5 ways to live more sustainably

Invasive species removal in Shakespear Regional Park outside of Aukland, NZ

Invasive species removal in Shakespear Regional Park outside of Aukland, NZ

Happy Earth Day everyone! Today, I wanted to share with you a few easy tips to live more environmentally friendly and sustainably. Sometimes it seems like environmental issues are so large and overwhelming, it feels like there is almost nothing we can do about it. But even by making small changes in your daily habits and behaviors as well as encouraging others to do so within your sphere of influence, you can make a difference. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead

First, let's think about sustainability. This is a term that's been thrown around a lot lately, but what does it even mean? It might mean something a little different to everyone. A basic definition of sustainability could be the ability to maintain an action or behavior at a certain level or the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources. But to me, and I think many others, it also means the avoidance of indirect negative impacts on the environment around you. 

Before we dive in, I just want to point out something that I've observed quite frequently. As of right now, it is popular to be (or at least look) "eco-friendly" and outdoorsy. But I just want to remind you that truly being environmentally friendly and living sustainably is not just a brand that you can buy or a look that you can obtain. It is, in essence, a lifestyle and a worldview, it is not a fashion trend. You don't have to shop at Whole Foods or wear the trendiest "earthy" clothing to fit into this category. I am not saying that there is anything intrinsically wrong with these things, but so often this mindset of striving for a certain look or "vibe" brings us back to consumerism, which I would argue is one of the main societal forces that living sustainably pushes against. I am by no means perfect, and in fact what I am sharing with you today are things I specifically want to work on implementing more consistently into my lifestyle. So this post is, in a way, an accountability strategy, but also as a resource for you all to implement similar changes in your own life.

Piping Plover monitoring in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore with my dad!

Piping Plover monitoring in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore with my dad!

So, here are 5 easy changes that you can make in your life that will leave you feeling more empowered. Living sustainably doesn't necessarily require you to go out and buy the latest and greatest expensive eco-friendly, organic, vegan, etc. etc. products on the market - it is all about being resourceful and conservative with what you do have!

1. Reduce your water usage

Take shorter showers, take less showers. American culture has it engrained in our heads that we need to shower everyday in order to have good hygiene, but let's be real. It's actually not good for your skin or hair to be washing it every single day. If you take a shower everyday, try taking a shower every 2 days. If you take long showers, try to keep your shower under 10 minutes by setting a timer.

2. Reduce your waste

Does anyone find it strange that we use disposable items such as plastic bags, saran wrap, paper towel, napkins that we have to buy over and over and over again? This is something fundamentally wrong with this "throw it away" mindset. Think of how much money we'd save if we stopped buying these things. A lot. Swap plastic baggies and saran wrap with reusable containers with lids or bee's wax wraps. Replace paper napkins with cloth napkins, paper towels with cloth towels. These changes are so easy to make. Another great way to reduce waste is composting. There are even ways you can compost if you live in an apartment or in an urban area. I am still doing research on this as I plan to begin composting on my own once I move out to Colorado (my family has been doing it ever since before I was born), so look for a blog post in the future on that.

3. Drive less

Look for ways you can reduce your fuel consumption. If you live in an area that's easily walkable/bike-able, opt for the latter over driving. Use public transportation that's available to you! If you live in a more rural area, then try to consolidate your trips to places like the grocery store, gas station, bank, etc. and carpool when you can

4. Eat less animal products

You might be rolling your eyes at me on this one. Sure Mel, that's easy for you to say, being a vegetarian and all. I understand that vegetarianism is not for everyone, but by simply consuming less meat, dairy products, & eggs, you're putting less money towards an industry that has far reaching negative environmental impacts.

5. Be a conscientious consumer

This one is probably the most difficult change to make. One, because so many of the items we can buy in our society are linked in some way to unsustainable and unethical practices it is hard to know where things come from, how and by who they were made. Second, this is where the biggest barrier comes in as far as cost. I am fully aware that buying things like organic produce, fair trade and ethical products cost more. For example, I recently watched a documentary on the fast fashion industry, which has turned clothing into something to be used up and disposed of after a short time and unethical treatment of garment factory workers is widespread. Even just educating yourself on these issues and how your money may be impacting the environment and others around you, you can make practical and informed decisions on what you buy and what you choose not to purchase. Striving to consume less overall is another strategy that gets at this same issue. Our consumer culture tells us we need the trendiest clothes and newest technology to be successful and happy in life. In the end, it only leaves us craving more, thus the cycle continues. For me personally, I have made the commitment to opt out of large fast fashion clothing companies that are known for their unjust treatment of workers and unsustainable practice. I have also challenged myself with the statement of less is more. On the agricultural side of things, try buying local and/or organic when you can. If you don't know where to start, here is a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that are known to have the highest amount of pesticide residue.

So there you have it- these are 5 things that I am currently working on to make my lifestyle more sustainable. I hope that you choose to join me in at least one of these behavior changes!

Kerrytown market