10 ways to be more sustainable every day
With each passing year, the warnings about climate change grow louder and more urgent. The International Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, released in March 2023, showed that we’re moving far too rapidly toward the ideal warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Anything past that point—which looks increasingly likely—will drastically affect human life across the globe.
In light of such stark warnings, many people are looking for ways to do their part in curbing climate change. If enough people make lifestyle changes, it can help move the needle—and force governments and corporations to act more quickly and aggressively.
If you’re eager to take a few more steps toward sustainability, here are 10 things you can start doing now.
1. Buy less
Although many companies now give more attention to sustainable production practices, the fact remains that consumerism is a major driver of climate change. In fact, 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and usage of household goods. If you want to make a positive impact on the environment, start by reducing how much you buy.
One of the best sustainable habits you can develop is to pause before any new purchase. Ask yourself a few key questions: Do I really need this? Can I find it at a thrift store? Can I repurpose or upcycle something I have?
Ultimately, if you do find you need to buy a new item, look for brands offering more sustainable options. In doing so, it’s important to learn how to evaluate corporate claims of sustainable production practices. Don’t just take their word for it—look for third-party certifications like Green Seal or Energy Star, along with detailed descriptions of the company’s sustainability initiatives.
2. Change how you eat
Consumption, of course, isn’t just about the products we buy and use—it’s also about what we eat. Our choices can have a significant environmental impact.
Eating locally can help reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down on the transportation required to deliver your food. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is even better but both are limited in their scale and potential impact compared to other food items.
Emissions from beef production account for roughly 7% of greenhouse gas emissions and because of the size of the meat and livestock industry, it’s difficult to assess the scale of its climate impact. Demand for meats continues to grow, and this leads to more deforestation as producers expand pasturelands for livestock, ultimately releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. Some estimates expect land for meat production to expand by 400 million hectares from 2010 to 2050, making it more difficult to offset carbon emissions.
3. Go paperless
This may seem like a given in the digital era, but it’s still worth mentioning as it takes some effort to move toward a truly paper-free (or close to it) existence. Paper production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the U.S. is still one of the biggest paper-producing nations in the world, second only to China.
You may not use print newspapers anymore, and you might use your Kindle for all your reading. But where else do you still rely on paper products daily? Have you opted into all digital statements and mailings from your banks, credit cards and any bills you receive?
4. Use fewer single use plastics
Not only is plastic a major source of waste and a hazard to marine life, but it’s also a significant contributor to climate change. The production of plastic is a major source of greenhouse gases. Plus, some of the most commonly used plastics release ethylene and methane as they decompose, and these two gases trap heat in the atmosphere 25 times more readily than carbon dioxide does.
Unfortunately, much of our modern lifestyle relies on cheap, single-use plastics such as grocery bags, soda bottles and packaging. Even when we attempt to recycle these, most of them end up in landfills.
The best way to reduce production and waste from plastic is to use less of it. Using reusable grocery bags and water bottles is one important way to remove plastic from your daily lifestyle. You can also look for alternatives to paper straws and try to limit the amount of packaging on materials you buy online or from the store.
5. Recycle smartly
Recycling has been around a long time, so it’s by no means a new sustainability tactic. Much of what we throw in recycling bins doesn’t actually end up getting recycled, and that’s largely due to lack of consumer awareness.
It may feel good to toss everything you can into the recycling bin, but this ultimately makes more work for those who have to sort out what’s actually recyclable from what belongs in the landfill. Here are a few essential tips to keep in mind before you toss something into the bin:
Don’t include any bags. These can ultimately harm wildlife and the environment.
Stay away from small items. Bottle caps, straws, plastic forks and similar items can jam recycling equipment. A good rule of thumb? Nothing smaller than a credit card.
Keep it clean and dry. Cardboard shouldn’t be soggy, and milk jugs shouldn’t still have milk in them.
Don’t try to recycle mixed materials. Bubble mailers, for instance, combine paper and plastic and can’t be easily separated.
Know your local policies. Just because a plastic says it’s recyclable doesn’t mean your collection company will recycle it. Before you toss something, know what’s accepted and what isn’t.
6. Opt for cleaner transportation
Plastic may be a major source of greenhouse gases, but nothing compares to transportation. Emissions from cars, planes, buses and other forms of transportation are still the leading producer of carbon dioxide in the U.S. To turn climate change around, we must change how we get around our cities. Of course, the best thing you can do is walk or bike as much as possible. Even moderate increases in the number of people cycling regularly could trim carbon dioxide emissions by six to 14 tons each year.
Still, biking and walking aren’t options for everyone all the time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make beneficial transportation choices. Is there a good public transportation option near you? Do you have friends or colleagues who can set up a carpooling group? Can your next car be electric or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV)? Now is a great time to make this move while public charging infrastructure grows with the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program and significant tax credits are still available. These programs, along with the built-in savings on fuel and maintenance that come with buying an EV or PHEV, are making electrification more affordable every year.
7. Use less energy for lighting
Lighting technology has made huge strides in the past decade. LED bulbs are now readily available and comparable to incandescent bulbs in terms of lighting quality. You can find them in virtually any style, and they use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lights. Switching to LED bulbs can dramatically reduce how much energy you use for lighting.
Even better than just switching, though, is using lights less often. The spread of smart home technology makes it even easier to ensure you don’t keep the lights on when you’re not around. With smart lighting and a smart hub such as Amazon Alexa or Apple HomePod, you can program the lights to go off on a schedule or whenever you leave.
8. Conserve water
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American household uses 82 gallons of water per day. At the same time, 40 out of 50 states expect to face some degree of water shortage this decade. This makes water conservation one of the most important sustainability goals in the U.S. today.
Conserving water comes down to embracing a variety of small daily habits—and installing some basic upgrades in your home. For example:
Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, lather your hands or scrub the dishes
Set a shower timer and avoid baths as much as possible
Only run the dishwasher when it’s completely full
Repair leaks immediately
Install low-flow aerators on sinks and low-flow showerheads in all tubs
Purchase a high efficiency washing machine
Use soaker hoses or similar drip irrigation systems rather than sprinklers
9. Make your home more energy efficient
Your home is a constant source of energy consumption, but there are many simple ways to cut down on usage. In some areas, it simply comes down to ensuring that key appliances and home fixtures are set up to run their best. That means resealing around any leaky ductwork, windows and doors and getting your HVAC serviced regularly, for instance.
To take it a step further, focus on reducing energy demand from some of the biggest power-guzzling appliances in your home. Use ceiling fans before you turn to the air conditioner, for example. Install a smart thermostat to automate more efficient usage habits. If possible, upgrade appliances to more energy-efficient models.
There are other small ways to make an impact on your home’s energy usage. We already discussed lighting changes above, but did you know that anything that’s plugged in still draws energy even when you’re not using it? Unplug kitchen appliances, phone chargers, TVs and other items when not in use. Better yet, plug them into power bars that you can simply switch off at night or when you leave.
10. Get involved
As we mentioned earlier, the climate challenge is much bigger than any one person. Making your daily habits greener is a great way to be more sustainable, but if you want to have a bigger impact, it’s important to get involved in your workplace and community.
At work, consider how you might encourage broader adoption of some of these habits—a paperless and plastic-free office, or start a recycling program, for instance. In your community, you can get involved with local groups advocating for more sustainable policies. Nationally, you can exercise your rights as a citizen by campaigning and voting for candidates and policies that promote sustainable practices.
Make your lifestyle more sustainable
The climate crisis may seem daunting, but there is still much we can do right now to change course and avert the worst outcomes. Starting any of these habits today is a step in the right direction—and something you can build upon.
For our part, Enel X Way is investing heavily in making EV charging more accessible and reliable for anyone, regardless of where you are in the U.S. Our innovative portfolio of smart charging solutions works with EVs from any manufacturer, and we’re here to support individuals, families and businesses as they make the transition to more sustainable transportation.
Ready to make an investment in sustainability with your own electric vehicle and home charger?