Here’s a New Year’s resolution: be kinder to the planet by making more environment-friendly choices in your life. Living sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult, all it takes is a slight shift of mindset. To start you off, here are 10 easy steps for a more sustainable lifestyle.
You may also like »35 Sustainable Steps I’m Already Taking«
1. Bring your own water bottle
This is the first and easiest step towards a better environment. Investing in your own water bottle keeps you from buying wasteful one-use plastic bottles, and also eliminates the use of paper or plastic cups. It saves money too, because now you won’t have to continuously buy water! On top of that, it keeps you healthy and hydrated. A total win-win.
You may also want to consider bringing a mug or thermos to your workplace. This is something I still haven’t done, so now I’m forbidding myself to get any hot drinks at work until I take my own mug.
Keep in mind: reducing plastic is better than recycling plastic.
Avoid plastic bottles and cups.
2. Avoid plastic bags
A logical follow-up on the previous tip: stop buying plastic bags. Make it a habit to bring your own bag everywhere you go. I always carry an extra tote bag in my backpacks.
This will also save you money. Those one-off 10p bag purchases accumulate to a larger cost if you keep buying them, and on top of that, it’s got a spiteful financial impact on the environment too. Once again: reducing is better than recycling!
3. Eat less meat
You don’t have to become a full-on vegetarian or vegan to save the planet. I am aware that this is not an option for everybody, or something they want.
However, cutting down on meat consumption will help a considerable amount. The production of meat takes up a lot of water and emits a high amount of CO2. In fact, it is claimed that the entire process of getting meat on people’s plates is more toxic to the environment than the CO2 impact of all transport on earth combined. I’ve also heard that cutting out meat from your meals just once a week, equals taking a car off the road for a full year.
Be mindful about how you replace your meat product, though. Don’t replace it for a fancy fish product, as fish consumption is also harmful to the environment. Most supermarkets nowadays have a wide variety of alternative (meat) products for you to try. You could also just leave it out of your meal completely!
If you’re looking to take it a step further but don’t want to take it all the way, you could consider flexitarianism: my first step was no longer cooking meat at home, but sometimes opting for a nicely prepared non-vegetarian meal at restaurants instead. Reducing dairy consumption, combined with eating less meat, will also have a positive impact on the environment.
I always keep vegetarian/vegan alternatives to meat in the freezer.
4. Borrow > buy
Rather than buying new products that took a lot of energy to make, you may consider borrowing them instead. Especially products you don’t use a lot are probably better off borrowed than bought.
There are a number of benefits to borrowing. If you borrow something, it won’t permanently take up space in your home. You might also be able to borrow higher quality products than you would have bought yourself. For example, I could buy myself the cheapest drill of questionable quality, or borrow a proper one from someone else. (In reality, I just kindly ask my dad to come over and do it for me.)
Besides, let’s not forget it saves money: why buy something you are likely to only use once a year, if you could easily borrow it from someone else?
Books are among the easiest things to borrow, from a friend or your local library. Other things you could borrow are: kitchen utensils, clothes for special occasions, tools you don’t use very often, extra furniture for parties, and of course cups of sugar from your neighbour!
5. Buy local
Buying local has a number of benefits. First of all, it often means your product has travelled a shorter distance, meaning you cut down on CO2 emissions. Besides that, I have found that local food sellers tend to offer products in a more sustainable way. My local greengrocer’s has a lot of unpackaged products on offer. Likewise, the local market sells plastic-free sweets, fruit and vegs, nuts, and more!
Perhaps one of the best benefits is that local businesses take greater care and responsibility for their direct surroundings, and thereby make a better effort for the local community. These businesses owners are part of the same community as you are, so they are more likely to care about similar issues. They participate in a way that multinationals and online companies will not, for example by supporting local events, creating jobs, and investing in the community. And to top it all, they care more about a good face-to-face relationship with their customers, often resulting in more personalised service.
I do my local shopping with a dozen tote bags on hand.
6. Buy second hand
Whatever you’re wanting to buy: try second-hand first. There is no need putting new materials into the world if your product already exists.
Buying second hand is cheaper, and again, you may be able to afford something of higher quality this way than if you were to buy new. Second hand products also add originality to your home. Keep browsing the vintage markets and you might find a gem that nobody else owns! It will be much more exciting than setting up another IKEA dresser.
Things that you can easily get second hand: books, films, clothes, kitchenware, furniture.
My most recent second-hand find: two dining chairs.
7. Unplug electric items
Sometimes it’s the small gestures that count: unplugging any electric item will help save energy. Even when your devices are switched off, they still pull some energy. In the UK they have handy on-and-off switches for all sockets, but it’s still wise to always unplug!
While you’re at it, check if there are any lights on that you don’t need. As a rule: if you’re not in the room, you don’t need it!
Unplug, unplug, unplug!
8. Travel by foot, bike, or public transport
If you’re not travelling far, don’t take the car! Especially if you’re travelling by yourself.
When it comes to travel, it helps to set goals for yourself. For me, if something is within 15/20 minutes walking distance, I will usually go by foot. If it is a <30-minute bike ride, I will cycle. Other than that, I currently fully rely on public transport.
Take your bike whenever you can.
9. Choose sustainable brands
Opting for sustainable brands doesn’t mean they have to be 100% ethical, green, and saving the planet. Some of those products can be very costly and aren’t an option for everybody. However, just going for a higher quality product can help a lot. Do your research, save up for a £100 pair of jeans, and see the difference. These products are going to last you a lot longer than a £30 pair from the average clothing shop.
There are a few brands I like to buy from, but that aren’t necessarily ethical. These include Dr. Martens and Levi’s. Both of these brands design long-lasting products, that save me the frustration of having to go buy a new pair of winter shoes or ill-fitting jeans every year. I consider them sustainable because I only have to buy one pair of boots every 5 years or so, and Levi’s have even been known to last a lifetime. Can you imagine how much money and fabric I am saving?
If you are looking to invest in ethical, sustainable clothing brands, check out these websites:
- Armed Angels (Denmark)
- GOAT Organic Apparel (Netherlands)
- People Tree (UK)
- Project Cece (UK/Netherlands/Germany)
- Qnoop (Netherlands)
- Studio JUX (Netherlands)
My Dr Martens boots keep me warm for years.
10. Vote with your money
Voting with your money means investing in products and services that are responsible. This can be done through all sorts of gestures, grand and small. Buy an electric car, get solar panels on your roof, purchase refurbished products, buy second hand. There’s a million ways you could do this!
All you need to consider is that you use your money wisely to stand up for your beliefs. For example, in order to cut down on plastic consumption, I try to go for food products in glass containers (olive oil from a glass bottle instead of plastic), or preferably products with no packaging at all. This is a very small and simple way in which you can financially support a good cause.
Whenever I get take-out, I go to a place nearby that lets me take my own glass container. They’re a great supporter of the ocean clean-up, too, so I know this company and I share similar values. And recently, I went to a green hairdresser for the first time, expressing my wish for more thoughtful environment-friendly services.
You can use your money to express your wishes for the world, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. As long as you are more mindful about how you would like the earth to become a cleaner, sustainable and happier place.
I visited a green hairdresser for the first time.
Other sources to help you out
Hopefully these sustainable lifestyle tips have been helpful for you! Here are some other sources that inspire me, and may help you to take things a step further.
- Going Zero Waste blog
- A Considered Life blog
- Het Zero Waste Project (Dutch)
- Vriendelijk Leven (Dutch)
- My post on the 35 Sustainable Steps I’m Already Taking