Top 10 Easy Ideas For A Sustainable 2008

by NeilT, 2007-12-23

Just in time for New Year resolutions, here is a list of the top 10 easiest ways to become more sustainable for 2008. Striving to become more sustainable is great because it gives a sense of pride and accomplishment and is also contagious. Not all of these will apply to all people, but just pick any you would like to try.

#10. Switch light bulbs to CF

This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce electricity usage. Each incandescent bulb switched to a CF saves between 50-125kg CO2/year depending how heavily it is used.

Further, it makes economic sense. Incandescent bulbs typically only last up to 1,000 hours. Modern CF bulbs last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours. Not even counting electricity usage, there is a cost savings associated with CF bulbs because of the increased life span, which more than accounts for the difference in initial cost. When considering the electricity savings, each CF bulb would save a few dollars a year in costs.

Here is a lot of great comparison data for CF bulbs: Wikipedia - Compact fluorescent lamp.

Calculate how much you could save installing CF bulbs.

#9. Lower the temperature of your water heater

How often do you use only water from the hot tap? Very likely never, as in the average home it is set above 55C or 140F and it would burn your skin. Think about how you use the shower or water at the sink - it's always mixing hot with cold water. So, why are we bothering to pay to heat our water to such a high temperature when we never use it?

It is recommended to set your water heater down to about 45C or 120F. This could save up to 225kg CO2 and $30 per year!

#8. Use reusable bags

Reusable bags are becoming a lot more popular now, for good reason. Just think how wasteful it is that our world produces hundreds of millions of plastic bags every year intended to only be used once. Single-use plastic bags seems so natural to most of us now but they are really bad when examined.


  • If you drive most places, keep the bags in your car.
  • Build the habit of hanging the bags on the doorknob after unloading the contents inside, so they can't be forgotten the next time you leave.
  • Have at least one or two more reusable bags than the most you think you will ever use at one time. There will always be a time when the last used bags are forgotten, or some get dirty, so having extras means they are always available.

Some cities have even begun banning single-use plastic bags. Areas of India are banning them because of the waste problems they create. The bags are clogging the sewers and making flooding worse.

Challenge: Use reusable bags for one week

#7. Switch to a clean energy provider

Switching to a clean energy provider is possibly the largest impact a single action can have in terms of reduced CO2. Most areas now have a clean energy alternative. By switching to a green program you are paying a small premium on top of normal electricity (for me it's about an extra $30/month) which puts green energy onto the grid at the normal price.

Here are links to lists of clean energy providers around North America:

#6. Turn off unused lights and electronics

Turning off lights when you're not in a room can be a more difficult habit to build (I'm still working on it) but the impact is fairly significant. Lighting accounts for around 9% of household energy usage, on average. The average North American home consumes about 10,000 kWh/year. 9% of that is 900 kWh/year which equates to 628 kg CO2/year. If you could reduce the total time that lights are turned on in your house by a quarter that would save 157kg CO2/year, or by half would be 315kg. That is a good amount of CO2 for very little effort.

Most electronics in your home consume electricity even when turned "off." It's estimated that up to 75% of the energy used by these appliances is consumed while they are turned off. The best advice here is to unplug them or turn off the power-strip when the items are not in use. Televisions, VCRs, DVD players, and kitchen appliances like microwaves and coffee makers, all draw energy when not being used. Why are we paying for all this electricity?

Computers that are left on all the time use up quite a bit of energy as well. Putting them into sleep mode (automatically, from the power savings settings) uses as low as 1% of the energy as when turned on.

Challenge: Keep all unused lights off at home for one week

Challenge: Turn off unused work computers at night

#5. Install a programmable thermostat

Heating and cooling are the cause of up to half the energy use at home, so any efficiency gained will be a large impact. One of the largest inefficiencies here is managing temperatures. Ideally, temperatures should be adjusted (down for winter, up for summer) when no one will notice. For example, in a typical home where everyone is out during the day (work, school) and sleeps for 8 hours at night, the only time the temperature needs to be set for optimal comfort is the time between coming home and going to sleep.

If the temperature during "off hours" is adjusted by just 2 degrees you could save up to 800kg CO2 per year. This one is a no-brainer especially since programmable thermostats are very cheap ($30-$100), will easily pay for themselves in the first year of use, and take no effort once installed. It will even save you effort if you used to try to remember to manually adjust the temperature.

Details on programmable thermostats.

#4. Eat less meat

Somewhat surprisingly, some recent studies have suggested that if the average meat-eater were to become vegetarian they would reduce more CO2 per year than if they traded in their average vehicle for a hybrid. There is still much debate about how much full lifecycle impact meat causes, but at this point it seems fair to say it's significant.

This isn't to say that everyone should become vegetarian. The typical person of developed countries consumes 224 grams of meat per day, probably higher in North America. By comparison the average person in Africa consumes 31 grams per day. Studies estimate that if the global average was 90 grams per day the impact of livestock production would not be accelerating climate change.

Most people in western countries eat meat at both lunch and dinner. If we only ate meat for one of those meals per day we could be more than half-way to a sustainable level of consumption.

Articles on this subject: Hard to swallow and Eat less meat, reduce global heat, says study

Personally, I try to keep myself to just a few servings of meat per week. I'm less restrictive when I can find local hormone-free meat.

#3. Try alternate forms of transportation

A significant portion of why developed countries, especially North America, consume so much energy is our addiction to personal vehicles. Think about the way we tend to live, all spread out in the suburbs of major cities. Then each morning we climb into our vehicle (one person per vehicle) and drive an average of 20-30 minutes back into the city to work. We sit there, stopped in traffic, with the millions of other people doing the same thing, and for some reason we think we like doing it.

More attention has been paid lately to the fact that this lifestyle is not at all sustainable. There are a few ways we can help improve on this:

  • Try taking public transportation, it's often a lot more convenient than we think. For example, try taking the subway downtown for dinner rather than driving and save the headaches of traffic and parking. This isn't possible in all places but look for ways it might help.
  • Carpooling reduces a lot of CO2 emissions and it's very easy with a little forethought. Carpool when going out for dinner with friends. If you live near someone from work, and are unsure if daily carpooling will work for you, suggest trying it one day a week that you know your schedules will be similar. If it works well increase it. Think of the massive amount of CO2 this will reduce.
  • If you live close enough to work try walking or biking a few days a week. It has worked very well for me to bike for 30 minutes to work. Not only do I get regular exercise but it's a great stress-reliever on the way home.
  • Walk or bike to the grocery store sometimes.
  • Look for alternatives to flying. The fuel consumption per passenger by airplanes is much higher than all other forms of transportation, more than double that of trains and cars. Trains in Europe are great and typically much easier than flying. Trains are not as feasible in North America (when speed is important) for cross-continent trips, but are great within the same geographic region.

Calculate how much you could save using sustainable forms of transportation.

#2. Consider sustainability with every new purchase

Sustainability will impact all aspects of our lives as awareness increases and as the bad effects of our current lifestyles become more obvious. Here are a few items to think about that don't require any sacrifice but can have a large impact:

  • Look for products with a minimal amount of packaging.
  • When considering moving look at what is within walking distance. If you see 2 homes that are otherwise relatively equal, try picking the one that has more close-by.
  • Paying slightly more for a very efficient appliance now will likely save you money in the long-term.
  • If you have a choice of 2 products (most obvious for fresh fruits and vegetables) where one is local and the other isn't, choose the local one.
  • Look for the most fuel-efficient vehicle within the class you want. Any extra cost would likely be paid back within a few years due to gas savings, but calculate the difference to be sure.
  • Bottled water really is very unsustainable, a huge waste of energy, and possibly the most brilliant marketing scam ever. When else would you ever consider paying a lot of money for something you can get for free at home already? Consider using a filter at home instead.

#1. Tell your friends

Don't hide the fact that you are making changes in your life to be more sustainable. I'm not saying to annoy your friends by telling them everything you do, but do talk about it with pride. Think of this as a good kind of pyramid scheme. If 5 of your friends decide to install a few CF bulbs because of you, and 5 of each of their friends, etc, just think how much CO2 that will reduce.

Small suggestions such as offering to carpool when going out with friends can also ensure more people think about it in the future.