By 2050, it’s predicted that the world’s population will hit 10 billion. Naturally, with more people on Earth, the demand for resources increases dramatically – making sustainable living all the more important.
It’s not just a matter of putting paper in the recycling bin and using public transport; rather, it’s about making a greater number of small, creative changes to every aspect of your daily life that will help sustain the planet.
Living simply – just as your grandparents and great-grandparents did – is an effective way to start changing your consumer-driven lifestyle.
While discussions about global warming and climate change can, at times, feel overwhelming with many big decisions out of your power, you can control what happens in your day-to-day life, starting with sustainable living.
What is sustainable living?
According to the United Nations, sustainable living is "understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us and finding ways for everyone to live better and lighter".
But with so much noise out there, where should you start?
Known for filling a mason jar with eight years’ worth of her rubbish, Lauren Singer, the Founder and CEO of Package Free, was driven to lead a zero-waste lifestyle after learning that the average American creates almost two kilograms of rubbish every day, which ultimately ends up in landfill.
"Whenever people ask me the best ways to start living a sustainable lifestyle, I always encourage them to replace the items that they run out of and have to replenish/rebuy for more sustainable options," she shared on Instagram. "That way, you’re not buying anything that you don’t need or weren’t already using, you’re just making different choices that positively benefit the environment."
Essential guide to sustainable living
If you can’t re-use it, you should refuse it.
Before buying anything new, sustainable living experts suggest thinking about renting or borrowing instead, checking second-hand stores first, buying from a brand with a circular economy, or one that uses recycled materials, and supporting a local business.
Aim to use what you have by repurposing or upcycling, and avoid buying new things. You can start simply by recycling old jam jars, or you can get as creative as you like – paint old vases with a 50–50 mixture of bicarb soda and dark orange paint to make your own terracotta-style vessels.
Using what you already have is one of the most eco-friendly moves you can make.
Found across Europe, Asia, North America and even in cooler parts of Australia, horse chestnut trees can be used to launder clothes.
Often covering sidewalks and parks, you can forage for horse chestnuts quite easily, saving money on buying washing liquids, not to mention plastics bottles and potential chemicals.
High in saponin, a natural detergent that can lift grime from clothing, horse chestnuts can be made into a powder – either by breaking them in a towel or using a blender – then dehydrated by laying it flat on a tray in a warm place or in sunshine for about eight hours. To use nature’s washing powder, mix a quarter cup of the powder with two-thirds of a cup of hot water and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid before use.
Get money savvy
Many big banks use your money to fund ventures like fossil fuel projects. By making the switch to a financial firm like Aspiration, you can enjoy ‘clean money’ that is used to save the planet. The Certified B Corporation does this by committing to Earth-friendly investments including planting a tree every time you make a purchase.
Grow your own from scraps
One third of all food produced is lost or wasted, equating to about 1.3 billion tonnes globally each year, OzHarvest states.
Give your fresh produce a second life by growing your own vegetables from scraps. Using lettuce leaves, onion bulbs, spring onions or carrots, place the cuttings in a jar of water and wait until the roots develop before planting in soil.
There’s not much that’s more annoying than pointless emails spamming your inbox. It may seem harmless, but did you know it has a negative impact on the environment?
Sending one email without any attachments has a carbon footprint equivalent of four grams of CO2. And the emails you receive every day really add up. Science Focus claims that sending 65 emails equates to the same amount of energy needed to drive 1.6 kilometres – which is still less than snail mail.
To reduce unnecessary energy waste where possible, make sure you unsubscribe from the emails you never even open.
Don’t waste anything
Shockingly, if food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, following the US and China, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found in 2013.
Commit to reducing food waste in your kitchen by using everything in your fridge and pantry. Do you have old, stale bread lying around? Turn it into bread crumbs. Are your herbs starting to wilt in the fridge? Turn them into pesto. Are your tomatoes about to turn? Freeze them for later use in a pasta sauce.
Whether you’re eyeing off a holiday in Greece or perhaps you’re dreaming of exploring the charms of Vietnam, you can still be a sustainability-conscious traveller.
For every hotel room booked at EcoHotels, the owner plants a tree as well as removes plastic from the oceans. Founded in 2020 with 1,056 hotels from which to choose, EcoHotels has already planted 25,000 trees at Saltofte in Denmark.
"Let’s plant a forest," the site states.
Let your hair dry naturally
Not only is air drying great for your hair, it’s beneficial to the planet too. If you can’t commit to air drying your hair every time you wash, aiming for just once a week will make a difference.
Recycle old sheets
Cut up old sheets and use them as dust cloths, make-up removers, tissues, napkins – anything you can think of.
Fix, don’t throw
Pick up a needle and thread and try your hand at mending clothes instead of buying new – it’ll save you money too.
Much of the world has had a fair taste of working remotely these past 18 months and, if you can, try to continue the flexible work arrangement. By doing this, you will avoid using a car or public transport during your typical commute, therefore cutting down on greenhouse gases.
Re-use the skins
Almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally every year are wasted, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Cut down on fresh produce waste by using as much of every product as possible.
For instance, citrus peels can be infused with vinegar to make an all-purpose cleaner or you can dry them to later use as a fire starter. Banana peels can be used to polish plant leaves, shoes or even silver, or you can dry and crush them to use as a natural plant fertiliser. You can even transform your old apple cores into apple cider vinegar. All it takes are the apple cores, water, sugar, an empty jar, a dark cupboard and time.
Embrace the share economy
Whether it’s grabbing a ride with a friend or making use of the many share-car services available, or renting a library book instead of buying new ones, as long as you’re sharing in some capacity, it will be beneficial to sustainable living.
Burn calories not emissions
It’s an oldie, but a goodie: walk to where you need to be. If you live about four kilometres from work, you can probably walk and get your 10,000 steps in for the day. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey does it.
Don’t throw away plastic
Keeping what you have is sustainable living at its finest. Many zero-waste experts advise using plastic products as much as possible.
Taking up to 20 years to decompose, single-use plastic bags should be re-used as much as possible. You can wash, dry and re-use again and again.
Also try to buy products that have the least amount of plastic packaging, especially at fresh-produce markets.
Add a touch of colour to your outdoor area – even if it’s a small balcony – with fresh, bee-friendly flowers and help boost local bee populations.
Opt for variety
Eating the rainbow isn’t only beneficial to your health but also your sustainable living. The greater the variety, the more food farmers have to grow, which adds to agricultural diversity and further supports the ecosystem.
A no-brainer when it comes to being more eco-friendly, organic produce and products are naturally better for the planet. This is because it’s designed to respect nature and enhance the health of soil, water and air by avoiding harmful pesticides and artificial fertilisers.
The festive season always creates a surge in retail purchases. However, avoid gifting your loved ones with presents they may not use, which inevitably take a toll on the environment, and instead gift them with memories.
There are dozens of experience services across the globe, creating unique opportunities for even the toughest to buy for. Another option is a gift card where they can choose something they need, rather than have a present go to waste.
New bedtime routine
Turn everything off before you go to bed to avoid using ghost electricity. Start by switching off your modem, television, coffee maker, kettle and even your microwave to stop unnecessary power being wasted by devices when they’re not in use. It could also help lower that electricity bill too.
Be extra sun smart
We all understand the importance of wearing sunscreen, but it can have adverse effects on marine life. Instead, opt for a reef-safe sunscreen.
The phrase ‘reef friendly’ is not widely regulated, therefore you should check your sunscreen doesn’t contain any substances including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, parabens, homosalate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, triclosan, nanoparticles or any microplastics (such as exfoliating beads).
Swap tea bags
Ditch ordinary tea bags in favour of loose-leaf tea, which you can brew with a reusable tea bag.
Eat less meat
Not only does eating less meat improve your health and limit risks of disease, it also helps the environment. But you don’t have to adopt an entirely vegan diet. Simply start by incorporating one meat-free meal a week.
Choose B Corps
Meeting the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance, Certified B Corporations set the goal posts to work towards sustainable living.
The global movement encompasses 4,088 companies across 77 countries in 153 industries, all with one goal in common – to use business as a force for good.
To live your fullest eco-friendly lifestyle, opt for supporting Certified B Corps where possible.