How to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle
You can help create a better world.
One of the more common life goals is to make a lasting impact on the world for the better.
However, too many of us are making the wrong kind of impact by not living sustainable lifestyles. Collectively as humans, we are slowly creating a less hospitable planet for future generations.
From not being mindful of our own food waste to relying on single use plastic items, we are not as conscious as we should be of our environmental imprint. Runaway carbon emissions and global greenhouse gas emissions are just one small part of the evidence.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. While climate change remains a very real threat, there are small steps each of us can take that will add up to shifting the state of our planet for the better. That involves living a more sustainable life, one person at a time.
Sure, it may seem like your single impact is small, relative to the problem. It’s true – it is! It is our collective effort, however, that is what truly makes an impact. We don’t all have to be sticking to a vegan diet, powering our homes with green energy and engaging in net-zero living to success. But as more and more people become mindful of how we can enact change, living sustainably will hopefully become the new norm.
By making meaningful changes in your daily habits you can make your impact on this world positive, and help pass on the Earth’s resources to the generations to come. Here’s what you should know about sustainable living, as well as 15 things you can start doing—today—to reduce your carbon footprint on our world.
Sustainable living for future generations
Before diving in on how to create a sustainable lifestyle, let’s get clear on what sustainable living actually is.
By definition, sustainable living is a philosophy for reducing one’s negative environmental impact. The goal is to help counterbalance the effects of climate change, stop practices that can harm our environment and reduce one’s overall carbon footprint.
There are different degrees to sustainable living. Some people might start with energy efficient windows, others towards achieving zero waste in their day to day lives, which takes a lot of effort and time.
Others simply swap plastic disposables for compostables, and still more try to use products that can be powered with sustainable energy. And, of course, there is a lot of variation in between, too. If you like to play in the stock market, you might consider ESG investing.
It can start with awareness
Moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle isn’t about being perfect or shaming others for their less eco friendly choices. It’s being more aware of your negative impact on the environment and doing what you can to reduce harm on the planet.
The bottom line here is this: You don’t have to give up all modern conveniences in order to live sustainably. It’s better to do one small thing than to do nothing at all. Making a change, any change is a step in the right direction. But once you start shifting toward sustainable living you’ll be more conscious of your impact on the earth and likely more apt to continue to take little steps toward living a more eco conscious life.
Why is it important to live more sustainably?
Clearly, climate change is a danger to human existence.
For years (okay, decades), scientists have warned us that people’s impact on the earth has caused irreversible damage to our ecosystem. There’s pollution in the air from fossil fuels and trash in the ocean from our obscene amounts of plastic waste. Deforestation is removing animals from their habitats. The oceans are rising. The glaciers are melting.
The outlook is rather bleak, to be honest. If we don’t start changing the way we live, and soon, we’re only going to cause more environmental issues.
While changes need to be made on a global scale—and the systems and companies causing the majority of the problems need to be held accountable—each person can do their part to live more sustainably.
While one person opting for paper straws over plastic, for instance, may not seem very impactful, these practices can add up over time to create lasting change. The more people that participate in sustainability, the more impact we can all have.
Changing our perspective doesn’t just help the planet, it can help people on an individual level as well. Reducing the amount of energy you use, the number of items you buy and the trash you throw away can save you money.
Having fewer things to upkeep saves you time.
Simplifying your life in various sustainable ways can be very fulfilling, helping you become less dependent on material things and more in touch with the natural world. All in all, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle benefits the planet and the people. It’s worth exploring.
15 ways to start living a more sustainable lifestyle right now
Ready for some ideas on living more sustainably? The following tips will get your started:
Reduce your waste
Every day, people accumulate so much waste. On a global scale, this amount of trash is immense. Do what you can to reduce waste. A few ideas?
Use paper towels sparingly and opt for cleaning with dish rags when you can.
Stop buying plastic wrap and cover your leftovers with beeswax wrap instead.
Reduce your food waste by making a point to use up all the food in your fridge, sharing produce with neighbors when you have too much, freezing leftovers and composting peels and eggshells.
Instead of buying products in plastic bottles, reduce your plastic waste as much as possible by making your own shampoo, conditioner, soaps and household products from concentrate bars and then putting those solutions into reusable glass jars.
There are so many easy swaps you can do to reduce your everyday waste.
Cut out single use items
From razors to plastic bags to cutlery, we collectively use many things one time (or only briefly) and then toss them.
While disposable items are certainly convenient and may have their time and place, they shouldn’t be used every day. Take stock of the single use items in your home and look for places where you can make a swap.
These days, you can get reusable cotton pads for taking off makeup, reusable zip-top baggies, reusable straws—the possibilities for reducing disposables in your life are nearly endless. While no one is likely to get to zero waste overnight, doing your part to curb single use items is an important way to practice sustainable living.
Reuse and repurpose items as much as possible
When you can, try to reuse items that still have some life in them instead of putting things in the trash.
Save gift wrap and ribbons for further presents, use old dish towels and t-shirts as cleaning rags and give kids’ drawings and artwork to grandparents instead of sending these items to the landfill.
While you may need to do a little extra work to pack up, store or send these things, it’s worth taking a little time to in order to give these items a longer life.
Buy only what you really need
Another way to live a more sustainable lifestyle is to reduce the amount of items you buy. Instead of needing to own a litany of items, consider renting, sharing or borrowing things you need, especially specialty items that you may only use for a limited period of time.
Baby items like strollers, bassinets and cribs can be easily rented or borrowed, as can tools and ladders, cookware and travel gear (like tents and camping equipment). When you need a new book, consider borrowing from the library. There are lots of options for getting things you need without having to buy something new.
Think quality over quantity
When you do need to buy items new, consider the quality of every thing you buy. Will it last for years to come or will you need to replace it when it inevitably wears out or breaks within a year?
This means staying away from fast fashion (unless you’re shopping for kids who grow out of clothing quickly) and choosing household items made from wood, glass and metal, which can typically last longer than plastic.
While it may cost a bit more money upfront, you’ll save in the end when you don’t need to keep replacing worn out or broken items year after year.
Another aspect to consider when you’re wanting to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle is where you shop. When you buy items online from Amazon and other big retailers, you’re increasing the world’s energy consumption and widening your carbon footprint.
These companies expend natural resources to store, pack and ship your items. When you can, buy locally at mom and pop shops so you can support local businesses and save energy. For groceries, opt for buying produce at your farmer’s market and choose in-season items.
If more people do this, we can reduce the fossil fuels needed to fly in produce from around the world. And it’s not all about what you buy at local shops – you can learn more about socially responsible investing to use your money in more effective ways on a global scale as well!
Consider packaging before purchasing
When you’re shopping, take stock of the packaging of a given item before you buy it.
Try to buy food items that come in glass containers instead of plastic—you can use glass jars and containers for storage, vases or drinking cups. Buy your produce “naked” instead of getting lettuce and other vegetables and fruits that come packed in plastic bags or containers. When shopping for toys or electronics, opt for items that don’t have a lot of packaging.
Doing this allows you to vote with your wallet for items that don’t create even more waste.
If you can, choose to buy items from upcycled or recycled materials, or buy things that have been used by others before.
Shop thrift stores, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, garage sales—all of these places have lots of items that other people no longer need but still have lots of life left in them. You can even buy open box or returned items from online retailers like Amazon and Wayfair, which is a good way to incorporate sustainable living practices for those times when you absolutely need to shop online.
You’ll save money when you buy used or recycled items and you’re doing a great service to the planet at the same time.
Water is one of our most important natural resources. Where you can, try to reduce your environmental impact. Take shorter showers and use Turkish towels instead of traditional ones, since they don’t take as much water to be laundered.
Put your sprinklers on a smart timer that can gauge when your plants really need to be watered. These are just two easy changes that can add up to a big environmental impact. As you go about your day, be mindful about how much water you use (and waste) and look for specific ways you can shift your habits to reduce your usage.
Reconsider your idea of clean
While it’s important to maintain good hygiene, most of us are probably overdoing it. People simply don’t need a litany of products to keep themselves clean—though cosmetic and beauty companies would sure like us to think otherwise.
Do you really need a 10-step product regimen for your face? Do you have to have a whole shelf of hair products? How much soap do you really need to use? Think about these questions and see if you can live with fewer products (meaning fewer plastic bottles and less soap waste down the drain).
And, as mentioned before, working toward taking shorter showers will further reduce the amount of water you use each day.
Besides reducing your water use, you can also rethink the amount of electricity and gas you use every day. Your energy consumption is another way you can make an impact on sustainability.
Think about reducing your electronics use by swapping binge watching with reading a book or playing a board game instead of having the TV on every night.
Take advantage of natural light as much as possible by opening blinds and shades before flipping on a light switch. We all use Google, but have you heard of a sustainable search engine? Look it up! For certain recipes, it may be worth using an air fryer or microwave instead of turning on the oven. Swap out your traditional light bulbs for energy saving LED bulbs.
Just as you did with your water usage, keep your energy use top of mind for a day or so to see where you can conserve.
Consider renewable energy alternatives
Eco-friendly alternatives for power have come a long way. There are many innovations, like solar panels, wind energy and other renewable energy sources, that can help you reduce your carbon footprint and use fewer of earth’s natural resources.
Even choosing fiber optic cables for your home internet is a way to live more sustainably—these cables require less energy and reduce greenhouse gasses. If you’re not sure where to start, the Environmental Protection Agency has a guide to understanding what renewable energy alternatives are available in your area.
By doing a little research you can do your part toward embarking on a more sustainable lifestyle right in your own home.
Opt out of junk mail
If you’re like most people, chances are that you get a lot of unwanted paper filling up your mailbox each week. From newsletters to advertising mailers to phone books you’ll never use, lots of throw-away items can be reduced simply by opting out.
While it may take a little bit of time to contact the companies that send you these items, it’s worth an hour or two to unsubscribe from these paper mailers. (The Postal Service has a good FAQ on how to do this, which includes a service that will help you opt out of junk mail for $2.)
Not only will it save you a few minutes a day of sorting and throwing away the unwanted mail but doing this small act can reduce paper waste and energy waste from printing, as well as show companies that their strategies for targeting customers is indeed unwanted.
Give to sustainable causes
Sustainability is important on the individual level but it’s even more impactful on a large scale. Choose a cause that matters to you, whether it’s preserving the rainforest or researching new clean energy sources.
Everyone’s collective dollars can go a long way toward enacting change. Even if you can only give a few dollars a month, any amount of money can make a difference. You could even consider raising money for sustainable living endeavors by holding a garage sale, bake sale, raffle or other event, which would not only funnel dollars toward the cause but raise other people’s awareness as well.
Dedicate your time to sustainability
If giving money isn’t an option, or you’d like to do more hands-on work toward achieving global sustainability, increase your awareness of global environmental issues by dedicating time.
You can read books and research sustainability and the various climate change related issues facing our world. You can join a local environmental group and volunteer your time. You can campaign for candidates and policies that fit your sustainability values.
Most importantly, you can exercise your right to vote in every election and make sure your voice is heard.
What does sustainable living look like?
Sustainability looks like different things to different people. We all have certain comforts of modern life that we are willing to give up for the sake of the planet—and we all have habits that we just can’t live without.
Sustainable living isn’t about becoming a martyr and giving up all the conveniences of modern life, whether it’s never again ordering takeout or forgoing all plastic straws, forever. It’s about building new rituals into your lifestyle that help you become more sustainable.
One thing is certain though: If everyone does their part, no matter how small, we can all work together to create a better world.