In a bit of an out of character blog post I’m going to attempt to answer the main questions that gets asked on sustainability forums: “What are some easy ways to live more sustainably?”. Essentially “where do I start?”.
In terms of everyday life you may need to choose what issue matters to you most. I often go back to the the example that paper packaging usually has a higher carbon footprint than plastic. For me climate change is the most pressing issue.
So, here’s a list of ideas, in no particular order, of 10 things you can do:
1. Reduce your wash temperature
Such an easy one. 75% of the energy used in washing clothes is heating the water. Most modern detergents, even the eco ones work at 30 or 40 degrees C, so unless you have really heavy soiling there is no reason to wash hot. Turning down your wash temperature saves energy and money.
2. Line dry clothes
Tumble dryers are convenient and maybe sometimes you need an instant dry but for everyday wash, there is wind for that. It is free, to you and to the planet.
3. Swap your light bulbs
When I was growing up, the standard 60 watt light bulb was ubiquitous. Then energy saving bulbs appeared (compact flourescent bulbs) and you get the same light for 13 watts. Now LEDs have reduced the electricity consumption even more. It is an upfront cost but by making sure you have the lowest watt light bulbs you save the money on bills pretty quick. ANd the LEDs last bascially forever. This article helps work out which bulbs you need.
An even easier energy and money saver is just remembering to turn out your lights when you leave a room.
4. Turn down your heating
There are amazing renewable heating options if you want to replace your old gas boiler, but a really simple option is just to turn your heating down. A study back in 2012 suggested setting a thermostat at 18 degrees C was the single biggest household energy saver. Other actions were delaying when you started using heating and turning off radiators in rooms you don’t use.
Expert tip: wear a jumper.
5. Eat seasonally
Eating what is in season is a good way to reduce your impact. Locally grown in season food is generally best in terms of energy and waste (think of an apple picked from a tree in October vs one shipped from china in January).
Food grown out of season usually requires lots of artificial light as well as extra heat and water. Bearing this is mind if you want to eat something that isn’t growing here right now, local isn’t always better. If you want to treat yourself to a bunch of tomatoes in April getting them shipped by lorry from outside growers in Spain is probably a better bet than from heated greenhouses in Norfolk.
Check out this site to see what’s in season now.
If you have time and inclination, growing your own is a great way to eat seasonally and connect with your food. You can follow my progress with this here.
6. Buy less stuff
some ideas onWe live in a throw away culture. A really good way to reduce both waste and energy usage is to just not buy stuff. So before you chuck something in your basket just think about it. Obviously some stuff we need. Some stuff improves our well being. Personally I’m a hoarder and I have to admit buying stuff can be an easy feel good hit. But if what you buy can be edible, really useful, or second hand that reduces your waste and your carbon footprint.
And when you are dome with something, recycle, repurpose or pass it on to someone else
7. Reuse bags
When you shop, take an old bag or a backpack with you. Don’t get a new plastic bag (lots of plastic waste). Don’t get a new paper bag (high carbon footprint). Don’t buy a new cotton bag (high carbon footprint, high water footprint, possibly questionable workers rights). The most ‘eco way’ to carry your stuff in in a bag you already have.
And if possible choose loose rather than packaged items. Less packaging equals less waste and less energy used to make the packaging!
8. Consider how you travel
Transport uses so much energy. Air has as the biggest carbon footprint per km. Then car, then bus then train (ref). Walking and cycling obviously win.
apssI love to travel so we try to travel overland where we can rather than flying. Train journey’s can be an adventure in themselves and if you plan and book in advance it is cheaper (although not as artificially as air travel). I’m writing up some of our longer journey’s here. If you want a long read, some years ago I travelled overland across Bristol, Russia and Asia.
In terms of every day journeys just consider if you could walk, bus or cycle. We are based in a city and we mainly get around by walking or cycling. For longer journeys we take a train or bus. Let’s face it, in the UK our public transport network is pretty shocking. When we need a car we rent one, or use a car club. As well as reducing carbon footprint, driving less reduces local air pollution.
9. Join a campaign
Sign petitions, write to your MP, put pressure on companies, join a political party, support a protest group.
The changes I’ve suggested above are small fish. That isn’t to say they are not worth doing but the big changes are going to be the results of legislation and change by big corporations. Political changes are slow but, ultimately in a democracy, voters have power. Put environmental issues at the forefront of what you demand from politicians. Keep hassling them. Ask for decent public transport, renewable energy, investment in green jobs.
As as simple click action, join the campaign to make ecocide an international crime.
10. Speak up.
The science is totally clear. Humans are messing up this world and something has to give. Yet for many it isn’t a priority and some people are still actively denying there’s an issue.
So, talk to your friends and social media contacts about sustainability. Speak up if someone is talking rubbish! The skeptical science website is a useful resource.
Let’s get everyone caring about our future.
If you want to think more about carbon footprint and the impact of all these choices, I highly recommend “How bad are bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee. A new edition has just been published and it analyses everything from buying an orange to opening a new coal mine.