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If you care about our planet, you should strive for a more sustainable lifestyle. Living sustainably can seem like a huge and complex challenge. This guide about how to live a sustainable lifestyle will take you through the areas of your life where you can make significant changes.
Many of these changes are not only good for the planet, they are good for your health. Some will save you, or even make you, money. Sometimes these changes may seem tough, but none of them are impossible. Even making one change can make a difference.
With global climate change and the economic problems currently engulfing our world, it is more important than ever for us all to learn how to reduce our carbon footprint and increase sustainability.
Generate Your Own Electricity
The single biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to install an off-grid power system that makes use of a water turbine, a wind turbine, or a bank of solar panels for your home to generate electricity. Depending upon your location, one of these kinds of generators, or a hybrid solution that includes a bank of solar batteries being charged through a solar charge controller for power storage.
An off-grid power solution requires a significant up-front investment. However, once it’s installed, you’ll benefit from free electricity. Also, you can rest assured you’re helping to reduce your nation’s dependence upon fossil fuel.
If you produce more energy than you use, you may be able to sell your surplus production to the local electricity grid. Not only does this benefit you financially, but it also means you contribute even more to reducing fossil fuel consumption.
Grants or tax breaks may be available to help you with the cost of installing an off-grid power solution. For example, the US Department of Energy offers a Federal Tax Credit for people who install a solar power system in their home. There are also tax breaks for wind turbine systems.
If you cannot go off-grid, for example, if you live in an apartment block or a historic building where solar panels are not allowed, then choose a Green-e certified electric company. These corporations pledge to source at least half of their energy from sustainable sources.
Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!
For many people, recycling is their gateway to sustainable living. Never throw away glass, metal, paper, cloth, or wood items if they can be recycled locally. Even better, find a use for those items yourself. For example, glass jars can be used to store your own home-made jam.
Many towns have a recycling depot. In some cities, recyclable items are collected by the local waste disposal agency alongside household rubbish during their regular collections. If you have to travel a long way to recycle, wait until you have collected enough old bottles and cans to make the journey worthwhile.
Where possible, only travel to a recycling station when you can combine it with another necessary journey to minimize fuel use. Using rain barrels will allow you to store water for watering your plants and not use well or city water for watering.
Plant Your Own Food
Food needs to be transported, and often it’s shipped from the other side of the world. If you grow your own vegetables in your backyard, they only need to move from your yard to your kitchen. This not only reduces the fuel used in transportation but also the use of chemical fertilizers and fuel in large-scale commercial farming.
You can minimize your own dependence upon chemical fertilizers by using a compost bin to transform your weeds and other organic waste into compost. If the ground in your garden is hard and refuses to yield to your spade, invest in a rototiller. A rototiller can loosen the soil in your yard more efficiently and better than you can with a spade, which is extremely beneficial for root crops like potatoes and carrots.
Ensure you lock away expensive tools like your rototiller somewhere safe from the elements and theft, such as a garden shed. A greenhouse enables you to successfully grow fruit and vegetables that come from warmer climes than your own. Make like Johnny Appleseed and plant a few fruit trees around your property.
Once you’ve got the gardening bug, you can transform your yard into a miniature farm, keeping chickens in a chicken coup and even producing your own honey with a beehive. Once you have your own supply of honey, you no longer need to buy unhealthy refined sugar to sweeten desserts or hot beverages. And think about all those free-range eggs!
Irrigation is important in your garden but can be expensive if your home is fitted with a water meter. Also, your local water company uses lots of energy to purify water, which adds to your carbon footprint. However, with a rain barrel, you can significantly reduce your dependence upon piped-in water.
Not only is creating your own miniature farm good for the environment but home-grown food also tastes better. Because you know your home-grown vegetables are not genetically modified, and you aren’t using dangerous chemicals, your home-grown foods are also better for your health.
Fitting a composting toilet into your home is an interesting step toward sustainability. Composting toilets are dry toilets that transform human waste into compost through the biological process of composting. Naturally occurring bacteria and fungi are the active agents of composting.
Composting toilets are good for the environment in two ways. First, they use less water than regular water-flushing toilets. Second, they produce compost which can then be used in your garden.
Don’t use compost from your composting toilet directly on root crops or low fruit bushes, like strawberries. This can lead to health issues. Instead, use them on decorative plants or at the base of fruit trees.
Insulate Your Home and Yourself
To ensure your off-grid power system can cope with high seasonal demands, you should do all that you can to reduce your energy consumption. This also leaves you with more electricity to sell to the local power company, which reduces their use of fossil fuels. If you don’t have an off-grid power system, you need to minimize your electricity use to reduce your carbon footprint.
In winter, a huge amount of energy is used to heat homes. This can easily be reduced by fitting a programmable thermostat to your central heating system and fitting more insulation. Double-glazed windows, well-fitting exterior doors, wall insulation, roof insulation, and hot-water pipe insulation will cut down heat loss so that your heating system does not need to work so hard to heat your home. Timing your heating to switch on only when you need it will cause less waste.
Do you wander around your home in a T-shirt during the midwinter? Since central heating was invented, many homeowners have gotten into the habit of creating summer temperatures inside their homes during winter. Why? If you wear a shirt and sweater inside, you can reduce the central heating by a few degrees in winter and still feel perfectly comfortable. Keep an eye on the local weather using a home weather station so you know when to turn the dial on your central heating thermostat.
Some governments offer financial assistance for citizens to insulate their homes. For example, the US Department of Energy (DOE) operates the Weatherization Assistance Program designed to reduce the energy bills in low-income homes. The DOE estimates you can save an average of $283 per year by making your home more energy-efficient.
Find New Ways to Keep Cool
In some areas, keeping cool in summer uses as much energy as keeping hot in winter. You may not be able to live without your air-conditioning, but you can take steps to reduce the amount of energy it consumes.
Set your air-conditioning to as high a temperature as you can stand. Aim for 850F when you’re out and 780F when you’re home. Replacing your air-conditioning filters annually helps them run more efficiently.
When the temperature is not too hot, use fans instead of your air-conditioning. Overnight, open your windows to let in cool air. During the daytime, ensure you keep all windows and doors closed.
Ensure that any appliances inside your home are switched off when not needed. Electrical appliances can generate heat. Cooking outside will prevent generating heat inside your home. Taking short showers rather than baths saves both energy and water. Using cold water for your laundry and air-drying clothes outside will help reduce energy consumption.
Use Energy-Saving Devices
When you’re shopping for new electrical appliances, watch out for the Energy Star label to ensure you choose the most energy-efficient. Also, check that every lightbulb in your home is a modern energy-saving lightbulb.
A huge problem is people leaving things switched on. If you’re not in the room, switch off the TV, lights, and any other devices not in use. Except for security reasons, there’s no need to light areas you’re not using.
You can save lots in electricity bills by cooking with a solar oven. This means cooking on your patio, but solar ovens are affordable and will roast your turkey for free. You can even purchase hybrid electricity and solar ovens that cook as fast as traditional cookers whatever the level of sunshine. For ideas on environmentally friendly yard maintenance ideas, see our article: Eco-Friendly Items for Your Home.
Travel Less for Work
Traveling around the world contributes to pollution and damages the environment. Even driving ten miles to work and back again on a daily commute adds to your carbon footprint. There are several ways to combat this problem.
The easiest method is to live closer to your workplace. Choosing public transport rather than your own vehicle is an option. If everyone traveled by train or bus, the roads would be less congested, and less gas would be burned. Where public transport is not available, consider organizing a carpool.
If you must use a car, plan ahead and combine tasks so you drive as little as possible. Also, keep your tires correctly inflated and your engine tuned to minimize gas consumption. When it comes time to replace your vehicle, consider buying an electric or hybrid car where viable. If you must purchase a traditional gas-fueled car, ensure that it is the most fuel-efficient model you can find.
The best way to resolve the problem of exhaust emissions while commuting is to cycle to work when possible. Not only does this reduce your emissions, but it also boosts your health. If you can work from home, that’s also great. Many office jobs can be performed as well from home as from an office. In this modern age, you can video conference rather than driving to meet people.
Choose Environmentally-Friendly Vacations
Maybe you like to fly abroad twice a year to exotic locations. Consider cutting down on long-distance vacations. Perhaps you can explore your more local beauty spots. Instead of flying to Hawaii, why not go kayaking or hiking in your local national park?
RVing is a great way to explore the great outdoors. When you’re boondocking in your RV, you can experience life completely off-grid. With a portable solar panel, you don’t need to be plugged into the grid. A portable power station enables you to use all your appliances in remote places. When you attach a solar charger to your backpack, you can even recharge your cell phone while hiking.
When you visit a city, take a walking tour rather than a bus tour. For exploring larger areas, hire a bicycle. Before booking a day trip, see if the tour operator is Eco-certified. If you want to enjoy a motorized tour of Route 66, look into riding a motorbike rather than driving a car. Bikes use much less gas.
Rate and Review Businesses
In your day-to-day life, you probably deal with lots of local businesses. For example, you may take a taxi, eat in a restaurant, and exercise in a gym. Do they have environmentally friendly policies? If you feel a local business you’ve visited could waste less, recycle more, or contribute in some other way to sustainability, write a review on Google or TripAdvisor.
Maybe the taxi company should invest in electric cars. Perhaps the restaurant should stop using plastic straws. Don’t keep your opinions to yourself. Express them in a review that might not only influence the business to change but also touch the heart of other potential customers who read your reviews.
In your review, writing in a polite and constructive way, highlight how you think the business could improve its policies and reduce its carbon footprint. Also, praise any company that is already eco-friendly. If you see a wind turbine attached to your local ice cream parlor, tell the world.
Buy Local Produce
When purchasing groceries, aim to shop as locally as possible to minimize driving. Take note of labels when shopping. The product may identify itself as being eco-friendly, produced in a sustainable manner. For example, toilet roll brands often indicated if they are manufactured using wood from a sustainably managed forest. Also, Fair Trade certified goods support companies engaged in sustainable production.
Avoid manufacturers that use excessive packaging that is not recyclable. Take your own bags shopping instead of using throw-away plastic bags from the store. If there is no obvious environmental benefit of one brand over another, choose the product manufactured closest. This ensures transportation was as short as possible.
When it comes to larger items like furniture, consider buying second-hand rather than new. Also, check out Craigslist and Freecycle for items that people are giving away for free.
Generally, try to minimize your use of plastic. When disposed of, plastic takes 200 years to decompose. Avoid single-use bottles. Choose unwrapped produce over shrink-wrapped produce. Where you do use plastic, reuse it as much as possible, and ensure it is recycled when you don’t need it anymore.
Cut Down Your Use of Domestic Chemicals
The chemicals used in many cleaning products are extremely bad for the environment. They can also spread toxic fumes throughout your house. However, when it comes down to it, the main active ingredients in many cleaning products are vinegar and baking soda. Research ways you can use these in place of fancy brand-name products. For example, you can use old newspaper and vinegar to put a shine on all your windows.
We’re now entering the area of serious lifestyle changes. Okay, you may not want to go vegan. However, you can benefit the environment by eating less meat.
Animals such as beef cattle and pigs consume a lot of plants to create the meat we like to eat. This results in an inefficiency since we are filtering the nutrients from the plants through those animals. That means that more people can survive on the produce of a piece of land if they only eat vegetables and not meat.
Meat production uses up large amounts of water and causes pollution. Eating less meat will decrease your carbon footprint.
Use Your Vote
I’m not telling you which political party to vote for. What I’m saying is that you should examine the environmental policies of the people up for election and then consider voting for the candidate who you believe will deliver the best eco-friendly projects for your little part of the world.
If you’re retired or have a lot of free time on your hands, consider entering into politics yourself. You don’t need any qualifications to hand out leaflets. Get involved in local politics and then use your position to champion sustainability in your town.
Alternatively, consider joining an environmental group that promotes eco-friendly education. For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council boasts 1.4 million members and employs 350 lawyers to fight on environmental issues.
The Final Word
We enjoy watching apocalyptic disaster movies because we know in our hearts that they are fiction and the world will never end. Or will it?
Unless we do something to increase sustainability, our planet may soon run out of resources. When the coal and oil have run out, and there’s not enough water for everyone, what will we do?
Nobody expects you to follow all the steps above. Just consider doing one or two things to help the environment. Many of the most significant changes you can make not only benefit the environment but also are good for your health and your wealth.