Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have gradually but dramatically degraded the environment. Burning fossil fuels, deforestation, the mass production of waste, water pollution, overfishing, and countless other human activities have damaged fragile ecosystems and the Eart at large. Through research, data analysis, and even everyday observation, environmental phenomenons such as global warming have become undeniable.
Unfortunately, reviving the environment is a collective action problem—everybody wants to reap the benefits, but few people want to make sacrifices and do the work.
However, reducing your carbon footprint, even a little bit, can contribute to global efforts. And making small changes (that add up to lifestyle changes) is easier than you think. To do your part as a global citizen, try a few everyday ways to promote sustainability.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and wellbeing depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
This definition makes clear the connection between environmental sustainability and social sustainability. The wellbeing of communities (including general living conditions, adequate pay, and job availability) is intertwined with the wellbeing of the planet.
Sustainability issues such as climate change and social inequity often feel like daunting, unapproachable problems. It’s true that a single person or organization can’t save the world, which makes complacency easy. However, this thinking is dangerous because largescale change starts at the individual and local level.
In terms of everyday life, people can practice sustainability in two main ways.
- Changing regular habits to conserve energy, water, or non-renewable resources
- Changing consumer habits to support businesses that practice or improve sustainability
Do you want to do your part to help take better care of the environment? What does this look like in practical terms? Take a look at the following list to learn about simple lifestyle changes that can collectively lower your carbon footprint and support social sustainability.
Embrace All Things Reusable
Try to contribute as little as possible to the landfill. A great way to achieve this is to think through your typical day or week and create a list of every disposable item you use. For example, people often use plastic water bottles, plastic bags, paper towels, styrofoam food containers, straws, disposable cups, and other single-use products.
With some obvious exceptions for sanitary purposes, almost every single-use product can be either be reused or repurposed, or replaced with a reusable alternative. Having a reusable water bottle and plastic Tupperware are two of the more common sustainability practices, but try to think outside the box. Do some research and find out what other reusable items you can invest in. For example, many people don’t know there are reusable options for things like food preservation wraps, bags made especially for produce, Q-tips, feminine hygiene products, and even diapers.
Reimagine Your Self Care Routine
Sustainable beauty products are on the rise, with more and more natural brands emerging each year. The popularity of these newer brands also forces well-established companies to change their practices, be more transparent, and create new product lines.
When it comes to beauty and self-care products, consumers should consider sustainability practices in the following areas:
- The use of natural ingredients vs. chemicals or synthetic components
- Animal testing
- Unethical or unsustainable sourcing (for example, mica, a common ingredient in highlighters, is often obtained through exploitative child labor)
Ditch Unnecessary Packaging
For environmental conservation, you should not only consider the products you buy, but also the packages they come in. Think about all the boxes you’ve accumulated from online orders and all the bottles, cans, and containers you’ve used for individually wrapped or served products. To cut down on packaging, try these tips:
- Look for products without any packing at all. You can now buy products like soap, shampoo, and conditioner in bar form without any individual packaging at companies like Lush.
- Buy in bulk or extra-large containers. For example, opt for a single large bottle of laundry detergent to last a few months rather than buying multiple smaller bottles.
- Eliminate single-serve foods and drinks whenever possible. For example, buy the gallon of Greek yogurt and scoop it into a bowl each morning rather than buying numerous individually packaged servings of the yogurt.
Drink Cleaner Coffee
Globally, people consume almost 10 million tons of coffee each year. Suffice it to say—that’s a lot of coffee.
What many people don’t realize is that the coffee industry has a dark side. For example:
- Well-established, high-street brands often exclude coffee farms from their fair share of the profits, leading to poor pay and working conditions for both farm owners and their employees.
- An increase in demand has forced the growers to change and expedite cultivation, forcing them to ignore environmentally-friendly practices. Doing so impacts biodiversity, local water supplies, deforestation, and more.
Fortunately, there is a way to buy coffee responsibly. The simplest way to make your coffee-drinking habit more sustainable is to buy single-source coffee. While blended coffee grounds come from numerous farms that are more difficult to track, single-source coffee comes from one farm, making it easier to research their environmental and social practices. In general, single-origin coffee brands tend to offer greater transparency.
Shop And Eat Local
More and more communities now have farmers’ markets and networks for local businesses and restaurants. Shopping at these locations not only encourages better environmental practices but also helps stimulate the community’s economy.
Be Conscious Of Household Energy Use
It’s no secret that individual household energy use adds up to a significant depletion of natural resources. If you have the financial means, consider investing in alternative energy sources such as solar power. You can also do your part by being mindful of your electric and water use. You can:
- Reduce shower time
- Buy more energy-efficient light bulbs
- Turn off lights when not in use
- Limit the use of air conditioners
The Collective Power of Individual Decisions
Building a more sustainable world will take time and global collaboration. It requires corporations and governments to prioritize environmental and social issues, which requires changes in consumer habits. No, no one person can save the world. But you can do your part to live a little more sustainably each day.