With everything going on in the world (global pandemic, racial injustices, climate change), we bet you’re thinking about how to live more sustainably. We are, too.
We believe that we need a lot of people to make some meaningful changes that collectively can have a profound impact on the planet, our communities, and even us. You don’t have to be zero waste, vegan, or a DIY queen to live in a way that is significantly better for our environment and your health. We’re not here to advocate for any one version of sustainability, unless that’s something you want to pursue. We’re here to encourage you to begin and deepen the exploration process of what living more sustainably can mean for you, given all the details of your individual life.
What can you do to live more sustainably? Check out our list below with ten of the most important things you can start doing today.
On November 3, 2020, America will be voting to decide who will be our next president, 100 senators, and 435 members of Congress. This election is critical to taking decisive political action when it comes to environmental and climate policy. Vote for the candidates that you believe will prioritize the environment and fight the global climate crisis.
You can learn how to sign up to vote at vote.org and we encourage you to sign up for our Climate Voter Pledge here.
Also, remember that many environmental and climate action policies are also crafted at the state and municipal levels. Do your homework and understand candidates’ positions on the environment, call/write/email them to let them know that you care about the environment as a voting issue, and vote. Issue Voter is a great resource for receiving targeted alerts about issues you care about before Congress votes. In the alert, you can read pros and cons and with a single click send your representative whether or not you want them to support the bill.
Some key issues to consider supporting for a sustainable future:
+ Sustainable agriculture: defunding corn and soybean subsidies that make McDonalds cheaper than salads.
+ Renewable energy: support for widespread renewable energy projects and and ending fossil fuel subsidies.
+ Mass transportation: personal automobiles are major sources of carbon and are massively socially isolating.
+ Density: people living in dense environments (aka cities) have a smaller carbon footprint per person.
+ Strict environmental review processes: groups trying to strip away environmental protections often masquerade these intentions behind posing as pro-business or “removing the red tape.”
+ Investment in environmental infrastructure and management: responsible water use (farmers in CA draining their wells), no oil/tar sands pipelines, banning fracking.
+ Consumer protections: regulate plastics and harmful chemicals that are all around us and affect our health and wellbeing.
+ Land conservation and management wildlife and endangered species protection: protect natural landscapes and habitats from development and preserve the wildlife that depend on these areas.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, total global emissions from livestock is 7.1 Co2-eq Gt, which equals 14.5% of all human-produced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which raising cattle makes up 65%. If cows were a country, they would be the third greatest producer of GHG emissions.
Reducing your consumption of meat, especially beef, can be one of the most impactful choices you make on a daily basis. Rather than once a week #MeatlessMonday, consider eating a mostly plant-rich diet with meat used as a flavoring or for special occasions. Eat a variety of foods that are local, fresh and in season, and enjoy the experience of eating—mindfully and with gratitude. Planning your meals in advance, meeting yourself and the people you share meals with where you/they are, and not changing your entire lifestyle cold turkey will help. Consider cutting meat out of one meal a day or on specific days of the week to get started. See if a friend, partner, roommate, or co-worker wants to try eating less meat with you.
This NYT article has some great tips on how to actually embrace more plants and eat less meat:
+ Eat more beans. Chickpeas, cannellini, lintels, lima beans, black beans. Beans are a great source of protein and can be used in so many ways.
+ Enjoy high-protein grains (including pasta). Quinoa, millet, wild rice, buckwheat, cornmeal, kamut, teff (we bet you haven't even heard of all these gems). Having a wide variety of carb bases for your dishes will make it easier to keep things interesting.
+ Up your tofu game. Tofu is what you make of it and you can do so much with it. Given its mild, neutral flavor, tofu can be paired with more flavorful ingredients and sauces. Alternatively, you can combine a small amount of meat with tofu for the flavor but for a fraction of the meat.
+ More nuts and seeds. Mmhm almond butter...but also so many other ways to add nuts and seeds into your diet. Chopped on salads, pureed into dressing and sauces, nut butter, and just plain, as a snack, are some tasty ways to pack in more protein.
+ Try plant-based meats. There are so many options on the market nowadays: seitan, veggie burgers, soy chorizo, tempeh, jackfruit, plant-based "chicken." New companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are coming up all kinds of meat alternatives.
If you do continue to eat meat, make it an active and informed choice by understanding where those products come from and how they are raised (grass-fed has a much smaller footprint than conventional grain-fed cattle). Remind yourself that eating meat comes with consequences, but that we can still be good stewards of the planet if we don't give it all up, all at once.
We cannot achieve carbon neutrality without decarbonizing our entire energy system. Your home is a part of that system.
+ Get renewables by signing up to power your home with 100% clean energy. If you live in a deregulated market, you can ask your utility company directly or sign up via companies like Arcadia, Green Mountain Energy, or Solstice. One of the great benefits to powering your home with renewables besides the fact that it’s clean is that you will likely be able to lock in a guaranteed price rather than deal with fluctuating energy prices and sometimes unexpected bills from dirty fossil fuels.
+ Turn off the light, if longer than a minute or two. So simple and yet so easy to forget. Putting a reminder sign next to your light switch in the beginning can help.
+ Use LED light bulbs. Not only are they more energy efficient, they last longer, so you won’t have to buy as many. Remember to recycle safely when done.
+ Use smart power strips, which are designed to monitor and control power for a given electrical outlet to improve energy efficiency and reduced wasted electricity.
Bonus: Invest in green home upgrades. Purchase energy efficient home appliances, install a smart thermostat, install energy efficient windows, upgrade your HVAC system. Consider installing rooftop solar panels or solar water heating.
In the US, 24% of our waste is compostable. In some places, like New York City, 34% of the residential waste stream is made of compostable organics like yard waste and food scraps. Organics collection provides benefits for the environment, regional economy, and local communities. Diverting organics from landfills prevents GHG emissions and can be used for composting to create a nutrient-dense soil amendment or to generate renewable energy.
More organics collected means more organics recycling projects, which will create new jobs in planning, construction, and operations. Ultimately our food waste can be a resource that is used for productive measures rather than being sent to landfills. Cutting-edge companies like Veles are using food waste to create innovative products.
Check your local municipality's website for more information about organics pickup availability and drop-off locations. ShareWaste maps out local composting systems.
Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the US.
- Walk, bike, scooter, or take public transportation.
- Consider car-sharing or renting a car only when you need it, or carpooling when possible. If you’re thinking about buying a new car, consider an electric vehicle.
- When flying, offset your carbon emissions. Some airlines like JetBlue, Alaskan Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, etc. offer the option to offset your carbon footprint when purchasing your flight ticket. Each airline has its own program, often in partnership with organizations that fund projects across energy efficiency, renewable energy, land use, methane destruction, and more.
While offsetting your flight is important, the global aviation industry is responsible for about 2% of all man-made carbon emissions compared to 20% created by road transport and fuel combustion. This means your everyday transportation choices are just as important, if not more so than how you fly.
Reduce: Let’s buy less stuff, especially single-use plastic and fast fashion. In the book, The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard reminds us that the pursuit of material things and overconsumption are making us unhappier. We work all day working to buy more stuff, and "what do we have to show for it? Monster houses, bigger cars, and a growing lack of physical, mental, and environmental health (not to mention a ton of trash and CO2.)”
Reuse: Don't throw stuff away before asking yourself if it can be reused or even repurposed. Save and reuse boxes. Donate clothes, books, and household items still in good condition. If you are thinking of upgrading a product even though it works (computers, household appliances, etc.), see if there is a local nonprofit or school that could use it.
Repair: When things break, fix them. When something is worn out, repair it. We are too quick to throw away things at the first sign it may be out of use. Turn to your local experts (dry cleaner, cobbler, handyman, plumber) before tossing something out.
Recycle: If you can no longer use the product or want to throw it out, first, see if it can be recycled. Metal, glass, select plastic, as well as electronics and clothes/textiles can be recycled—or donated.
When we do need to or want to buy stuff, let's be conscious consumers. Yes, that even goes when shopping with us!
+ Do your research on the products and brands you’re buying from. Make sure the things you buy support what you
+ Support small and local businesses, whether it’s your local farmer or downtown coffee shop (when possible).
+ Read the labels to make sure you understand where the product is coming from, how it was made/sourced, and to see if there are any unsustainable ingredients. Where possible, avoid palm oil, which is driving rampant deforestation that results in huge amounts of carbon emissions and threatens 193 critically endangered and vulnerable animal species, such as the the sumatran elephant, sumatran tiger, and orangutans.
+ Support creative makers through marketplaces like Etsy and buy high-quality, second-hand items like clothes, accessories, and shoes from ThredUp, TheRealReal, and your local consignment store.
+ Buy a sustainable version of what you need—something that will help you reduce waste, be more efficient, is reusable, and can be repaired/upcycled/recycled, and if it's single use, try looking for compostable or biodegradable options.
+ Boycott companies doing bad. Another way to make sure your money isn’t funding the things that go against your values is to boycott companies and products that are paying for political and advocacy campaigns that you don’t condone. For example, by being a customer of Soulcycle, Equinox, CVS, Estee Lauder and so on, you may be inadvertently supporting companies with financial ties to the Trump campaign.
While it’s easy to forget, water is a finite resource. The cost of water has been increasing as water and sewer bills grow faster than inflation.
+ Keep your showers under 5 minutes. Set a timer before you hop in.
+ Get a low-flow, water-saving shower head.
+ Be mindful of your water footprint. Water is used in everything you buy. For example, it takes 36 gallons of water to grow, produce, package, and ship the beans for your morning cup of coffee. Paper-making plants use 300 to 400 tons of water to make one ton of paper. Producing a typical US car requires more than five times its weight in water, or more than 39,000 gallons. Much of the water used to make these goods is contaminated with chemicals used in the production processes, like bleach (for paper or white t-shirts), lead, arsenic, and cyanide.
+ Turn off the faucet when you’re not using it—when you’re brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, etc.Use a dishwasher. Thanks to the efficiency of modern technology, using a dishwasher saves more water and has a lower carbon footprint than hand-washing dishes does.
+ Remove water-intensive grass and plants in your landscaping and get resilient, local plants instead. If in a more arid environment, check out xeriscaping.
Bonus: Regularly test your water for lead and look into simple rainwater catchment systems that can reduce the reliance on the public water main system.
Divest: Check your investments to see if your money is supporting fossil fuel companies and get rid of any stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are funding fossil fuels. Another great way to advocate for divestment is to ask your local/state government about divesting their pension and your college/alma mater about divesting their endowments. Check out 350.org for more info and to join ongoing divestment campaigns.
Invest: Not only do we want to divest our money from companies that are harming our communities, we want to actively support and invest our hard-earned dollars into companies that are prioritizing and creating environmental and social good. You may consider looking at B-Corps, which “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.” You can find a full list of B-Corps here. Beyond just looking at B-corps, consider other factors and values that matter to you when investing, like the company’s supply chain, how it treats its employees, diversity of employees and board. Additionally, check out ESG investment portfolios and ETFs that only include only sustainable companies or exclude companies based on negative criteria.
The only way we can each do better is by knowing better. Committing to learning and educating yourself is one of the best things you can do to understand the choices in front of you and the implications of each. Check out our resources library here to find things to watch, read, and listen to.
Then, talk to people about this stuff. When we start talking about these topics with one another, we can begin to make serious progress.
If you're looking for some easy, inexpensive things to get started on your sustainability journey, we recommend: