Like most people, we got into sustainable living like a bottle of gin. Slowly at first, and then we’re just looking for ways to get into it anywhere we can.
Just joking. Sort of.
But there are so many neat tips for living more sustainably that we’ve come across (and a few that we’re really excited to try), so we thought, why not compile a list—and keep updating it as we find out about more ideas?
Sustainable living isn’t always simple, of course. And it’s definitely not easy to change long-ingrained habits. Either way, hopefully this list of actionable tips will be a good rule of thumb if you’re ever unsure.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- What sustainable living is, exactly
- Why it’s so important
- 3 examples of sustainable living from around the world
- 53 simple, actionable tips for living more sustainably
According to the EPA, sustainability is a way of living that “creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
In other words, how can we live our lives in a way that leaves the world in as good a state as we found it—if not better—for those who will come into the world after us? (Stewardship!)
Well, we’ve only got one planet, for one. For those of us who have kids or plan to have kids, the motivation to leave behind a world that’s healthy and safe for them is probably near the top of the list.
Sounds lovely and all, but if we’re being honest, we’ve got our work cut out for us. The damage that we’ve done as a society is getting dire, and has led us to a state where…
- In 2018, the US generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste.
- That’s 4.9 pounds of garbage per person, per day.
- In 2019, approximately 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, was produced. This was an increase of 44.4 million metric tons—in only five years. (And only 17.4% of this e-waste was documented to be collected and properly recycled.)
|💻 Pro-tip: What is e-waste? Electronic waste includes used electronics that can be reused, refurbished, salvaged, or just disposed of. Your old phones, computers, tablets can all be considered e-waste once you’ve decided that they’re at the end of their useful life.|
Is it impossible to reverse our fates? Most scientists say yes, but we’re getting dangerously close to the point of no return. (Let’s face it, when the billionaires start talking seriously about moving to another planet…)
But not everyone is going to move to Mars. So, what can we do in order to help save the planet we have?
There are a ton of simple things we can do on a daily basis to be more eco-conscious and minimize our impact on the environment. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to find some interesting examples of ways we can live more sustainably:
- Denmark: About half of Denmark’s population are cycling or walking to work (which is probably great for reducing traffic jams too). Investing in these bike paths (which they call “cycle superhighways”) has really paid off, since it’s preventing about 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from going into the atmosphere, every year!
- Singapore: If you’ve never visited Singapore, you should (it’s at the top of our bucket list!)—from the food to the technology, it’s one of the most jaw-dropping places in Asia. Not only is Singapore home to over 50 international and solar companies, it’s also a leader in creative solutions—like a floating photovoltaic (PV) testbed, the largest in the world, on Tengah reservoir.
- South Korea, Mexico, Poland, and more: The Smog Free Tower is literally a giant smog vacuum cleaner that sucks in polluted air and cleans it through an ionization process before releasing it back into the atmosphere. Super rad, and these towers have been popping up around the world:
But what if you don’t have a big design firm (and millions of dollars) devoted to earth-shattering sustainable living ideas?
We’ve got just the thing. A hundred things, in fact.
As cliché as it might sound, the journey to sustainable living really does begin one small step at a time. (And if you’re really stuck, we’ve personally found it helpful to think of examples of sustainable living in the context of a lesson most of us learned in school.. the 3Rs!)
Sustainable practices at home
1. Reduce. Some of the tips below are variations on this one, but we thought we’d start with a lesson that most of us (in North America) learned in school: the 3 Rs! Reducing the amount we buy and use is the first baby step toward minimalism, so it’s first on this list!
2. Reuse. Often, there are multiple ways we can use things around the home. Cats aren’t the only ones who can have nine lives. 🐱
3. Recycle. We’re a bit torn on this, and we’ll elaborate on this more below, but recycling is a for-profit enterprise. And not everything gets recycled just because you toss it in a recycling bin! We. Were. Shook.
4. We reuse liquor bottles as plant propagators. Gin and whisky bottles are particularly beautiful, but there are so many amazing types of bottles:
5. Buy vintage furniture instead of new! They have way more character anyway.
6. Use solar power! It’s a great renewable energy source that literally pays for itself over time, and even if you don’t have the budget to go completely off the grid or put a full solar panel system on your roof yet, there are still alternatives! There are tons of neat innovations like solar backpacks, solar water heaters, and Grouphug’s solar panel, for example, which acts as a beautiful home decor piece:
7. Dry your clothes on a rack instead of using your drying machine. It may not always be possible, like when you have to dry something huge like a duvet, but try to air-dry when you can. It’s also good for humidifying your home! (We live somewhere that’s very dry, so this is great for us!)
8. Look for toothpaste that doesn’t come in a plastic tube!
9. Bar single use plastics from entering your home.
10. Use solid soaps and hair products (shampoo and conditioner) instead of bottled products.
|♻️ Did you know? Plastic can be recycled, but every time it’s recycled it’s downgraded and it loses quality. It’s better than just throwing stuff out, but not as good as recycling glass.|
11. Use loose tea leaves and a strainer instead of buying tea bags in boxes. (We know, we know, tea bags are compostable, which is great! It’s the excessive packaging we’re not fans of…)
12. Use reusable or compostable sponges in your kitchen and bathroom! Our favorite? Swedish dishcloths.
13. Oh yeah… compost! Depending on how much space you have, you can just have a regular compost bin, or go for something bigger (or even get into vermicomposting / aka having worm farm). And yes… you can definitely still compost in a small space.
14. Use a coffee sock or metal strainer instead of one-time-use filters.
15. Wear socks and dress warmly before turning up the heat.
16. If you simply must use devices that take batteries, use rechargeable batteries.
17. Thrift and repair clothes instead of throwing them away and buying into fast fashion culture.
18. Learn how to sew! This is a seriously useful skill that will let you repair and upcycle to your heart’s content.
19. Using dryer balls (reusable!) instead of dryer sheets (not reusable, boo). We love these hedgehogs:
20. Speaking of laundry, use a more environmentally friendly laundry detergent. Learn more about them here.
21. Eat less meat. This is a very tough one for us as we were brought up eating meat (and enjoy eating meat), but it’s undeniable that it takes a lot of water and resources to raise livestock. We’re definitely not perfect, but we’re trying to eat less meat!
22. Use a single-blade safety razor and replace the blade as needed instead of disposable razors. The price to replace the blades is less than buying new razors, and the blades are recyclable!
23. Use a bamboo toothbrush (bamboo is a renewable resource) instead of a plastic toothbrush.
24. Save gift bags and wrapping paper from gifts that you receive to wrap presents that you give away in the future! (Learn more about the best eco-friendly gifts!)
25. Unsubscribe from paper bank statements. Who needs ’em…
26. Save envelopes from your mail and other junk mail (from all those local real estate agents) and use that paper as scrap note paper!
27. If you have the space in your home or apartment building, put out a rainwater barrel to collect water! This is great for watering your plants with, and is better for them than tap water!
28. Try to minimize your e-waste! Electronics and tech are a huge source of waste today, especially with so many people rushing to upgrade their iPhones and computers every other year. And because of this, you’ll actually find tons of options for second hand phones that are in great condition—especially in most big cities!
29. Take shorter showers (and avoid baths when you can)—we’re guilty of this, especially during the cold winter months, and have taken to timing our showers to make sure we’re in and out in a timely manner.
30. Recycled toilet paper. Yup, it exists.
31. Use beeswax food wraps instead of cling wrap.
|♻️ Pro-tip: Looking for more ideas for eco-friendly things you can do around the home?|
Sustainable consumption tips
32. Ask “Do I really need to buy this new?” (Often, you don’t!)
33. If you absolutely have to buy something new,, look for a sustainable option or maybe something that’s made of recycled material.
34. Another question to ask when shopping: “Can you support local businesses?” Typically, they source their products locally and they themselves tend to be more sustainable than large corporations.
35. Bring a tote bag instead of using the store’s plastic bags.
36. Actually, just always have a reusable bag with you.
37. Bring your own mug to get coffee or tea instead of grabbing single-use cups. Many coffee shops give you a small discount on your coffee for doing this, which means the mug literally pays for itself!
38. When you’re buying groceries, bring reusable produce bags for veggies and fruits instead of grabbing the thin little plastic bags at the grocery store.
39. Use reusable water bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles.
40. Bring metal straws with you! We have a metal bubble tea straw that we love.
41. Say no to cutlery when you get takeout! You have forks and knives at home anyway…
42. Spend your money at stores that you know are eco-friendly. Choosing where you put your money supports businesses that are doing good—and is a signal to big businesses that can make a huge difference that sustainability really does matter.
43. Maximize natural light in your home instead of always relying on those lightbulbs.
44. Speaking of lightbulbs… one easy thing you can do today is switch all your lightbulbs to LEDs. They’ll last longer. Wayyyy longer.
45. Instead of chemical cleaners, we’ve been using more homemade mixtures lately. Specifically, baking soda, vinegar, and water—this cleans most of our messes perfectly well.
46. Unplug your appliances at night. Here are some appliances that still use energy even when they’re “off.”
47. Say no to “Do you want the receipt printed?”
48. Buy snacks and trail mix in bulk.
Sustainable living on the road
49. If you don’t need a car, don’t own one! Biking is good for not only the environment, but your body too. 🙂
50. Okay, if you must have a car, look into a hybrid or better yet, an electric!
51. And on that note… try to consolidate your errands trips. This way, you don’t have to come and go so much. (Saves you time and fuel. 😉 )
52. For long-distance travel, try to take trains instead of airplanes where you can. Apparently, one flight emits as much carbon dioxide as you do in an entire year. That being said, sometimes taking the plane is unavoidable—but avoid it when you can.
53. If you’re going camping or have a cottage that you visit on the weekends, try to use renewable energy. For example, instead of fuel / gas generators, use portable solar panels and/or a solar generator instead. (Learn more about the best ones.)
Is sustainable living possible?
You don’t have to be a minimalist to have sustainable practices! Everyone’s sustainable living journey is different, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Everyone has an opinion on what’s best for the environment, and everyone takes a different amount of time to adjust. We can’t all just go zero waste in a day, and for us, mindful consumption and reduction is a good place to start.
Ambitious is good. Challenging is good. That’s how we keep pushing forward!