Sustainability. Climate change. Carbon footprint. These words are now part of our everyday vocabulary as we become more conscious of taking better care of the planet.
We get it: Committing to an eco-friendly lifestyle can sound overwhelming. But taking small steps to learn how to be more sustainable can make a big difference in reducing your impact on the environment—while also cutting down on your monthly bills.
11 sustainability tips
1. Reduce energy use around your house
Leaving idle electronics in standby mode can still consume small amounts of electricity, so make sure to power them down by turning them off altogether. It's also a good idea to unplug them from the wall socket, including any chargers that continue to draw phantom energy even when not in use. For added efficiency, you could plug all your devices into one power strip that you can flick on and off as needed with a single switch or unplug from the wall all at the same time.
In addition to choosing energy-efficient appliances and longer-lasting LED light bulbs, try harnessing the power of the sun in warmer months. Open your curtains or blinds for a natural source of both heat and light, dry your clothes outside on the clothesline (if you have one), and pop open your gas barbecue grill at dinner time instead of turning on the stove.
2. Conserve household water use
If you can't bring yourself to cut down on your shower time quite yet, consider switching to a more efficient showerhead first. Check the age of your laundry machines and dishwasher—if they're more than a decade old, it might be time to upgrade to higher-efficiency appliances that use less water. Make sure you're only hitting that wash cycle when you have a full load, and try to use cold water to wash your clothes whenever possible to save energy.
And whether you're shaving, brushing your teeth, or doing the dishes, don't let that faucet run in the background. Got an annoying leaky tap or toilet? Those drips could add up to hundreds of gallons a month, so make it a priority to fix them.
3. Buy locally and eat seasonally
Because it's usually harvested right before appearing at the farmer's market, locally grown produce uses significantly fewer resources for packaging, processing, refrigeration, and transportation. In addition to a much lower carbon footprint, seasonal food is also fresher and more flavorful, has higher nutritional value, and allows you to form a more personal connection with the people behind it. Bonus: It's often cheaper, too.
Supporting local farmers and producers is also a great way to invest in the future. It helps them make a living from growing diverse crops rather than being limited to more hardy varieties with a longer shelf life. And they're better equipped to practice organic or biodynamic farming methods that are more sustainable for the environment. These practices are not only better for the soil, but for our diets as well.
4. Avoid single-use, plastic, and Styrofoam items
One of the easiest ways to reduce your impact on the environment and keep non-biodegradable plastics and Styrofoam out of landfills is by swapping single-use items with reusable options. Some items to consider investing in include a tote bag to bring on shopping trips, a reusable water bottle, and a portable drinking straw made from sustainable materials such as bamboo or stainless steel.
At zero-waste grocery stores, you can use your own containers to shop for food, household cleaners, and beauty products. This not only cuts down on plastic and Styrofoam packaging but also saves you money on your grocery bill. If this seems too daunting, try a gentler transition one item at a time: Switch from disposable razors to recyclable safety razors, from cling wrap and tin foil to plastic-free beeswax wraps, and from shampoo, conditioner, and body wash to solid bar soaps.
5. Reduce waste
With a little mindfulness and planning, simple changes to your daily routine can cut down on significant levels of waste that you would otherwise accumulate. One way to get rid of paper waste and prevent the mail from piling up is to switch all your monthly bills to an online payment option. Keep unnecessary packaging from ending up in the landfill through multi-use containers—use dishwasher-safe stainless steel instead of plastic, store your lunches in biodegradable cloth snack bags or stainless-steel bento boxes, and buy glass spray bottles for household cleaning supplies.
You can also reduce how much water you waste by repurposing it. For instance, while waiting for cold water to become hot when you turn on the tap, try capturing it in a container and using it later to water your plants.
6. Recycle, resell, and donate unwanted items
Keep your unwanted electronics, furniture, clothing, and other items out of the landfill by reselling, recycling, and donating them instead. Check to see if the manufacturer, wireless provider, or store from which you purchased your technology offers a trade-in program. If not, you can always post your items for sale online, bring them to a consignment store, hold a garage sale, or post them on a neighborhood forum.
If you decide to donate certain items such as furniture, you may be eligible for a tax write-off at the end of the year. Some charities such as the Salvation Army have a donation value guide on the potential tax value of your items. Others make it easier for you by arranging to pick up the items right from your home.
7. Rethink your transportation habits
Leave your vehicles at home whenever possible. Avoid unnecessary car trips and get some heart-friendly exercise instead by walking or hopping on a bicycle to get to your destination. Other more eco-friendly alternatives include ride-sharing, car-pooling, and taking public transit.
In the market for a new car? Avoid purchasing vehicles that are bigger than what you need, and make sure to factor variables like engine efficiency and emission output into your decision.
8. Purchase sustainable and fair-trade brands
Look more closely at clothing labels and choose durable, natural fabrics when you can, and make an effort to support sustainable and fair-trade brands carried by your local retailers.
Some of our favorite sustainable clothing brands include Theory, Zella, and Eileen Fisher.
9. Build a sustainable wardrobe
Bring sustainable style to your wardrobe by purchasing fewer, but more high-quality items that will last longer and hold value when you decide to consign them. Curate your style through shopping more mindfully for items you love that you can mix and match and wear throughout the year.
Looking to add something new to your closet? Consider buying or selling pre-loved apparel and accessories (check out the Nordstrom See You Tomorrow resale shop), hosting a swap party with friends, or altering clothes you already own at a tailor for a refreshed look and feel.
10. Do your research
Keep up with the latest news on ethical and sustainability practices. The Environmental Working Group is a handy online resource for consumer guides, ongoing research, and tips on healthy living. You can also download the Good on You app on your smartphone to access a directory of ethical brands in various categories as well as an evaluation of their social and environmental impact.
11. Feel good about your efforts
Even small steps add up to make a difference. Take the time to reflect on the changes you've made so far, no matter how small they may seem. Don't keep them to yourself—share what you're doing with friends and family and encourage them to make similar changes in their lives.