38 Small Sustainable Habits

by NeilT, 2011-06-01

Sustainability isn't just about the big things, like what vehicle you buy, it's also the small choices we make every day. Here's a quick list of 38 habits that are easy and have many benefits. Choose one, or a few, to try out each week and see which you like.

These items are almost all explained in more detail on either the Sustainable Actions List or Sustainability Challenges.

  • Don't let your car idle unnecessarily
    If you're going to be sitting idle for more than 30 seconds or a minute, shut off the engine - it's wasting your money and emitting CO2 for no reason
  • Shut off electronics completely when not in use
    Unplug them or shut off the power bar
  • Bag
  • Take reusable bags to stores
    It's easy, and they don't break like plastic bags. More info
  • Buy media (music, movies, books) digitally
    Just don't forget to back it up
  • Recycling
  • Recycle everything you can
    What can be recycled varies by location, but find out what you can. More info
  • Fly less often
    Trains, buses, or even a full car are more fuel-efficient than a plane ride
  • Composting
  • Compost everything you can
    If you have your own composter, you'll get great lawn/garden fertilizer for free. More info
  • Set your computers to sleep when not used
    An idle computer wastes about 100 watts, which is quite a bit. More info
  • Shower
  • Take shorter showers
    Shorter, or "sailor showers", where you shut off the water while lathering up. More info
  • Take care of your stuff and replace less often
    Not just big items like cars, this can work for things like coffee makers too
  • Biking
  • Walk or bike when possible
    Not only is it great exercise, but a 30-minute walk has been shown to have as much mood-enhancing effect as anti-depressants. More info
  • Take your own travel mug to the coffee shop
    It's easy and keeps your drink warmer for longer. More info
  • Car
  • Plan ahead to reduce trips in the car
    Visit stores that are close together on the same trip
  • Borrow instead of buy
    It's an easy thought before buying anything: "Can I borrow this instead?" More info
  • Transit
  • Take public transit when possible
    Typically much less stressful than driving. More info
  • Use rechargeable batteries
    They're more expensive, but considering how many times they can be used, they pay off quickly
  • Car
  • Carpool with friends when going out
    It's more fun
  • Don't throw out as much food by planning ahead
    Over 30% of our food is thrown out, on average. This can easily be avoided with a little planning
  • Water heater
  • Turn down the water heater when you won't be home for more than a day or two
    There's no point heating water when no one is using it. More info
  • Thermostat
  • Set your programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature when you're usually not home
    If no one is home during the day, set the heat a few degrees lower or the A/C a few degrees higher. More info
  • Use less water by reducing waste and choosing low-use appliances
    Low-flow toilets, efficient dishwashers and clothes washers, are all great ideas
  • Car
  • Keep your cars tires properly inflated
    Under-inflated tires reduce fuel efficicncy
  • Choose products that use less packaging
    Not only is less packing more sustainable, it's less annoying too
  • Washer
  • Wash clothes in cold water
    Most modern washers do well with cold water when using a cold-water detergent. More info
  • Use the "cottage rule" for toilets
    "If it's yellow, let it mellow"
  • Cows
  • Eat less meat
    Meat is over 10 times more land-intensive to produce than vegetables, so try not eating meat at every meal. More info
  • Choose less water-intense grass/plants for outside the house
    So many parts of the world don't have enough fresh water to drink, and we pour so much onto our lawns
  • Clothes
  • Hang up some or all of a load of wash inside or outside to reduce dryer use
    It's easier on your clothes too. More Info
  • Watch your electricity bill to understand usage
    It's great to be aware of how your efforts are reducing consumption, or noticing when something has increased it. More info
  • Bulb
  • Buy CF bulbs rather than the old incandescent type
    They're more expensive but considering how much less energy they use and how much longer they last, they save a lot of money. More Info
  • Run appliances during off-peak hours
    Most dishwashers can be set to run at a specified time, or after a delay, and electricity is less expensive at night
  • Buy local when possible
    There's debate on how the transport costs compare, between one transport truck coming from far away versus thousands of people driving their cars out to a local farm, but a farmers market should be better. More info
  • Close curtains to help keep your home cool
    Nothing heats up a room in the summer like direct sunlight, so if you won't be home anyways, close the curtains
  • Use rain water for your plants
    It's free water and more sustainable
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper
    They're much nicer to use. More info
  • Use stairs instead of elevators
    A little exercise is always a good thing!
  • Reduce junk mail
    Reduce waste and annoyance. More info
  • Switch to digital bills instead of mailed
    For most people, paper bills are thrown out anyways