There are a lot of steps a person can take to lower his or her carbon footprint and help mitigate the effects of climate change. Many of these actions require minimal effort or cost and can actually save money and improve your health.
However, some of the steps that are listed below involve some level of self-sacrifice or monetary investment that may or may not be returned. While the White House may be implementing extremely negative environmental policies, individual citizens still control their own choices and can do an extraordinary amount of good in the world by altering their everyday routines.
If a person were to take any lessons away from this page in particular, it should be some combination of the following themes.
- Be mindful - of the resources that you use and how sustainable they are
- Be responsible - with how you dispose of your waste and recyclable materials
- Be conscious - of how your actions can affect our water sources
- Be interested - in matters that affect our environment and remain open to learning
- Be willing - to make sacrifices of your time, effort, and money for the good of the planet
It is important now more than ever to speak loudly and clearly with our words, actions, and our wallets that we must continue accelerating our collective pace toward a green economy. However, sometimes we all slip up or make less than optimal consumer choices in our pursuit of that goal. It is important to not be discouraged and remain mindful in our decision-making, while also providing accountability for each other. Feel free to use the list below as a reminder of how we all can live more sustainably.
- If you have some of your own that are not listed below, please feel free to share!
WASTE & POLLUTION
Bring reusable bags to the store
Similar to bottles, plastic (and paper) bags are a huge problem for our environment. Plastic bags provide a tiny convenience to a problem as simple as remembering to bring your own bags. Make a pledge to yourself to not buy groceries unless you bring your own bags and stick to it.
Waste less food
The United States wastes a ridiculous amount of food, with some estimates ranging as high as 40% of our food being thrown out every year. Commit to buying fewer perishable groceries at a time so that you can more easily keep track of what you have in stock. You'll also find more frequent trips to the store allow you to get fresher produce and saves you a lot of money. Better yet, sign up for Imperfect Produce & get $10 back for using this referral code. For purely aesthetic reasons, food that would have been destined for a landfill is diverted instead to customers at a discounted price.
Opt out of all "junk" mailings
Once you have taken these steps and added your name to the National "Do Not Mail" list to reduce the number of general mailing lists you or your address may be on, follow up with the companies in particular that are sending you junk mail. here is a template of communication on how to make sure they know you no longer wish to receive their solicitations.
Avoiding meal delivery kits
Meal delivery kit companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh provide a convenient way to let subscribers try new recipes without the hassle of shopping for all the necessary ingredients. Some even tout how all of their packaging is 100% recyclable. The loophole in this claim is that the ice packs are not included, and the frozen silica gel that keeps the food fresh in transit is terrible for the planet.
Donating leftovers to the needy
Restaurants in America often have huge portion sizes. Rather than throwing out what you don't finish at the table, have the server pack up everything left over and try to donate that food to a person who may be hungry and out on the street. Besides getting to feel good about helping your fellow man, you've also avoided wasting food and stopped it from ending up in a landfill.
Corporate Sustainability Initiatives
Find out if your company has an employee sustainability team, and if they don't, ask if you can start one. Ideas for initiatives are: bike to work week, programs to encourage bringing in your own utensils, recycling bin distribution, and installing filtered water fountains that eliminate the need for any water bottles in the break room.
Diapers are a necessary item for any parent, and most estimates have a newborn going through ~10 a day. They also happen to be one of the items that takes the longest to decompose if left in the ocean. Switching to cloth diapers lessens the environmental impact and will save you a bunch of money in the long run.
Using fewer napkins
This should be pretty self explanatory, but no one actually needs 40 napkins from the Chipotle self service station. If you do, then you're eating that burrito wrong. You're also probably wasting somewhere between $0.20 and $14 of guacamole. Don't compound that tragedy by also killing a whole bunch of trees.
Being smart with paper towels
Paper towels are very useful for many things, and sometimes we don't want to ruin a cloth rag with a stain or soak them with cleaning supplies. However, they are also one of the largest contributors to deforestation and global warming. Everyone can be smarter about the way in which they use paper towels, or you can even forego them altogether for a quick pat on the jeans and an air dry.
Rethinking your Toilet paper usage
This one might seem a little excessive, but then again so is pulling down more than three squares at a time. If you are being completely honest with yourself, you can probably get away with using a lot less than you currently are using. Going a step further, you could also invest in a bidet or even an attachment you can install on your current toilet.
Not smoking cigarettes
Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded pieces of waste worldwide. Besides the health impacts and money spent on this dangerous habit, the collective environmental cost of this type of litter around the world is staggering. They kill wildlife, their carcinogens leech into our water supplies, and discarded cigarettes cost our economy billions of dollars annually in forest fires. If you can't quit entirely, try going with an e-cig system or vaping instead.
Besides using organic materials that would otherwise be ending up in a landfill in a more eco-friendly way, composting actually can help keep your gardens, plants, or green spaces more biologically diverse and promote growth more naturally than using chemical fertilizers. In short, it takes waste out of landfills, enriches soil, and saves money on fertilizer. Win-Win-Win...
Picking up trash & recyclables
Taking the initiative and picking up loose trash you come across is a great way to beautify your neighborhood, keep public spaces clean & safe for all, and decrease the percentage of our waste that goes to landfills. It can be as simple as picking up a can while you're on a sidewalk or devoting your day to a beach clean-up. Every little bit helps, and it can also give you another reason to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.
Properly dispose of hazardous waste
It's not only important to be wary of the amount of waste we are generating, but also the type. Certain items are more harmful to the environment when not disposed of properly. Additionally, the growing problem of microplastics might end up being the most destructive ecological disaster we have ever put our ecosystem through when all is said and done.
Wash and sort Your recycling appropriately
Recycling programs vary by city, and therefore so does the amount of sorting and cleaning that a person has to do in order to make their recyclables fit for processing. If you don't wash and sort your recyclables into the appropriate recycling bin, they may just end up getting sorted into the trash at the city recycling facility.
To be safe, do a quick internet search into what your city's specific requirements are on washing and sorting recycling. When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to give it a quick rinse.
Choose donations instead of gifts
When participating in gift-giving occasions such as the holiday season, birthdays, or wedding registries, consider donating to charitable foundations in lieu of giving gifts. This is in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, but instead of one day a year, make it a lifestyle change that will leave you feeling emotionally fulfilled. Plus, you won't need to return that ill-fitting shirt you inexplicably get every December.
ETHICAL PET OWNERSHIP
know the environmental impact
Before you decide to get a pet, there are other equally important questions to think about besides - "Am I ready to be responsible for another life?" Also ask yourself if you are ok with the environmental impact that comes with owning that pet, and if you are prepared to take the necessary steps to minimize it. Our pets are not the ones burning fossil fuels or throwing plastic in our oceans, however owning pets does affect our environment.
Listen to bob Barker
There are so many homeless animals in this country, many of which have to be put down every year because of overcrowded shelters. Make sure to spay or neuter the animals you do have to help minimize strays and keep shelters more open to handle animals who have been the victims of natural disasters, unfit living conditions in their previous homes, etc. Don't make Bob angry...
Save a life
The most common way that dog and cat owners get their pets in the US is through breeders. Putting aside the argument over the healthiness of mutts vs. purebred animals, adoption should always be an option to strongly consider. If you absolutely have to own a husky to up your Instagram game, you might want to ask yourself whether you're getting a pet for the right reasons. A pet's love is unconditional, we should hold ourselves to the same standards.
Lastly, the costs of getting animals spayed or neutered, up to date on their shots/vaccinations, and even being microchipped are often included in the adoption fees.
EDUCATION & FINANCIALS
Calculate your carbon footprint
Knowing your carbon footprint may not have any direct environmental benefits on its own, however it may shock you to figure out just how much you are contributing to the atmosphere per year. The average American accounts for 16.40 metric tons of carbon per year, which is over 8 times what our global target needs to be to combat climate change effectively.
Keep up to date
There are plenty of books on various aspects of climate change that are extremely beneficial to developing a holistic understanding of the subject. Even if you don't have that kind of time to dedicate, there are also podcasts that you can listen to on your commute. Or how about some powerful Netflix documentaries for once you've re-watched Stranger Things for the 3rd time? However you want to do it, the point is to stay curious and never stop learning.
Divest your personal finances from fossil fuels
This could take up an entire page on its own, due to the complexity of the topic. In short, money talks. Removing your funds from banks that invest in the fossil fuel industry is one of the most impactful ways to make your voice heard. Hitting big oil and coal where it hurts, their wallets, will expedite that. Here are some banks that have better environmental records and offer great benefits to boot. If you would like, you can contact DG4C and we will send over additional literature to help you divest.
Support carbon taxes
Carbon pricing is what many economists think is the most realistic free-market strategy to incentivize consumers and companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Support quality journalism
In a political climate where the leader of the free world tweets about "fake news" every couple of hours, it may seem like there are no unbiased news sources left. A single paragraph will not be enough to change anyone's opinion, but some good advice would be to get your news from multiple outlets.
company donation match programs
See if your company offers an employee matching gift program. If so, it can be a great way to double the impact of your philanthropic and/or environmental monetary donations.
Showering makes up a large portion of your daily water use. You can do plenty of things to help mitigate that, such as; challenging yourself to finish before a song ends (not including Free Bird...), not shampooing your hair every day (it can strip the hair of needed natural oils), or even reducing the amount of times you shower a week.
There are also showerhead systems that can cut your water use up to 70%, while still giving you a great shower experience.
Eco-friendly laundry practices
2. Load machines to capacity
4. Clean lint traps before every load and your dryer exhaust 1-3 times per year
6. Do less laundry overall - Underwear, socks, and gym clothes might need a wash after every use, but jeans, outerwear shirts, towels, etc. can all go through multiple uses without needing a wash.
Coming in ahead of showers and washing machines, the toilet is the highest per capita water usage appliance for the average American family. There are not as many inventive ways to get around this as washing your clothing, but they do exist. You can also purchase energy efficient or low flow toilets, rethink your flush strategy (If it's yellow, let it mellow or taking some #1's outside - not recommended for city dwellers...), and fixing leaks so water is not constantly running.
ENERGY SAVING TIPS THAT SAVE YOU MONEY
Investing in a Smart thermostat
Systems like NEST allow you to dynamically control your home's temperature from anywhere and minimize the energy waste of heating or cooling your residence when you're not there. You can schedule programs to lower or raise the temp while you're home, or with the push of a button you can remotely adjust via a smartphone app.
Always Dressing for the weather
The savings from keeping your home/apartment/condo a little hotter in the summer and a little cooler in the winter can really add up.
Whenever possible, minimize AC use and supplement cooling needs by running fans instead. In the winter, dress in multiple layers to stay cozy even while you lower your heating costs.
Show your HVAC system some love
Making sure that your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units are performing optimally will reduce the amount of money you spend on home energy costs. Simple things like regularly changing air filters and cleaning out vents annually will reduce the strain, and therefore wasted energy to heat and cool your home.
get a home energy audit
An energy audit, preferably done by a licensed professional should be the first step you take in understanding your current residence's energy use, as well as identifying areas for improvement & energy savings. Often, you can qualify for free or rebated products, services, or installations just for getting the assessment done. However, always read the fine print and be wary of assessments that claim to be entirely free themselves.
Use smart power strips
The term "phantom load" refers to the energy that is being used by devices that are turned off, but still plugged into your home outlets. Using a smart power strip can help decrease the wasted electricity being used by your home devices when you don't have them turned on.
Alter your energy usage schedule
Signing up for programs like Peak Time Savings is a great way to take advantage of savings opportunities based on how and when you use high-energy appliances in your home. It is completely voluntary and will not interrupt your service. Basically, you just delay things like doing laundry, running the dishwasher, vacuum, and turning off any unnecessary lights during high demand hours and you can get credits on your energy bill.
Source your energy from renewables
Green energy prices continue to go down as new technology increases their efficiency, meanwhile tax credits also continue to help alleviate the start-up costs of installing a system on your property. Even if your dwelling is not solar viable, there are several ways that you can power your home through green energy. Examples include community solar programs like those offered by Elevate Energy, or RECs (Renewable Energy Certificate) programs such as Arcadia Power.
Upgrade your indoor lighting
CFL and LED light bulbs have been gaining market share as their incandescent counterparts become more and more obsolete by comparison with every passing year. Here is a handy guide to the differences & benefits between high-efficiency bulbs and how to optimally light your residence, as well as a calculator that will show you (roughly) just how much money you could save, based on the number of bulbs you are replacing.
go solar with your outdoor lighting
The benefits of using solar energy to light your outdoor spaces are numerous. After the initial cost of purchase, maintenance and energy supply costs are basically non-existent. This can be a substantial purchase, especially if you are planning on upgrading many light fixtures at a time. However, the sooner that you make the switch, the sooner you will see your energy bills go down.
Choosing the right methods for cooking your meals can help decrease your energy needs in the kitchen, and in turn lower your gas and electric bills.
optimize your fridge and freezer
Besides buying high-efficiency appliances, follow these tips to make sure you're saving as much as possible on your cold food storage.
Use smart landscaping strategies
Potentially put in a smart drip irrigation system, sow drought resistant plants, use non-potable water or water collected with rain barrels for garden irrigation, or even shrink the size of your lawn or remove it entirely.
AUTOMOBILES & TRANSPORTATION
upgrade to a hybrid or electric car
Any new automobile purchase you make should involve at least a consideration of buying a "greener" car. There are benefits of upgrading your vehicle for the sake of doing it, however this is a big purchasing decision that may be able to wait if you're taking care of the car you have (and it's not a hummer). Technology is getting better every year, so when you're ready to upgrade, go green to save green.
Go car free
Having a car might not even be necessary, especially if you live in a densely populated urban area. Car pooling, car sharing programs, public transportation, commuting with your bike or enrolling in bike share programs, mopeds, electric longboards, those weird single-wheel skateboards you may have seen zipping around the city, or whatever this is. All these options can be viable ways to get around without needing to own a car.
MAJOR LIFESTYLE DECISIONS
Eat less meat
You don't have to go vegetarian or vegan to cut down on your meat consumption. Within this decade, consumer spending on meat substitutes has surpassed $550 million annually. Putting aside the morality and health aspects, animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and represents a huge problem of energy inefficiency/loss of natural resources moving forward. If we do not collectively start making changes to our diets (ex: Meatless Mondays, committing to only eating meat once a day, or even a few times a week) climate change will accelerate.
Have fewer kids
As shown in the graphic at the top of this page, the single most impactful decision a person can make to curb his/her carbon footprint is to have fewer or no children. There are also hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system in the US at any given time, and those kids deserve to be in loving homes as well. Adoption services may be expensive and arduous processes, but so is pregnancy and childbirth.
Do your research to find out if you are buying products from responsibly sustainable companies. When possible and sensible, shop local to minimize the monetary and environmental cost of shipping materials for longer distances. And shopping at thrift/resale stores is a way to give a second life to items. A perfect example of this would be baby clothes, which you can probably get for free off other parents you know who are looking to clear out entire closets of stuff vs. spending hundreds of dollars on something that your child will wear 5 times before they grow out of it.