What is Sustainable Living?
Sustainable living is the practice of reducing your demand on natural resources by making sure that you replace what you use to the best of your ability. Sometimes that can mean not choosing to consume a product that is made using practices that don’t promote sustainability; and sometimes it means changing how you do things so that you start becoming more of an active part of the cycle of life.
We all know that climate change, global warming, depletion of ozone layer and resource depletion are real and their impact on human and animal lives can be devastating. It is an opportunity for people to adopt actions for sustainable living that can help them to reduce their carbon footprint or environmental impact by altering their lifestyle. Simple measures like using public transportation more often, reducing energy consumption, becoming more eco-friendly can go a long way in reducing your environmental impact and making this planet a clean and safe place.
Wikipedia defines ‘Sustainable Living‘ as,
“Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources and personal resources. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet. Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles. The practice and general philosophy of ecological living is highly interrelated with the overall principles of sustainable development.”
15 Easy Ways to Practice Sustainable Living
Want to start practicing sustainable living? It is easier than you think. Although there are various ways to live and practice sustainable living, here are 15 quick and easy suggestions to live a sustainable life.
1. Become a member of a community garden: It isn’t just about growing your own food, being a member of a community garden helps to promote sustainable living in your area. Gardens create green spaces and the garden waste can be mulched and returned to support healthy soil. Green spaces aren’t just important for your state of mind; in urban areas they can play an important role in offsetting carbon emissions.
2. Practice minimalism: Minimalism doesn’t mean living without anything, it means that you are making sure that everything you own and use is put to its maximum purpose. This means waste materials as well. With a minimalist lifestyle, you will recycle more, and be more mindful of the items you support being produced so that sustainability is emphasized.
3. Change the lights in your house: By changing the lighting in your home from traditional light bulbs to CFL, using skylights and more natural light you will reduce your demand on energy resources significantly. Using longer lasting, energy efficient light sources also reduces the amount of waste going into landfills significantly.
4. Become more efficient with your errands: You don’t have to buy a hybrid to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels. By choosing to become more efficient with your errands you can create a system of sustainable living that is based in reducing the amount of natural resources you consume.
5. Start using natural cleaners: Take an hour or so to research some home-made options for natural cleaners. Vinegar and water can clean most surfaces, and the saponin from quinoa is a natural laundry detergent. By using natural cleaners you are reducing the amount of plastic packaging being made, and the amount of chemicals that are being introduced to the water system.
6. Walk, bike or car pool to work: The less personal use of your car you do, the more you and the environment will benefit. Sustainable living not only promotes sustainability by reducing pollution and the consumption of natural resource; walking or biking to work will also improve your health and reduce the strain on public health resources.
Even car-pooling assists sustainability as it can provide an increased social outlet that can improve the quality of life. Science has found that there is a direct connection between your quality of life and the sustainability of life that you will choose to lead.
7. Spend more time reading and playing games: How can this be a part of sustainable living? By reducing your reliance on entertainment forms that require energy and natural resources you can help to reduce the demand and drain on them.
8. Try to get on a more natural sleep schedule: Getting on a natural sleep schedule means becoming more attuned to the natural light in the day. Not only is this better for your health, it will begin to lessen the amount of power that you use while you are up.
9. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: Reduce your need to buy new products. If there is less waste, then there is less to recycle or reuse. Learning to reuse items, or repurpose them for different use then what they are intended for is essential in waste hierarchy. Recycle old glass bottles or aluminium cans. Keep a recycle bin at your home and try making more trips to recycling station than to the landfill.
10. Unplug device when not in use: Most of the electronic devices keep on drawing electricity even when they’re off. To reduce energy usage, simply pull the plug when not in use. It will help you to save energy and reduce your monthly electricity bill.
11. Buy right-sized house: Practitioners of sustainable living conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability. Among many ways that promotes sustainability, one of them is buying a smaller house is going to consume less energy as compared to a big house. You’re going to spend less on lighting, furniture and overall furnishing. You can even purchase items from thrift stores and donate them again when they’re no longer needed. Make use of green home building ideas and techniques while building a new home.
12. Use daylight as much as possible: Sunlight is free and doesn’t cost anything. Using sunlight during the day helps to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to produce electricity and your bulbs and tube lights are going to last longer.
13. Stop unwanted mail: Save natural resources by opting out from billions of unwanted mailings and simplify your life. Sites like www.catalogchoice.org offers free service to opt out of catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phone books, circulars and more. It helps you to reduce clutter, protect privacy and save environment.
14. Practice keeping a “zero energy balance” budget: A zero energy balance budget means that what you take in, you also return back. This is really the core of all sustainable living. If you practice keeping a budget that has a zero energy balance, you will be surprised how your habits of consuming will change and reduce your imprint on the world.
15. Change your washing habits: This one is important to attain sustainable living. We wash everything too much. Not only has science discovered that our over emphasis on being clean has reduced our natural immune resistance to diseases (which require exposure to bacteria to develop), but each person wastes tremendous amounts of water when they bathe, wash dishes or do laundry. Practice taking short and times showers, washing dishes in a sink of water and then rinsing them and cutting down on the amount of laundry that you do.
16. Choose Renewable energy: Choosing renewable energy over fossil fuels is a great way to stop climate change and doing your part in making things happen. Install solar panels for solar water heating. Explore options of getting tax credit from the government. Speak to your utility is there is any way to add clean power to the grid so as to offset your carbon footprint.
17. Buy products with less packaging: Whenever you go out for shopping, always buy products with less packaging. The excess packaging on the stuff goes in your dustbin and from there it goes to landfills in most cases. It not only further contaminate the environment but also pose serious health effects to humans and animals.
18. Ditch the plastic: Plastic never goes away. It takes millions of years for plastic to decompose. Plastic can be found swirling in the ocean’s surfaces. It badly affects marine life. Every year large number of mammals, seals, sea birds are killed after ingesting plastic or getting tangled up in it. Its time for all of us to switch to reusable bags when we shop and ditch one-time use plastic water bottles.
Image credit: leahcarroll , pagedooley
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
Latest posts by Rinkesh (see all)
How to Create a Sustainable Lifestyle:
Three Essential Steps for Sustainable Living
The Golden Rule
Creating a sustainable lifestyle takes a lifelong commitment – to learning, experimenting, exploring, committing to increasingly sustainable practices and, above all, loving. Because beyond all of the frightening news; beyond the frustrating politics; beyond the failed international agreements, there is one question – how do you want to live your life? With fear – or with love? The fear route feels defeated and helpless and frustrating. The love route, on the other hand, feels grounded, purposeful and hopeful.
At its essence, it is the route of living by the Golden Rule, a central tenet across all major religions:
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
~ Christianity (Matthew 1452)
What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary.
~ Judaism (Moses 6)
Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.
~ Islam (Moses 6)
Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.
~ Buddhism (Moses 7)
Tzu-Kung asked: "Is there one principle upon which one's whole life may proceed?" the Master replied, "Is not Reciprocity such a principle? – what you do not yourself desire, do not put before others."
~ Confucianism (Moses 7)
This is the sum of all true righteousness – Treat others, as though wouldst thyself be treated. Do nothing to they neighbor, which hereafter thou wouldst not have they neighbor do to thee.
~ Hinduism (Moses 7)
It is such a simple principle – and yet if it is extended to include all living beings (an essential component of sustainability), it requires a complete shift in how we live our lives. Because we do unto others all day long – through the clothes we buy, the energy we use, the food we eat, even the toothpaste we brush our teeth with. Every choice we make impacts others – through its creation, its distribution, its use and its disposal. And most likely we'll never know – or even see – who we are impacting. But they are out there, nonetheless, suffering – or thriving - based on our choices.
Because we live in such a global, profit-at-all-costs world, the number impacted is astounding – hard to grasp really. One detailed life cycle analysis of aluminum cans, for example, documents the steps required to manufacture, sell and dispose of an aluminum can and the resulting impacts:
- Extraction: bauxite ore, the primary raw material source for aluminum production, is extracted from open pit mines primarily in Brazil, Guinea, Jamaica, Guyana and Australia.
- Transportation: bauxite is shipped to multiple countries to complete processing.
- Processing: processing bauxite ore into aluminum cans requires several energy-intensive steps including alumina refining, smelting, ingot casting, can sheet fabrication, can making and can‐filling. Recycled aluminum is also incorporated into the final product, the processing of which has its own (reduced) impacts (the recycled content of a beverage can in the U.S. in 2007 was 67.8%).
- Packaging and Distribution: aluminum cans are packaged and transported to individual stores and from there to homes and businesses.
- End of Life: While some cans are transported to recycling centers and re-processed (about half in the U.S.), far too many still end up in landfills.
At every stage in the life cycle of this product, humans and other animals and plants are negatively impacted – through destruction of habitat; exposure to land, air and water pollutants and, for humans, potentially low wages and unsafe working conditions.
In all, the production of an aluminum can requires over 60 different types of raw or processed materials and creates over 75 different types of pollutants. The material inputs and manufacturing equipment also have their own life cycle impacts.
Manufacturing an aluminum can causes increased global warming, acidification, eutrophication, low level smog, and ozone layer depletion.
Story of Stuff author, Annie Leonard adds:
["A single-use, single-serving aluminum can"] is one of the most energy-intensive, CO2-producing, waste-generating products on the planet. . .Aluminum smelting requires more energy than any other metal processing on earth. . .[and produces] perfluorocarbons (PFCs) – these are the most noxious of greenhouse gases, trapping thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide. . .It's estimated that more than a trillion aluminum cans have been trashed in landfills since 1972." (Leonard 64-67)
And that's just an aluminum can.
So choosing a life of love requires a lot of work – a lot of rethinking – a lot of soul searching. The question we have to answer in every choice we make is: how loving do we really want to be? And how inclusive do we want to be in our love? Living, of course, involves impacting others – all of life impacts others. But is our impact unnecessarily harmful – or is it based on a conscious choice which minimizes harm done and maximizes benefits?
Looking back at the Golden Rule, we all want our homes protected, our neighborhoods unpolluted, a plentiful supply of safe drinking water and food – and knowing that our future is secure. And we want others to make choices that ensure we have these things. The loving approach to life, then, is to offer that same level of care back to others.
It quickly becomes clear then that choosing a life of love requires us to change just about every aspect of our lives – to change how we spend our days. It involves shifting our lifestyle away from consumption and toward more sustainable activities such as:
- biking or taking public transit
- collaborating with others (i.e., sharing tools, bartering for services or produce, carpooling/ridesharing)
- becoming more self-reliant (i.e., learning how to repair belongings, sewing, growing food or taking skill-building classes)
- learning how to cook with local, sustainable produce
- buying or finding used equipment, clothing, furniture, appliances, etc. (i.e., from thrift or consignment stores, craigslist, ebay, freecycle programs, hand-me-downs from neighbors or family)
- joining a local sustainability community
- volunteering on local sustainability projects
- shifting entertainment to low impact activities such as spending time in nature and reading downloaded or library books.
- possibly even downshifting from a higher paying job toward something that earns less but has a more sustainable, beneficial impact on the world
The inevitable question arises then – 'but will I be happy living this new way?' Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes! Happiness studies have exploded over the last decade and have found a great deal of evidence linking altruistic and sustainable behavior to happiness:
At least two studies of groups that chose to change their lifestyle to achieve personal values such as "environmental friendliness" and "voluntary simplicity" found that both experienced higher levels of well-being. (Bok 22)
"I live in a tight community...it’s really just a bunch of friends who chose to live near one another – really near, like next door...We share a big yard; we often eat meals together...we share Stuff all the time...Once, after my daughter begged me to let her try skiing, I sent an email out to my community members asking for advice...when I got home from work the next day, there were three bags full of children’s ski equipment and clothes waiting for me on the front step...Because we share and borrow many of the things we need, we are able to consume less Stuff. Because we provide one another with services like baby-sitting, repairing and listening, we pay less for services than others do." (Leonard 237-238)
~ Story of Stuff movie producer and author Annie Leonard
In a 2004 study by The Center for New American Dream, 90% of people who said they had downshifted their lives were happy with their decision (even though 60% said they missed the extra income). ("New American" 11)
Volunteering or performing acts of kindness contributes significantly to happiness. (Bok 22)
People whose primary life goals are intrinsically rewarding obtain more satisfaction and pleasure from their pursuits. Intrinsic goals are those that you pursue because they are inherently satisfying and meaningful to you, which allow you to grow as a person, to develop emotional maturity, and to contribute to your community. (Lyubomerisky 208-209)
Sustained pursuit of activities that you value is more happiness-inducing, with its ability to deliver a stream of positive events and regular boosts in happy mood. . . . [vs.] when people strive to change their circumstances (e.g., buy high-definition televisions…). [By] defining and then achieving their goals, they certainly feel happier, but they risk experiencing hedonic adaptation. In other words, you are likely to adapt quickly to your new situation and begin to desire ever-higher levels of pleasure (e.g., an ever-bigger HDTV…) simply in order to recapture your previous level of happiness. (Lyubomerisky 214, 213)
A sustainable, nature- and community-based lifestyle is also healthier and more secure:
Over the past decades, an increasing number of studies have documented that experiences in, or of, Nature can be beneficial for human health and well-being…More specifically, contact with Nature has been reported to have psychological benefits by reducing stress, improving attention, by having a positive effect on mental restoration, and by coping with attention deficits. In addition to mental advantages, there appear to be direct physical health benefits, such as increased longevity, and self-reported health. (Grinde)
There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver's happiness, health, and even longevity. (Post 37)
The "helper's high" [a pleasurable and euphoric emotional sensation of energy and warmth] was first carefully described by Allen Luks (1988). Luks surveyed thousands of volunteers across the United States, and found that people who helped other people consistently reported better health than peers in their age group. Many stated that this health improvement began when they started to volunteer. (Post 13)
Harvard behavioral psychologist David McClelland discovered that…"dwelling on love" strengthened the immune system. (Post 24)
Altruism is associated with substantial reduction in mortality rates, even after differences in socioeconomic status, prior health status, smoking, social support, and physical activity are accounted for. (Post 27)
Anthropologists point out that early egalitarian societies practiced institutionalized or "ecological altruism," where helping others was a social norm, and not an act of volunteerism. There appears to be a fundamental human drive toward other-regarding actions. When this drive is inhibited, the human being does not thrive. (Post 34)
So it's a lot of work and it will bring many positive benefits: increased joy and satisfaction and a sense of purpose and improved health. It will also bring a greater sense of community – a much wider community than we normally identify with.
Making the Shift
Shifting to a sustainable lifestyle may involve making radical shifts in how we spend our days. Integrating these changes into our lives involves first shifting toward wanting to make each change:
As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired. Mahatma Gandhi ("Vishnu-Bharati" 242)
Reading sustainable blogs and books and watching videos (see RESOURCES sections below), taking classes on sustainability and joining local sustainable communities are all effective ways to shift mindset. Also making smaller shifts leads to larger shifts as the benefits of each shift becomes clear. What follows is an effective path for shifting into a sustainable lifestyle.
There are three essential steps for living sustainably:
- SIMPLIFYING:Simplifying as much as possible – minimizing clutter in all areas of life – is the first of two essential steps for kick-starting a sustainable life.
- TAKING A FULL INVENTORY:Taking a thorough inventory of ones life – our purchases of products and services, our modes of transportation, etc. is the second critical step. It helps us really understand how we are living now in order to identify and shift away from unsustainable choices.
- MAKING A LIFELONG COMMITMENT:An earnest, lifelong commitment to make the most loving choice each and every time. The first two steps build sustainability into our lives, making this commitment easier to keep. It also gets easier as our satisfaction with our new lifestyle grows.
"Downsizing can be stressful, but the benefits are tremendous…we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals. For instance, I quit my day job in early 2010, started my own small business and moved to Portland, Oregon. Without simplicity, I would still be stuck in my cubicle." (Strobel)
~ Tiny home owner, RowdyKittens blogger and author Tammy Strobel
Only keep in your life things and activities that you find useful and/or you love. The rest is cluttering your space and time. Donate unneeded goods to charity or a freecycle program. Getting rid of everything you don't need – and cutting out any activities that don't add value to your life – is one of the most effective ways to kick start a sustainable life. Your surroundings impact what your mind focuses on.
By creating a de-cluttered home, you are declaring your intention every day to live sustainably. Simplifying gets rid of a lot of garbage (including mental) that you no longer need. It is a way to let go of the past and become focused on how you want to live your life going forward.
Simplifying also leaves you committed to not re-clutter your life. You end up buying much less at stores – which makes it easier to buy sustainably.
Once you have cleared out as much clutter as possible, try out the great recommendation by the Joy of Less author Francine Jay. She recommends separating items in each room into three categories:
- Items used weekly (store each in a specific place in your home)
- Items used at least once a year (put these in labeled and dated boxes in a closet within your home to clear them out of your main living area while keeping them easily accessible)
- Items used less than once a year (store these outside of your immediate living area, such as in your garage, and label and date the boxes so that it is easy to determine down the road how often these items are really used).
If you still find that you're buying too much, try the 30-day challenge (if you want to purchase something unessential, wait 30 days to see if you still need to buy it – and in the meantime see if you can make do with what you already have, borrow, or buy used). The free, downloadable Wallet Buddy from The Center for a New American Dream is a great constant reminder to make loving choices.
There are many wonderful resources for simplifying – below are my favorites:
Great books for inspiration and tips
- Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston (this was my favorite book and made the biggest impact on my de-cluttering efforts – even if you're not interested in Feng Shui, the author did a great job of explaining why it was so important to clear clutter from our lives – and how to go about doing it)
- The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay (this was both inspirational and a very practical how-to guide for streamlining belongings – it offered some great tips for clearing clutter both in general and room-by-room)
"Doubtful that you can still be happy by minimizing? Of course, you can! You just have to recognize what you have and enjoy it. For example, part of my happiness hinges on the fact that I am blessed with good health. I have good family and friends. This gives me a lot of reasons to be thankful and happy. I don’t have a 42-inch flat panel high-definition TV. However, I take pride in my 120-inch high-definition view from my home on the mountain range. I get to see the sun rise every morning and the moon rise every month…Once in a while, I get treated with a brilliant morning sky that is almost unbelievable. I truly cherish these and get immense joy out of them. They do not cost me a dime. No resources drained from the planet." (Lawrence 73)
~ The Happy Minimalist author Peter Lawrence
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford(a classic for helping to identify how to minimize expenses and exit the rat race. The steps outlined in this book take some time but they are an effective, proven approach for simplifying all areas of our lives)
- You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel (this book tells the story of Tammy's progression toward a sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband live in a tiny home and get around by biking or public transit. I found this book to be very inspirational.)
Informative and inspiring videos
- Video of Peter Lawrence (author of The Happy Minimalist)(even if you are not interested in becoming a minimalist, this video was inspiring and thought-provoking (and his book was short but also thought provoking). This is a person who has truly embraced a compassionate, minimalist lifestyle and really benefited from it.)
- The Story of Stuff movies by Annie Leonard (Annie Leonard does a fantastic job of explaining just how damaging our unsustainable lifestyles are – to ourselves and the environment. All of her movies are very informative)
Popular blogs from some extreme simplifiers for ongoing ideas and inspiration
Green Eco Tips
II. TAKING A FULL INVENTORY
While simplifying, conduct a thorough inventory of all your purchasing choices. This is the second critical step in creating a sustainable life – and also helps with reducing clutter. By getting a clear picture of how we are living our lives currently – at a detailed level – we can kick start the process of shifting toward loving choices. Below are recommended tools for achieving this. These tools provide a clear picture of what kind of world we are supporting – and creating:
A. Eco Footprint
"The average Indian has a lower footprint now than in 1961, despite a dramatic increase in income. So does the average Brazilian…The average Norwegian has a 19 percent lower footprint today than he or she did almost half a century ago, even with per capita income that is about eight thousand dollars higher than the U.S. level." (Schor 63)
~ Juliet Schor, author and co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream
Determine your current Eco Footprint through the Eco Footprint Calculator (Frequently Asked Questions) (save your login information for later review and update)
B. Water Footprint
Determine your current Water Footprint through the Water Footprint Calculator (FYI .45 kg equals 1 pound). Make a note of your footprint for later comparison.
C. Consumption Inventory
- Go through your bills/statements and home and create a full inventory of the companies who provide the products and services you commonly purchase (or any one-time large purchases). Refer to the Google Docs Spreadsheet Consumption Inventory for inventory gathering information and resource links. Three ways to use the spreadsheet:
- If you have a spreadsheet program, such as Excel, on your computer it can be downloaded (File > Download as).
- If you have a Google account, you can sign into your Google account and make a copy of the spreadsheet for personal update (File > Make a copy). Then it can be updated within the Google Docs Spreadsheet tool online (free tool).
- If you're writing out your inventory, it can be used as a resource (see the RESOURCE columns in yellow) and reference for inventory gathering information.
Update the columns as follows:
- Category: add any missing categories based on your purchases.
- Subcategory: break out the categories into subcategories based on your purchases (i.e., for category "Electronics", add a subcategory "Cell Phone" if you own one). Insert new rows within each category as needed.
- Company Names: List the names of product or service companies. Insert new rows within each subcategory as needed.
- Known Sustainable Practices: Research through the company's website, look for online articles, and/or call the company to learn about their sustainable practices.
- Responsible to Local Community: Research through the company's website, look for online articles, and/or call the company to determine how committed the company is to benefiting (and not harming) your local community.
- Better World Shopper Rating: Where available, note the Better World Shopping rating for the company (see links in the Better World Shopping RESOURCE column).
- More Sustainable Choice: Look for more sustainable, beneficial alternatives for every purchase. Links from all three RESOURCE columns can help. Examples: local, small eco-friendly companies within walking/biking distance; products that are plastic-free, used, borrowed, home-made, reusable, durable, low energy/water consumption; non-toxic, organic, cruelty-free, and/or fair trade; doing without)
- Goals and Timeline: Note specific goals for switching to more sustainable alternatives along with a doable timeline for reaching each goal.
- Add a calendar entry to revisit the chart each year to track your progress and determine if even better alternatives are available.
D. Home and Garden Inventory:
"The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace. A persistent simplification will create an inner and outer well-being that places harmony in one’s life. For me this began with a discovery of the meaninglessness of possessions beyond my actual and immediate needs. As soon as I had brought myself down to need level, I began to feel a wonderful harmony in my life between inner and outer well-being, between spiritual and material well-being."
~ Peace Pilgrim
- Chart your energy and water usage and set specific goals to reduce consumption (energy and water tips).
- Determine your current impact on global warming via the TerraPass Carbon Footprint Calculator (home energy use).
- Where available, schedule a free water audit from your water provider and an energy audit from your energy provider.
- Where available, switch to a greener energy provider or, if possible, purchase solar or wind power for your home.
- If moving, look for an environmentally friendly home (i.e., small, well-insulated, good passive solar features, option to install solar or wind, etc.) with a high walkability rating. Consider cohousing to further reduce your footprint (and to join a close community of neighbors).
- An energy use challenge laid down by Peter Lawrence, author of The Happy Minimalist: "Take the minimalist challenge: See if you can beat my daily usage [3 kWh per day]. If you can achieve it…share how you did it and challenge other people to best your score. Let's see who "the minimalist of all" is." (Lawrence 60)
- For non-renewable energy usage, consider purchasing carbon offsets (i.e., TerraPass). Set a goal of creating a carbon neutral home!
- Evaluate your balcony or yard garden and look for ways to shift toward a garden containing plants that are native to your neighborhood ecosystem, drought-resistant, edible, and/or supporting local wildlife.
- Evaluate what comes into and leaves your home through the mail. Take the steps in Stop Junkmail to minimize resource waste (and habitat destruction through deforestation and water pollution).
- For other ideas, visit How to Green Your Home and Finances and Organic Gardening Tips - Creating a Sustainable Garden
- Once you've chosen alternatives, set specific goals for switching to more sustainable alternatives along with a doable timeline for reaching each goal.
E. Transportation Inventory
- Determine your current impact on global warming via the TerraPass Carbon Footprint Calculator (driving and air travel).
- Chart your miles driven and air travel miles flown. Set specific goals to reduce miles driven and fuel consumed. Choose alternatives to flying whenever possible (online collaboration and meeting tools for business, bus or train).
- Determine the walkability of your home address and consider moving to a more walkable community (and/or within biking distance of work).
- If purchasing a vehicle, buy used whenever possible and purchase a green vehicle. Also consider, instead of buying a car, using a car share program, sharing a vehicle with a neighbor or friend or bicycling and using public transit.
- For your driving and air travel, consider purchasing carbon offsets (i.e., TerraPass).
- Once you've chosen alternatives, set specific goals for switching to more sustainable alternatives along with a doable timeline for reaching each goal.
F. Waste and Recycling Inventory
Getting a clear, detailed picture of the waste we create is a surprisingly effective way for reducing waste and recyclables – and a great help with simplifying our lives. This involves:
- Keeping your trash and recyclables (excluding food waste or anything moist) for two weeks to one month.
- Dumping it out on the ground and creating a list of every type of waste/recycling item along with the quantity of each.
- Once this is complete, research how to eliminate as many items as possible. The easiest – and healthiest – route is to buy primarily from the produce and bulk bin sections of a local health food store/farmers market – and bringing your own reusable bags and containers. And then making typically processed products at home using sustainable ingredients with no (or less) packaging (i.e., apple sauce, pasta, sauces, bread, granola, rice milk, flour, cleaning and personal care products). This is not only a great way to reduce waste, but it can significantly cut your grocery bill (even buying all organic) and waistline. Processed products are ridiculously overpriced and processed food can be calorie dense. It's easy (and empowering) to make better replacements from scratch.
- For trash, if it isn't possible or desirable to eliminate an item, look for ways to recycle or compost it – or switch to a brand that uses packaging that can be recycled or composted. If you have any questions about what can be recycled, contact your local recycling center. For example, because of new plastic recycling technology, many recycling centers can accept plastic lids (they ask customers to rinse out plastic containers and put the plastic lids back on). Also many waste facilities are starting to offer food composting in their yard waste bins (U.S.). Find out if yours is currently – or planning – to offer these services (and ask about other upcoming new services). For other ideas visit Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Rot.
- Once you've chosen alternatives, set specific goals for switching to waste-free alternatives along with a doable timeline for reaching each goal.
- Add a calendar entry to redo the steps each year to track your progress and determine if there are ways to eliminate additional items.
"I came definitely to the conclusion that…I must discard…all possession....I cannot tell you with truth that, when this belief came to me, I discarded everything immediately. I must confess to you that progress at first was slow. And now, as I recall those days of struggle, I remember that it was also painful in the beginning. But, as days went by, I saw that I had to throw overboard many other things which I used to consider as mine, and a time came when it became a matter of positive joy to give up those things….a great burden fell off my shoulders…The possession of anything then became a troublesome thing and a burden." (Gandhi 1066-7)
~ Mahatma Gandhi
G. Quarterly Updates
Update your calendar to sign into the Eco Footprint Calculator and update your progress on a quarterly basis. Also retake the Water Footprint Calculator to determine your progress. Revisit your goals for the quarter.
- Yes! Magazine (my all-time favorite, and only, magazine - well-researched, inspiring and informative articles)
Popular blogs for ongoing ideas and inspiration
III. MAKING A LIFELONG COMMITMENT
The final step is to make a lifelong commitment to making the most loving choice each and every time. It involves re-defining how we want to live our lives. This step is at first the most difficult but, through its practice, we gain a real sense of purpose – we come to know that we really are treating others as we would like to be treated.
In addition to the goals set above, there are many ideas on Global Steward's Eco Tips page. I wish you all the best on your journey!
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