Top 10 Easy Ideas For A Sustainable 2012

by NeilT, 2012-02-28

Just in time for spring to arrive, here is a list of the top 10 easiest, and impactful, ways to become more sustainable for 2012. A nice benefit of striving for sustainability is that it will also often save you money as well as improve quality of life. Walking or biking to a store, instead of driving, is a great example that will save gas money and give exercise, which is incidentally a mood enhancer.

#10. Eat less meat

I know this is hard to hear for us meat-lovers, but it's true. The average amount of meat consumed by a person in North America directly causes over 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The good news is that the footprint of meat is so high that just reducing (not eliminating) meat consumption has a huge impact; this isn't about becoming a vegetarian. It's customary in most western cultures to eat meat at almost every meal of the day. Even worse, in North America the proportion of meat compared to other foods in a meal is high.

Read more in our article Meat and Sustainability: The Facts

Calculate how much of an impact reducing meat consumption can have.

#9. Consume less

Everything we consume has an impact, in terms of resources consumed during manufacture and transport. Our modern society is mostly wealthy enough that many of our purchases are driven by want, rather than need. Not only has this put us into a great deal of debt, but there's an associated impact on our environment.

Here are some thoughts for helping reduce consumption: 7 Effective Ways to Consume Less and Live a Minimalist Lifestyle.

One way to pledge to consume less is to Borrow something instead of buying it.

#8. Dress for the season

Heating and cooling our homes account for almost half of our individual energy and emissions footprint. Setting the temperature 2 degrees lower in the winter, and 2 degrees higher in the summer, compared to last year, would reduce your annual CO2 emissions by 2,000 pounds (1,000 kg). The way to achieve this is by dressing accordingly when indoors: don't lounge in just shorts in the winter and have to heat the entire house to keep warm.

Calculate how much of an impact adjusting your thermostat can have.

#7. Give your old stuff away

Much of what ends up in our landfills still has value, either in recycling the raw materials or when the item can still be used. A great option here is to give your old, but still usable, items to an organization like Goodwill. Another option is to use a service like Freecycle (or a general-purpose classified-ad type of site like Kijiji or Craigslist).

Perhaps the easiest option is to ask any of your friends or family who you think might want something you're getting rid of. This works especially well when clearing out clothes and toys as kids outgrow them.

#6. Drive less

Transportation accounts for approximately 33% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. A large percentage of that is from passenger vehicles. Just imagine, for a second, if everyone could find a way to use their car half as much as they do today. They could carpool to work, walk or bike to closer destinations, take public transit when possible, etc. That kind of change doesn't sound too difficult to achieve, yet all together it could single-handedly reduce CO2 emissions by perhaps 15%. That's enormous.

One way to pledge to drive less is to Walk or Ride a Bike To The Store. You can also calculate how much of an impact would be achieved by Biking or Walking to Work or Taking the Bus or Train to Work.

#5. Reward sustainable companies with your business

One of the larger forms of influence available to a consumer is to vote with their wallet. If you think a company isn't acting sustainably, seek out products from a competitor who better represents your values. As an example, if you think one company uses wasteful packaging, look for an alternative.

At a higher level, there are various ranking systems for how sustainable companies are overall, which can be another way to help choose. One example is the Newsweek Green Rankings.

Personally, when I hear of a company that invests heavily in sustainability, I tend to go out of my way to choose their products. Maybe they're only doing it for marketing, but if it's having the desired effect, I think it's a win-win.

#4. Resist disposable products

Disposable products are everywhere these days: razors, coffee packaged in single-use containers, single-use cleaning products, etc. Over many years these products will consume significantly more resources than their reusable alternatives.

#3. Opt for green power

An option to use green power is available almost everywhere now. Opting for green power typically means you pay a small premium for your electricity but it helps subsidize green energy installations like wind and solar. The reason the small subsidy helps is by making these installations cost-competitive, meaning more green power will be built, which will eventually lower the costs of production thanks to larger scale and remove the need for the subsidy. It's helping get the industry growing faster than it would naturally, and it's worked very well in some countries.

Calculate how much impact switching to a clean energy provider can give.

#2. Fly less

Creating YouSustain's new tool How Much CO2 Is That? was an eye-opening experience. One of the bigger realizations for me was that a single trans-atlantic flight in a 747 can emit 220 tons of CO2! To put that in perspective, to some extent, a typical car could be driven for almost a year non-stop to emit the same amount of CO2. The average house's energy needs could be met for almost 17 years.

Check out what 220 tons of CO2 really looks like.

This isn't to say we shouldn't fly; flying across the US is more fuel efficient than driving a car by yourself. It's that we can try to reduce its use in certain cases when taking a train or bus is a reasonable option. The extra time investment involved in getting to an airport, going through security, boarding time, etc, can often make the total travel time greater than a train.

#1. Purchase local products

This item is controvertial because it's not necessarily always better to use local products. As one example, consider the emissions from transportation if 1000 people each drive their car 15 minutes out of town to purchase apples from a farm. Compare this to the emissions of a truck bringing apples, even from much farther away, to a grocery store and 1000 people driving 2 minutes. It's a contrived, and probably uncommon, example, but worthy of thought. Plus, there's the argument that letting each area produce what it's best and most efficient at, and distributing, may be more efficient.

One way to pledge to use local products is to Eat locally grown food.

This list is just a small sample. Research many more ways to become more sustainable with our Action Recommendations or from user-created Sustainability Challenges.