The terms “environmentally conscious” and “environmentally friendly” have been popping up more and more. You might have seen them being used to describe a whole range of products from clothes to soaps to furniture, and there are even companies that have built their whole brands around the mission of being environmentally conscious.
But what does being environmentally conscious actually entail? Do you have to be vegan in order to be environmentally conscious? (We don’t think so.) Do you have to only buy second-hand stuff? (Nope, not either.)
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the concept of what being environmentally conscious means, and a few simple ways to start becoming more eco-conscious today. Now, some of the tips will give you actionable things you can do, but they’ll mostly focus on how to become more aware of the environment in your day-to-day decisions.
|💡 Pro-tip: If you want actual sustainability tips, you can find those here.)|
Okay. Let’s dive into how we can become more environmentally conscious.
What does it mean to be “environmentally conscious?”
To be environmentally conscious means, in a general sense, to be aware of how your actions impact the world around you—specifically, the natural world, although some might argue that the social world also makes up your “environment.” These actions can include your daily habits (how can you get closer to a zero waste lifestyle?), your purchasing decisions (do you buy from local businesses or megacorporations?), and organizations that you support.
(Merriam Webster defines “eco-conscious” simply as showing concern for the environment, which is fine as a basic definition, but in our opinion misses out on some of the nuances of the term—is “environment” just the natural environment and landscape, or does it include your community and other people as well?)
There are many different terms when it comes to describing someone who, in a general sense, cares about the impact they have on the environment. You’ve probably heard of “sustainable,” “green,” “environmentally friendly,” and “environmentally conscious,” among others.
Because there isn’t a clear system that defines what these terms mean yet, our best tip is to just look into how a product was made before you buy it and judge it by that information—instead of taking the company at its word and trusting the label.
How to become more environmentally conscious: 2 ways to break it down
If the idea of just building sustainable habits into your daily routine seems vague or overwhelming, we’ve found it helpful to think of this whole “environmental consciousness” thing in two parts:
- Being more eco-conscious about what you take in (or buy—basically what you bring into your home)
- Being more aware of what you put out (could be the garbage you throw out, the fumes your car emits—basically anything you put out into the environment)
How to become more environmentally conscious in terms of what you take in
1. Trim the excess.
Excess is something in our lives today that many of us have grown used to (giant bulk packs of soda, anyone?)—and excess tends to lead to a ton of waste. To become more eco-conscious, we have to understand, or at the very least consider, the impact that excess has on our carbon footprints and the environment.
After all, what we take in has a direct impact on what we put out.
Those little conveniences like taking plastic bags at the grocery store, using environmentally laundry detergent, and buying bottled water add up quickly over time. Being aware of these little things can then help us find ways around them. Ultimately, this will help us create less waste and become more environmentally conscious.
2. Buy used / upcycled / recycled instead of buying new.
And besides, some items, like furniture, are arguably even better if you can buy vintage.
We’ve reused our empty gin and liquor bottles to propagate plants, and saved old furniture that would’ve been thrown out—they make for great shelves!
And this doesn’t mean you always have to buy second-hand either. Buying goods that are made from recycled materials is also one way to be more environmentally conscious. For example, Adidas has caught on with Parley, their lines of shoes and products that are made from plastic ocean waste. They’re even creating a shoe that’s “made to be remade,” meaning once it’s reached the end of its useful life for its owner, it can be broken down to create a new pair of shoes.
There are even bags and backpacks that are made from materials that are made from recycled plastic from our oceans. Like this one—each bag pulls over five pounds of waste from the ocean. (Think it looks cool? It’s part of our curated list of eco-friendly gifts.)
3. Do an appliance audit at home.
This one is a win-win. Because if you find that you could be using more efficient appliances, then not only is that good for the environment, it’s good for your wallet too. Most appliances should come with a sticker that tells you how many kWh (kilowatt hours) of energy they consume, but if your appliances are older or don’t have that, then you could use an electricity usage monitor.
You can find them at home hardware stores, and they’ll be able to give you a reading of how much electricity your appliance uses.
|🔌 Pro-tip: Some appliances are constantly using electricity, even if you’re not using them. (For example, the lights or clock on kitchen appliances like your electric kettle or toaster oven use electricity too!)|
4. Find ways to incorporate renewable energy.
There. Are. Soooo many ways to use renewable sources of energy, like wind, hydro, and solar power.
Got a fuel or gas power generator that you use for emergency backups? There are more environmentally friendly solar versions—that are safer and don’t emit toxic fumes too:
Enjoy taking road trips or thinking about what living off-grid might be like? There are solar water heaters and portable solar panels that are a great source of clean, renewable power that you can take around with you.
5. Understand where your food comes from.
Beyond just saying “eating meat = bad,” let’s look at the nuances that have made eating meat bad.
Food systems and large scale farms that have cleared out huge parcels of land for grazing so that corporations can sell “free range” livestock? Yep, probably not environmentally friendly.
Tons of feed and grain that need to be grown in order to feed these animals? Not environmentally friendly.
Almost every way you look at it, from the amount of methane they produce to the amount of resources it takes to raise livestock, it’s hard to deny that eating a more plant-based diet is generally better for the environment than eating factory farmed animals.
There’s been no shortage of research on this, it’s all a quick Google search away, and we won’t argue with it.
But strictly from an environmental point of view, the vast majority of these issues have arisen from food systems and production that are focused on creating as much meat for consumption as possible, as quickly as possible.
We don’t have a bone to pick—no pun intended—with hunting for food. (Native people were hunting and fishing for sustenance and balancing out animal populations, not clear-cutting huge swathes of land to build huge farms, for instance. Of course, things changed when settlers came along.)
And hey, if you happen to have a backyard and want to raise a few chickens, we don’t think that’s a problem, especially in comparison to how the supermarket is probably getting you your supply of chicken and eggs.
We’re also sure that there are small-scale local farmers who have a few extra acres to raise some livestock, and they’re probably disposing of manure in an eco-conscious way and all that. If you want to support them, more power to you.
Again, if the goal here is to be more environmentally conscious, then the first step is to understand where your food is coming from, then use that knowledge to make the best choice for you and your family. Whether that’s cutting down on meat or eliminating meat from your diet altogether is up to you, but that’s the first step.
How to become more environmentally conscious in terms of what you put out
1. Instead of just putting out your garbage to be collected, try this experiment.
Leave your garbage outside or wherever you normally keep it and watch the pile for about two or three weeks to see just how much stuff you’re sending to the landfills.
One of the barriers to us being more eco-conscious is the fact that we simply can’t see how much waste we’re producing because it just gets conveniently whisked away every week by the garbage collector. We don’t have to look at it. This is one simple and relatively quick way to become more aware of the impact your waste is having on the environment.
Even if you do end up making too much food (because let’s face it, it’s impossible to predict precisely how much you’ll eat and cook exactly that much food), the waste doesn’t have to go to the landfill.
Sending your food scraps and yard trimmings to the landfill means that they don’t get composted! They just end up emitting methane into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming—so make sure you compost all of this organic goodness.
Some cities have compost collection services, but why not make your own compost? If you have houseplants, this is a perfect way to not only get rid of your leftovers, but also feed your plants with nutritious food… for free.
|🌱 Pro-tip: Yes, even if you live in an apartment, you can still compost! There are a ton of options, from tumblers (more on those here) to good ol’ compost bins.|
3. E-waste, or electronic waste, is huge. And this is something we can all do something about.
Think of all the people who are upgrading their phones every year or every other year. (This piece from Columbia University illustrates the impact of e-waste particularly well.) When you want a new phone, can you donate your old one or recycle it at the store where you bought it from? Better yet, can you buy your tech used instead? There are tons of great programs that guarantee the quality of the used tech they sell—and since people are upgrading so quickly anyway, there’s a lot of high-quality used tech out there.
4. Consider the modes of transportation you use.
For city-dwellers, we have so many ways of getting around. We can bike, take public transit like the subway and bus…
For people living in rural areas, this is admittedly harder, especially in countries that aren’t as advanced and have that infrastructure built out, like the United States and Canada. In these cases, a car is unfortunately pretty much a necessity if you live in the suburbs. But even so, there are ways of reducing emissions—for example, by carpooling, keeping your car well maintained, combining your errands into one trip, and by driving a hybrid or electric car.
How will you become more environmentally conscious?
When it comes to making environmentally friendly choices in our daily lives, we’re big advocates of awareness as the first step.
Awareness and curiosity are such important steps in the process, and that’s a big reason why we named this site “Tiny Foot Movement.” Change happens one step at a time, no matter how small.
You may not be able to cut out plastic 100% from your life or stop relying on your car right this instant. And to be honest, how could you? Our entire communities and societies are built around overconsumption, overproduction, and just excess in general. Just look at the amount of roads for cars that are built in American cities compared to, say, subway infrastructure and mass transit.
The tips in this article are just the first step to becoming more eco-conscious—and we hope you’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.