Andrew Dehan6-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 30, 2023
More sustainable living is a goal for many people. Whether it’s growing your own food or finding ways to lower your electric bills, living more sustainably is achievable for anyone. If they practice it or not, every individual on this planet has a personal interest in sustainability.
Here we’ll define sustainable living and introduce some ways you can live more sustainably. Some of these changes are simple to adopt. Others may take more effort. Whatever you choose to do, know that living more mindfully of your impact on the planet is better than complacency. More people onboard with sustainable living will mean a better planet for us all.
Sustainable living is a mindset grounded in how one’s personal actions are interconnected with how future generations will experience Earth’s limited resources. Often, the most impactful changes to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint begin at home.
In discussion around sustainable living, you may have heard the term “carbon footprint.” Your carbon footprint is how many pounds of CO2 you emit per year. CO2 is a gas that contributes to the warming of the planet, which has had detrimental effects on life for our planet. With temperatures continuing to rise, it’s important to be aware of what we can do to reduce our impact so our family, friends and communities can continue to enjoy life on this planet.
Calculating your carbon footprint is a good first step. By using the EPA’s carbon footprint calculator, you can estimate how many pounds you emit yearly and take suggested steps to limit that.
The Mental Health Foundation claims that one’s environment has an incredible impact on individuals’ psychological well-being. They conclude that, since those practicing sustainable living are more mindful about their impact on the planet, they’re also more empathetic toward their community.
Being mindful of the environment can translate to many facets of homeownership. From buying the property, to moving and settling in, there are several things you can do to lessen your impact on the environment no matter where you are in your homeownership journey.
Reducing your consumption is the simplest way to achieve sustainable living goals. But simple does not mean easy. While your home doesn’t have to be minimalist by design, a minimalist lifestyle is inherently more sustainable. A big part of this is not buying on impulse.
Before you buy something, asking yourself if it’s a good investment is important. Is it something that will last and you’ll take care of, or is it something you’re going to toss in a year?
One way to reduce consumption is to buy things that last. Look for Buy It For Life (BIFL) groups online that point to great products and how to make them endure. Buying used items from Craigslist, garage sales or thrift stores is a great way to find cheap and free items.
Cost: Free - $$
The average American produces 1,704 pounds of waste per year according to the research firm Verisk Maplecraft. Let that sink in for a moment. Every time you take the trash out, it’s hauled off out of sight somewhere. According to Waste360, over 65% of that waste is either buried or burnt.
One step you can take, if you aren’t already, is recycling. Depending on where you live, this could be a free local service, part of your trash collection or you may have to haul it to a center yourself. Do what you can to make recycling more convenient and just a part of your daily life.
Going paperless with your bills is another way to reduce waste. Many banks and service providers give you this option. Considering the environmental impact of paper manufacturing, any cutting back you do can have an impact.
Buying in bulk, using reusable bags and composting your food are other ways you can reduce the amount of waste you produce.
Cost: Free - $$$$
While home solar panels may be what first pops into your head when energy-efficient home are mentioned, the truth is there is much more you can do for much cheaper. Simple things like adjusting your thermostat a few degrees can have an impact on your bill and your energy consumption.
Before going for a full-on renovation, make small changes to your home. Energy-efficient lightbulbs last longer and take less energy than incandescent or fluorescent lights. Hang your wet clothes on a line. This will cut down on using your dryer and your clothes will last longer.
Being sustainable in the winter looks a little different. Do you have certain rooms that are colder in the winter? Instead of adjusting your thermostat, try balancing the dampers on your heating and cooling system. Dampers are adjusted via little levers on the ducts and they direct air all over your home. It may take some experimenting, but you can close off the dampers to rooms that don’t need the HVAC as much, and this will direct more air to the areas that do need it.
Since your metal ducts radiate heat, insulating can help retain heat and get it to the right place. Brett Little with The GreenHome Institute says, “If you can seal your exposed ducts with metal duct tape it can help ensure all that heat is going to where you need it in your house and not your basement.”
If you have older windows, an investment in new, energy-efficient windows could pay itself off in heat savings. As an alternative, Little says, “You can also consider installing storm windows to reduce heat loss and stop air loss in the windows without buying new expensive windows.”
If you’re in a home with too many efficiency problems and are looking to move, consider searching for a green home. These homes have had many efficiency updates already done to them.
If you want to live sustainably, you may need to update your diet. Modern agriculture has a massive, negative impact on the planet. According to Penn State, agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, with nearly 80% of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest having been cleared for cattle ranching.
Deforestation drives climate change, as trees and other plants are big consumers of CO2. Leveling them and clearing the way for livestock is unsustainable. Here are a few facts around the detriment livestock farming has on our planet:
Livestock farming is heavily resource intensive. By cutting back on or eliminating animal-based parts of your diet, you’re taking a significant step to eat more sustainably. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, if every American reduced their beef, pork and poultry consumption by 25%, we would emit around 82 million metric tons of CO2 less than we are now.
Besides reducing your animal-product consumption, there are a few other ways to eat more sustainably. Growing vegetables at home is a great way to become more in tune with what you eat. This way you can control the amount of chemicals used and reduce the amount of travel the food needs to do to get to your plate. Eating seasonally and buying directly from local farms is another great way to cut back on emissions and support your local community.
Sustainability and the kitchen go hand-in-hand. Even the simple act of cooking at home has less of an impact on the environment than takeout. Look at what you’re throwing in your kitchen trash. Can it be composted? Do you need disposable takeout containers/straws/plates/cups? Can you recycle it?
Here are some ways you could cultivate a sustainable kitchen:
If you make all these changes and keep it to yourself, you’ll make a small impact. If you share it and can motivate others to make changes, the impact will grow. For this to matter for our planet, more people need to be aware of the possibilities with sustainable living. This isn’t about being arrogant or self-important. It’s about inspiring others. It’s about taking control over what we do to our world and how we leave it for the next generation.
Want to learn more? Read about more eco-friendly changes to make at home.
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The 15 most sustainable cities in the U.S. ranked by their eco-friendliness, including Portland, Seattle, Berkeley, San Diego, Washington D.C., San Francisco.