Beginner’s Guide to Sustainability: What is it and Simple Ways to Start Living More Sustainably
Updated: May 8, 2020
In light of my blog being about inspiring others to live more sustainable lives, I thought that it might be a good idea to levelset on the basics first. Many of us are familiar with the term “sustainability” or being “sustainable,” but what exactly is sustainability?
There are many definitions of sustainability out there but the one that personally resonates with me is from the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development that defines sustainability as, “... meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Further, sustainability is made up of three pillars: Environmental Sustainability, Social Sustainability, and Economic Sustainability. It’s clearly easier to impact the first pillar—environmental sustainability—through one’s direct individual actions and can be perplexing to think about how each of us might also impact social and economic sustainability. To affect change around the latter two pillars, my focus and suggestion is that we support businesses that, in turn, have proven prioritization around both social and economic sustainability (more on this is in a later blog post!).
Simple Ways to Start Living More Sustainably
Are you still with me? Now that we have a better understanding of what sustainability means, here are 5 simple ways—ways I find are the most fundamental (i.e., easy habits to change)—to begin practicing environmental sustainability in your own life.
1. Reduce your plastic consumption: A great start is investing in a reusable water bottle and bringing reusable grocery bags to the grocery store. If you want to get real crazy, bring your own reusable produce bags and containers for the bulk bins! Note: During COVID, you may have to bag your groceries when using your own bags due to the grocer’s rules about touching customer personal items.
2. Switch out your toothbrush with a bamboo one: Think about it this way — one of the first things you do every morning is brush your teeth. Do you want the first thing you do every day to be adding to the plastic crisis? Hopefully your answer is no :) It’s time to break up with your beloved plastic toothbrush or your fancy electric toothbrush and switch to a bamboo one! Plastic toothbrushes...well, they’re plastic; need I say more? And electric toothbrushes use electricity and batteries that, when dumped in landfills, leak toxic battery acid into our waterways and oceans. Not cute! Bamboo, however, is one of the world’s fastest growing plants, making it more sustainable due to its abundance and antimicrobial, biodegradability properties. You can buy these on Amazon or in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
3. Wash your clothes in cold water: Hot water heating accounts for about 90% of the energy your washing machine uses to wash clothes — only 10% goes to electricity used by the washer motor itself (EPA). Now, I find this insane — 90%! Plus, washing your clothes in cold water is better for clothes and reduces your electric bill...so it’s kind of a no-brainer to start washing your clothes in cold water.
4. Unplug unused electronics and appliances: Take a moment to look around your home and notice how many electronic appliances surround you. Even if you turn “off” these appliances, they’re still plugged in, so they are sucking up energy even if they are not in use. This is called “vampire” or “phantom” power and the cumulative effect of leaving many devices plugged in at a time, 24/7, consumes a lot more power and is more costly than one may think. The Natural Resources Defense Council found in a 2015 study that vampire energy can cost an average of $165 per U.S. household a year! To save both energy and money, unplug appliances such as washers/dryers, desktop computers, video game systems, TVs, coffeemakers, toasters, blenders, lamps, fans, speakers, printers, blow dryers, etc. when not in use. You also can’t forget about laptop/tablet/phone chargers that use a plug-in transformer (the box on power cords), which still consumes energy when it’s plugged in. Trust me, the planet and your bank account will thank you later.
5. Go paperless: Opt to receive digital bills, letters and notices. Receive bank statements or electric/utility bills online instead and opt to get purchase receipts via text message or email. Additionally, opt for e-tickets for movies, concerts, sporting events, flights, etc. instead of printing.
These tips or switches are easy ways to start changing your everyday habits to live more sustainably. I hope this serves as either a refresher for those already practicing environmental sustainability or as a bit of inspiration for those just getting started. Either way, I hope you’ll pass it on!