How To Become More Sustainable

by NeilT, 2012-05-29

What is sustainability?

The first question we need to address is the definition of sustainability. Very broadly, being sustainable is to live in such a way that can be maintained forever given the resources at hand. This usually means trying to consume only renewable resources, recycling everything that can be, and minimizing resource use generally.

For example, fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) are not considered renewable because there is a fixed amount on the planet. No new fossil fuels are being produced inside the earth (at least, not anywhere near fast enough to meet demand). Other energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, etc, are considered renewable because once the generator is setup it may be able to keep producing electricity until it breaks.


Before we get into specific ways to be sustainable, let's look at some numbers to help give perspective. CO2 is a reasonable measure of our footprint, so let's start there. The average person in developed countries accounts for approximately 10-20 tons of CO2 emissions, annually. This is taken from the annual per-capita CO2 emissions per country.

The average passenger car, driven the average of 12,500 miles or 20,000 km, emits about 4 to 5 tons of CO2 each year. Heating and cooling the average home can generate up to 5 or 6 tons of CO2 per year. With just 2 items we've already accounted for half of a typical persons CO2 footprint, so we can already see how large of an impact reducing some of those bigger items can provide.

What to do

Now that we have an idea what an average persons footprint looks like, you can calculate your exact carbon footprint if interested, but it's not necessary. There should be many ideas below that can put a huge dent in your footprint.

The biggest sources of our personal carbon footprints are typically: home heating/cooling, home electricity use, and transportation. If spending a little extra on the electricity bill isn't a problem, switching to a "green energy" option or provider is an easy way to make a huge carbon reduction. Fortunately, many of the ways of reducing CO2 footprint also save money.

YouSustain makes it very easy to find new ideas through action recommendations and challenges. Below I've grouped many great ideas into three big categories for how to becoming more personally sustainable.

Using resources more efficiently

Efficiency means both choosing the most efficient tool for a job as well as picking more efficient products.

Here are some examples:

Reducing unnecessary resource use

Our society has gotten used to many of our most important resources being effectively free, in that most of us wouldn't directly notice the effect on our wallet of forgetting to turn off a light or not fixing a leaky tap. This is changing, thankfully, as fuels become more expensive, but we have a long way to go.

Here are some examples:

Switching to consuming renewable resources

As mentioned above, if it's an option to pay a little extra for renewable energy, that makes a huge impact.

Check how you're doing

One of the goals of YouSustain is to make it easy to keep track of how much impact you've had, and that's why you can add any of the actions on the calculator to your profile. Each day, YouSustain adds up how much CO2 and cash savings you generated and adds it to your profile.

Here is an example graph of a members sustainability impact:

YouSustain also offers other tools for checking your impact, such as sustainable action recommendations to get new ideas, sustainbility challenges, and the tread lightly bike commute calculator.

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