Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Karen Kaplan suggests, “Humanity will need to make some drastic changes if it wants to keep the ‘good life’ going.”
Kaplan’s article cites researchers who concluded that some of the steps humans can embrace to live sustainably include “switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, producing products with longer lifetimes, reducing unnecessary waste, shifting from animal to crop products, and investing in new technologies.”
While it’s clear that we can all save the earth if we live sustainably and leave a smaller environmental footprint, it’s not always easy to understand what this means in everyday living.
If you want to live in a way that ensures future generations will inherit an earth that will fully provide for them, this article is for you. The 12 ways of living more sustainably and leaving a smaller footprint presented in this article should give you an idea of how you can play your part.
What is Environmental Sustainability?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that the concept of sustainability is based on the principle that the natural environment has a direct or indirect impact on our survival and well-being.
The same agency adds that sustainability can be pursued through creating and sustaining conditions that allow nature and humans to coexist in a manner that supports the current and future generations.
Writing for the financial media website, Investopedia.com, Daniel Mollenkamp breaks the concept of sustainability into three pillars: “economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.”
Mollenkamp believes that the idea of environmental sustainability “adds greater emphasis on the life support systems, such as the atmosphere or soil that must be maintained for economic production or human life to even occur.”
Now that we know what environmental sustainability means, let’s look at some practical steps you can take to ensure that you live a sustainable life while leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible.
1 Create Less Waste
Of all the food supplied to the American population, between 30% and 40% – costing $161 billion per year – will be thrown away. This is an example of waste that can be avoided if we all make an effort.
It’s not just food that gets thrown away but other items like clothes, furniture, toys, and paint. Creating less waste saves the environment and generates wealth in that you never spend your money on items you don’t need.
Regarding where we could all begin, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation advises, “Start with the ideas that feel right for you and remember that ‘zero waste’ is a goal that starts with creating ‘less waste.’
2 Support Local Businesses and Buy in Bulk
Supporting local businesses makes sense at many levels. For example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ official website Mass.gov suggests that when you support local businesses, you support the local economy, which could help create jobs for your community.
From the environmental perspective, supporting local businesses means that you spend less time traveling to buy stuff. Even when buying online, ordering from a local business ensures that your goods don’t need to travel a long distance to get to you.
With less travel, there is a reduced need to burn fossil fuels that hurt the environment. Another way of reducing the burning of fossil fuels related to purchasing goods is to buy in bulk.
Buying in bulk is an idea supported by the sustainability site, TreeHugger.com, which notes that when you buy in bulk, you mitigate the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. The same source adds that buying in bulk streamlines the transportation required to get goods to market, reducing CO2 emissions.
3 Embrace Mindful Packaging
Of all the plastic produced, 40 percent will be used for packaging, and as soon as a product is used, that plastic will be discarded. It is well accepted that plastic’s major problem is that it is hard to decompose.
On the ground, plastic releases toxic chemicals into the soil. When you burn plastic, it discharges toxic gases into the atmosphere. Consequently, to reduce your environmental footprint, you should pay attention to packaging and insist on bio-degradable packaging materials like kraft paper bags.
When considering packaging, the idea is always to choose something that you can use several times for different purposes.
4 Make a Conscious Decision to go Plastic-free
Living sustainably is not only about ditching plastic bags alone; it involves making a conscious decision not to use a plastic product if there is an alternative.
Are you struggling to find alternatives to plastic? USAToday.com has some great ideas for products you can use, including stainless steel straws, edible water bottles, edible spoons, and compostable trash bags.
5 Boycott Products from Unsustainable Firms
Many consumers are becoming conscious of the perils of supporting businesses that show little regard for the environment.
For instance, a study by Dentsu international and Microsoft Advertising concluded that 60% of surveyed consumers indicated that they “will boycott brands … that do not take action on climate change.”
You, too, can demonstrate your commitment to reducing your environmental footprint by voting with your wallet and choosing to support companies showing a commitment to preserving the environment.
6 Support Sustainability Campaigns
For people to live more sustainably and commit to reducing their carbon footprint, they must have sufficient knowledge about the dangers of disregarding the damage caused by human activities on the environment. This knowledge can be effectively spread through sustainability campaigns.
In her article published by TheGuardian.com, Charlotte Lytton presents some of the top climate change campaigns. Lytton uses the GetUp! Action for Australia campaign that’s attracted over 600,000 participants as an example.
Suppose you can’t physically join a campaign by marching down the street. In that case, you can play your part by providing financial support or spreading the word on social media platforms.
7 Drive Less or Drive Green
According to the EPA, “Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation account for about 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions.”
To reduce your environmental footprint, you will need to start by driving less. The EPA has some suggestions on how you can do this:
- Don’t drive alone; carpool with friends.
- Use public transit.
- Walk or bike.
- If your city has bike-share programs, use them.
- Use ride-sharing services.
- Plan so that you can accomplish several tasks in a single trip.
- If your job permits, work from home as much as you can.
If you have to drive, find a fuel-efficient car or an electric vehicle. You also need to ensure that the vehicle you drive is well maintained.
8 Switch to Renewable Energy
The long-term answer to the challenges of using fossil fuels is switching to renewable energy. One organization tackling the climate change threat, The Nature Conservancy, agrees, “A transition to renewable energy is good for people and the planet.”
The Nature Conservancy adds, “It will mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve human health and the environment by decreasing air and water pollution, and support jobs and economic development.”
Homeowners can effectively switch to renewable energy by installing solar panels. Even though they may be expensive initially, solar panels will provide cheaper energy over the long term.
9 Recycle Everything You Can
Recycling ensures that we do not always go back to a rapidly depleting environment to take care of our needs; we can reuse what we have already extracted. It also means using less power manufacturing stuff from the beginning and transporting raw materials.
The EPA lists some common materials that can be recycled, including paper, plastics, glass, aluminum, electronics, batteries, tires, and used oil. The agency also notes that when you decide to recycle, you have just taken the initial step. It is also vital that the items are recycled correctly.
Writing for the magazine dedicated to home building, renovations, and remodeling, TheSpruce.com, Elizabeth Larkin, provides some tips on how to recycle everything in your home.
If we buy less new stuff, we reduce the need for resources used to create these items. One way to ensure you buy less new stuff is to repurpose the items you already have.
Steven Peters, who writes for USAToday.com, supports the idea of upcycling. He says, “… the reimagined objects take the place of new purchases, they save the energy and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions required for their manufacture.”
11 Eat Less Meat
It can be pretty challenging to connect eating meat to environmental degradation. However, the independent global campaigning network Greenpeace is clear about this connection.
The organization writes, “The industrial meat system requires a huge amount of land to sustain itself. Forests, particularly in South America, are deliberately slashed and burned every year to graze cattle and grow enough crops to feed billions of farmed animals.”
If you are wondering how to reduce your meat consumption and mitigate climate change, Melissa Clark of the New York Times has some great ideas to help you get started.
12 Read Labels
To support environmentally friendly products, it’s vital that you pay attention to labels. Eco-labels on the products you buy can assist you in making informed decisions about the specific products that end up in your trolley.
Understanding eco-labels can be quite difficult for laypeople, especially if you consider that there are more than 450 eco-labels to contend with. Earth911.com has created a guide to help readers understand these labels.