vegan or vegetarian, I’m probably preaching to the choir.
However, we don’t live in an all or nothing world. Collectively, each small, lasting change in the individual has a ripple effect for our environment and our world.
The reality is most people will stay meat eaters.
However, if there is even a small decrease in consumption, and that consumption becomes more humane and localized with a smaller CO2 and water footprint, society wins.
Let’s break down the negative impact of land, air, and water generated by livestock production:
30% of all ice-free land in the world is used for livestock production – the combination of land used for livestock grazing and farmland used solely to feed livestock could be repurposed to feed over 4 billion people.
Livestock is incredibly water intensive. In one year, on the lowest end, a broiler chicken will use about 26 cubic meters of water. On the highest end, a dairy cow will use over 2,000 cubic meters per year! In comparison, crops such as soy or lentils use 1-2 cubic meters of water per year.
It’s so hard to rank importance but this likely takes the cake - unlike food and energy, there are ZERO alternatives to water!
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse emissions. The only industry with a greater impact on emissions is the energy sector! This includes not only CO2, but also methane gas, which is 20-30 times more potent.
When you look at the horrific environmental consequences of eating meat (not to mention the absolutely awful living conditions of slaughter houses), you would think there would be a lot more vegans and vegetarians.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day. If a reasonable percentage decided to NOT eat meat just one day per week, imagine what that could do for the environment.
Just for argument’s sake, imagine everyone gives up meat, just on Mondays.
#PLAINPIZZAMONDAYS (<-- might be a better sales pitch)
If so many people can give up plastic straws and plastic bags forever, don’t you think they could give up meat once per week?
Hey, it’s worth a try.
3) Burn Calories. Not Gas. Fly Less. Carpool/Mass Transit more.
Now that we’ve discussed sustainable living, eating and drinking (through minimizing single use plastic and reducing or eliminating meat), the biggest hurdle left to living sustainably is transportation.
For those in urban areas or those with a short commute, riding your bike to work is perhaps the best option. In addition to a zero carbon commute, you will also burn calories in the process. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. Win across the board – we like those!
Next up is mass transit – if you do this already, good job! But how are you getting to the train or bus station? If you can, carpool TO your mass transit hub to further reduce your carbon footprint. Once again, this is a double win – and who knows, you might just make a new commuter friend!
Finally, there is air travel. This is amongst the most challenging because although highly polluting and inefficient, there currently aren’t really any equally fast alternatives (Get on that hyperloop, Mr. Musk!).
The best advice here is to use rail travel (ideally, high speed rail) IF your destination is relatively close, and in many cases, not much faster to fly after you factor in those obnoxiously long security checkpoints. A good example might be London to Paris, or New York to Washington D.C.
Also, if you happen to be a gazillionaire, don’t fly private! At least fly first class!
No single-use plastic. At all.
Less meat (one day without meat is already a 15% reduction per week!).
Greener commutes (bike riding, carpooling, mass transit) and less plane travel.
In summary, you can greatly reduce your carbon footprint by following these suggestions.
And true to the title, hopefully they aren’t a pain in the ass to implement, and also really won’t cost you anything either. In fact, riding a bike and/or carpooling to work, and eating less meat will likely save you money!
Got any other suggestions of living more sustainably that are easy and cheap to implement?
Leave them in the comments below!