For most of us, creating a sustainable lifestyle isn’t something that comes naturally. It’s confusing and intimidating. I’m here to tell you to take a breath. You’re in the right place, my friend. The road to living a sustainable lifestyle is not always a straight one, and it’s okay to not always have everything “together”. None of us do! Just try your best, stay open and curious, and you will be doing your part. Take a look at these helpful suggestions and resources so that you can create and maintain a lifestyle that helps take care of both yourself and the planet.
For a newbie, it’s important to start from the beginning. Take a look at these key first steps to creating a greener lifestyle.
Education is always the start. Without it, you wouldn’t have a good reason to make all these adjustments to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Here’s a good place to start:
Check out Lotus Compass’s curated list of books on how to create and maintain a sustainable lifestyle. Buying from Bookshop supports local bookstores instead of Amazon and we get a little commission, too!
Awareness of your carbon footprint
To start, your carbon footprint is the amount of energy (carbon) you produce as an individual. Watch this video to learn more.
To know where you’re going, you must first know where you’ve been. Learn your starting point and be amazed as you reach sustainability milestones! Self awareness is key. You have to know how much trash you produce and how many natural resources you use. This personal “audit” will likely lead to the realization that your lifestyle (as it is now) is not very sustainable.
You can use www.TerraPass.com to calculate your carbon footprint.
Buy less plastic
There’s currently a massive sea of plastic in the ocean that goes on for miles. It’s three times the size of Texas, y’all. Here’s a video of it. Marine life dies from ingesting and getting caught in plastic waste in their own home (the ocean). What do you think happens to that plastic you are using and throwing away, amigo? No shame here, but really let’s think about this realistically. Your trash doesn’t magically disappear from the nice person who collects it weekly from your bin on trash day. It has a life span often lasting hundreds of freaking years. That’s right…the cell phone case you use for 2 years until you get an upgrade lasts for 200+ years.
BTW, I just got a new cell phone case made from compostable bioplastic, so there is new technology being made to help solve the plastic problem. With that being said, bringing awareness to your plastic consumption and cutting back can make a HUGE difference.
Eat less meat
According to an article from the Sierra Club by Helen Christophi, “Meat production is the primary source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and beef cattle produced over 70 percent of it via enteric fermentation—belching and farting—in 2016.” Lovely. Given the high methane production and the deforestation for livestock, the primary thing you have control over is your decision to refrain from eating meat. If you’re a meat lover, challenge yourself to eating less meat. Maybe go two days without meat? Experiment with using other food for protein. Maybe eat meat only once a week? Try it out!
Drive less. Walk, bike or public transit more
Produce less carbon emissions by opting to walk, bike, or use public transit before driving somewhere. Plus, you get in better shape this way!
Spend more intentional time in nature
I noticed that all of my friends who care about sustainability also share a love for being in nature. This is not a coincidence!
Make a promise to yourself to spend more time in nature. Take time to simply ‘be’ in the natural world. You could also go kayaking, snorkeling, bird watching, hiking, or simply reading outside in the park. Bring your activities outside. Practice mindfulness and be aware of your senses. Appreciating nature gives you much more of a motivation to save it from impending sixth mass extinction, which is where we’re heading if we don’t actually make a change.
Buy second hand or used when you can
From thrift or consignment stores to online sites like Poshmark or eBay, buying second hand is fun and easy! Plus, the amount of energy it takes to produce new clothes is far more than how much it takes to buy second hand.
Learn about fast fashion and why it’s bad for the environment here.
Consume less in general
Do you need it? Do you really need it? Or have you been trained by society to believe that more is better? This insatiable appetite of more leads us to believe that if we had more things, we’d be more comfortable, happier even. Don’t play into this. Happiness comes from within, my dear friends.
Many of us are addicted to buying more things. As cute as that super eco-friendly dress is, it’s still better for the environment to only purchase what you need. The age-old saying “less is more” is so true here. I learned this when I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain when I had to carry everything I needed in my backpack. Imagine doing that with the clothes in your closet!
We’ve all heard it before. While recycling isn’t the best solution, it’s still helpful. The other options are to reuse (by buying a reusable water bottle, for example) and reduce (by buying less new clothes, for example). Here’s a great resource to learn how to recycle.
After you’ve changed some things up, gotten the basics down and feel ready to move on, start walking toward a more sustainable lifestyle.
Join the local Sierra Club or environmental organization
The Sierra Club is a national community of volunteers, advocates, and grassroots activists that works to advance climate solutions and ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. They host community events and hikes as well. It’s a great organization to get involved with!
A quick internet search along the lines of ‘volunteer environmental nonprofits near me’. From there, you should be able to find some organizations in your community.
Follow low-waste sustainable lifestyle blogs/social media
Informative, interesting blogs to read:
Here’s some I love on Instagram:
We’re only as healthy as our soil. Composting:
- helps to recycle kitchen and yard waste and reduces landfill waste.
- creates healthy soil
- is FREE!
Links to learn about composting:
- Composting basics
- A guide on where to compost if you can’t at home
- MakeSoil.org the site I use to find a place to bring my compost.
The more life thriving in one area, the more biodiverse that area is. It’s important because humans depend on a healthy ecosystem for a number of things including fresh water, pollination, soil fertility and stability, food and medicine. Here are some easy ways to generate biodiversity:
- Plant local fauna or flora in your yard or neighborhood.
- Eliminate the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in your lawn care.
- Read this article for 10 more tips on adding biodiversity to your garden.
Buy organic food
I used to think ‘organic’ was just a label put on food to make it more expensive. After further research, I’ve learned what organic actually means and why it’s important to buy organic food.
What does ‘organic’ even mean? Organic food is food that is grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs). Helpguide.org explains, “Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (such as the ability to graze on pasture) and fed organic feed and forage. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.”
Here’s why choosing organic is important:
- You aren’t eating food drenched in chemicals. Hey, that’s cool, right?
- No preservatives in organic food so it’s fresher!
- Organic farming is better for the environment. Reduces pollution, conserves water, uses less energy, and creates healthier soil – to name a few
- Better treatment of animals
If at all possible, choose locally grown organic food to support your local economy!
Offset your carbon footprint when traveling
You might’ve heard that certain companies are “carbon neutral” or “net” carbon zero. You can do this preemptively by donating to a nonprofit organization that funds projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Look into these organizations:
Try slow travel
If you’re like me, you love traveling and want to do it in the most sustainable way possible. However, the truth of the matter is, travel is not sustainable.
We’ve got to do our best to travel responsibly. Slow travel is a great way to do this! To elaborate, slow travel maximizes the time spent in one place and minimizes the time spent in transit. This is pretty much the opposite of a whirlwind 7 cities in 5 days kinda trip.
The picture perfect slow travel:
You take a direct flight to your destination. First, find a one-month lease in the center of town. No need for a car, but you could rent a bike! Second, discover the local shops and markets. Spend your weekdays working remotely, and weekends are reserved for exploring the area. The best places have plenty of hiking and nature nearby! Also, you can take language classes and meet locals to truly gain an understanding of the culture and way of life. Finally, leave your beautiful temporary home with a journal full of adventures and memories and a deep appreciation for the lessons learned.
Read about my experience slow traveling in Baja California Sur in October 2020.
Support policies and politicians that will protect the environment and regulate big corporations. Exercising your right to vote as a citizen with strong collective action through state and federal policies can make a huge impact.
- Learn about voting in the U.S. here.
- Watch this video to understand that your vote actually matters.
- Join organizations like the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
Choose to support companies that care about the planet
I have a few favorite brands because they have quality products, great employee benefits, and care about the environment. Every time I shop there, I can be assured that I’m shopping consciously.
Furthermore, with all the research required to be a conscious consumer these days thanks to greenwashing, it’s good to support a few good brands you trust. Some of my favorite brands include:
- Patagonia – for hiking, camping, and active wear
- Outerknown – for sustainable fashion
- Ethos Santa Cruz – for low waste home and lifestyle products
B Corporations are also really cool! In short, B Corps promotes ethical business that’s good for the world. Learn more about B Corporations here.
Supporting your local shops brings money back into your community. Local businesses hire local employees, keeping the employee’s commute to a minimum and allowing for stronger community ties. Additionally, shopping local requires less transportation to receive your product. It also keeps your community unique and thriving!
At Amazon Web Services’ annual conference, Amazon led topics like “Predicting the Next Oil Field in Seconds with Machine Learning.” Given the fact that we are beyond the limit of using and burning fossil fuels, this is unacceptable. Amazon is a massively powerful company worth $800+ billion. Imagine the good they could be doing if their executives and Jeff Bezos supported the regeneration of the environment. Instead they support oil and gas companies to further destroy our planet while simultaneously claiming they care about the environment.
Other reasons to boycott Amazon:
- Terrible warehouse conditions
- Monopolization of multiple industries, effectively bankrupting small local shops
- Even with the BILLIONS made, they pay less taxes than you
- According to CNBC, “In 2018, Amazon posted income of more than $11 billion, but the company paid $0 in federal taxes. In fact, thanks to tax credits and deductions, Amazon actually received a federal tax refund of $129 million.”
- Before that box magically appears on your doorstep, it travels hundreds if not thousands of miles via planes and trucks to get to you.
- Non-sustainable packaging
It’s important to note that in 2019, Amazon released a Climate Pledge to be net zero carbon by 2040, which sounds great. Yet their business model is simply not sustainable.
Now you’re ready to take off and start RUNNING toward your sustainable lifestyle. Do you want to live a life that aligns fully with your desire to do what’s best for the planet? Are you feeling that sense of urgency? Are you are fed up with the destruction of our planet and innocent animal, marine, and plant life being lost due to greed, ignorance, and laziness? If yes, then it’s time to take that next step.
You ARE the change you want to see in the world.
Buy an electric vehicle
Take the plunge! It will be worth it. Fossil fuels are sooooo 2000s. Be a part of the movement and buy an EV.
Invest in renewable energy stocks
Put your money where you mouth is! Research and invest in renewable energy stocks. The trickle down effect of this is huge as it shows major players in the corporate, capitalist world that we do care about the environment and we’re willing to spend our money on it.
Don’t support major banks
Major banks like Chase support the oil and gas industry. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has calculated that 33 of the world’s biggest banks have funneled $1.9 trillion into fossil fuels in the past three years alone. Is your money currently funding environmental destruction? If so, do your research and make the move. The only thing these huge players care about (as far as I’m concerned) is money, so taking yours elsewhere is the action required to make a change.
Read this article about socially responsible banks.
Here’s a great article by Outsider Magazine: “Your Money Might Be Working Against the Environment”
Self sustain your food consumption
Try to be self sustainable with your food through gardening. Eat only fruits and veggies that are in season, locally grown and organic. You will be able to save money on food shopping as well! You could even organize a neighborhood food sharing system when you have excess food.
Ideally, your yard or community garden has fruit and citrus trees as well. You can learn to make bread (the 2020 trend!) and have some chickens for eggs. Whatever you don’t have at home, shop at the local farmer’s market to keep your food consumption local. That way, you’re largely reducing the need to purchase foods wrapped in plastic or held in plastic containers that are brought in by trucks from far distances (carbon footprint).
Challenge companies that you believe can do better
Write that email! Send that letter! Advocate for closed recycling systems, and hold companies to a higher standard. Let companies know that your expectations for sustainability. If they can’t meet those expectations, then they won’t have your business.
Live in a carbon neutral household with renewable energy
At the time of this writing, I’m lucky enough to be renting from a house that uses solar energy. That means I don’t have any electricity bills! This is a huge luxury that comes with living in a place like California where many people deeply care about the environment and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle.
If you’re a homeowner, you have the option to invest in renewable energy. This is something that has a high price tag initially and pays off in the long run.
Advocate sustainable lifestyle within your community
Hold a community workshop all around creating a more sustainable lifestyle. Use MeetUp.com if you don’t have a community center near you. You could also write an eBook and email it to all your friends and family.
Have less kids
Overpopulation is a thing. In 1928, the Earth’s population reached two million. In 2020, we’re at nearly 8 billion. We’ve basically quadrupled in a century. Thanks a lot, Catholics. In all seriousness, having one less child can reduce carbon emissions by 58 tons each year of their life, and having less people on the planet takes up less resources. In contrast, however, Vox.com wrote an article arguing the claim that having less kids will save the planet. Their argument? Green policies are on the rise, and donating to an environmental organization would do just as good as having less kids. Either way, it’s worth looking into both sides and deciding for yourself.
Educate and empower young girls and future generations
Why is this on the list for living a more sustainable lifestyle? Because the more educated and empowered young girls and women are, the more options they have. Too often, young girls in rural places around the world are pregnant right after their first period, further contributing to overpopulation. Consequently, they are preordained to be a mother at such a young age, often with many children and no opportunity for education. According to the United Nations, “More girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality.
Despite these gains, many challenges remain: discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, and 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.”
Read this article to learn more.
To have a truly equal world, we must bridge the gap between gender equality, give young girls equal education worldwide, and provide all humans with access to a good education so they can decide how to live their lives. I’m sure that there are brilliant women who could bring positive, innovative change for the world but were unable to do so based on their lack of education and options for a future outside of being a young mother.
With all of these incredible things you can do to make a difference, don’t forget: you’re still human. Remember that. Have compassion for yourself, for others, and for the planet. Allow yourself the chance to do the self work needed to avoid blaming others and living in anger. Remember the difference between shame and education because they feel very different to the recipient. Also, stay vigilant and always try your best. This is what it takes to keep the longevity of your gorgeous sustainable lifestyle.
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