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The Complete Guide to Sustainable Living in 2021
A whopping 77% of people are ditching Earth-damaging habits for a sustainable way of life that promotes a healthy, livable planet. If you’re on a tree-free toilet paper website, you must be one of those! And you probably want to be sustainable in other areas of your life— not just in the bathroom or kitchen.
The internet is full of articles promising 5,003 sustainability tips you can start doing today.
But those tips can be overwhelming. And eco-friendly living isn’t just about carrying a reusable water bottle. It’s a way of life. A style of living that ensures the preservation of resources for future generations. And it’s specific to you and your family.
You can find sustainable living tips anywhere, so today we’re going beyond reusable shopping bags. By using a framework, you’re making deep, lasting changes— imagine ditching plastic in the kitchen once and for all. Or drastically lowering your monthly energy bill. A framework gives you the tools to tackle sustainability in the home— no matter where you’re starting. Let’s dig deep into how to live sustainably.
How to Set Goals For a Sustainable Lifestyle
When people set out to make change in their lives, they’re usually derailed by one thing: trying to do everything at once. Being overwhelmed by goals or wanting to do things perfectly can lead to shutdown and inaction. This often happens when we focus too much on the end goal, and not on the steps we need to take to get to that goal. If your goal is to learn how to be more sustainable but you haven’t thought about the small daily steps you need to take, you might get overwhelmed.
Listen to what James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, has to say about goal-setting:
As Clear notes, you’re not just changing habits— you’re becoming a different person. So you may have a goal to start composting, but no idea of the steps needed to actually be a composter. Our framework will help give you the tools to do just that.
Here are some of the ways you can make progress with building your sustainable goals:
- Aim for progress— not perfection! As Clear notes in the video, if you take one small action every day, you could be 38% better in a year. Building small daily habits is key to lasting change.
- Set measurable, realistic goals. Think of your long term goal— maybe it’s “I want to have solar panels installed.” Then make short term goals that will move the needle toward that goal. That might be, “I need to get bids from 3 solar panel companies within the next 3 months.” Now you have a measurable goal!
- Engage friends and family in challenges. Involving others helps prevent overwhelm and is great for accountability.
Conduct a Home Sustainability Audit
Before you even think about making changes, you have to know where you are right now. A home audit gives you insight into how sustainable your lifestyle is, and where it could be improved.
Take time to do this— at least a month. You want to know on average what you’re throwing away, what you’re recycling, how energy-efficient your home is, etc. A month-long audit will give you a great baseline for you to create your goals.
The two main areas where you can make the most impact for the planet are household waste and energy use. Here’s how to audit them both.
How To Do a Trash Audit
The average American household throws 4.4 pounds of trash away every day. That’s over a ton per household per year.
A trash audit helps you understand exactly where the problem is in your own home. Takeout containers? Plastic shampoo bottles? Food waste?
Here’s how you do it:
- Choose what you’ll use to track your audit— a spreadsheet or notebook will work. Use different sections— landfill, recycling, food waste, and hazardous waste are the most common.
- Spend about a month tracking what goes into the different categories. Taking a good month ensures you don’t have to go digging through the trash to track every single item.
- Spend a minute or two each day checking garbage bins for their contents. This doesn’t have to take long at all!
- Write down what you see. You can count single items and add to count over the month.
- At the end of the month, review your spreadsheet. Which items stand out to you? Which area do you want to change first?
- Set a specific goal. Say you want to reduce plastic use in the kitchen. And in your audit you found that you throw away 2 dish soap bottles a month. Your goal would be to replace those with eco-friendly dish soap. Congrats! You just took the first step toward a plastic-free kitchen.
Keep chipping away at your goals. You can do trash audits about 4 times a year to measure your progress over a longer amount of time.
How To Do an Energy Audit
Did you know the average household emits 70% more carbon dioxide than a typical passenger car? Reducing energy waste is key to sustainability in the home and more mindful consumption of natural resources.
You have two options when doing an energy audit:
- Find out which companies offer this service in your area. Most contractors charge between $300-500 for an energy audit. You might be able to have a free one done by your local energy service provider.
- You can also do a simple audit using the Oregon Department of Energy’s home energy audit checklist.
Once you’ve identified areas to improve, use the framework from the trash audit above to set goals for reducing energy consumption in your home.
Home Sustainability Audits: Additional Thoughts
Since we’re all about providing you with a guide to make deep, lasting eco-friendly changes, you now have the tools to audit other areas of your household. Use the same framework to analyze your transportation habits, your water consumption habits— any area where you want to see change.
And once you’ve completed your audits is when the fun begins. Start making changes, one room or area at a time. Give yourself plenty of time— at least a month— to build those lasting habits. Check in with your goals along the way to make sure you’re staying on track.
Most of your changes will fall into three categories: make, buy, or DIY.
Sustainability In the Home: Make, Buy, or DIY?
After you conduct a home sustainability audit, it’s time to decide how you want to make changes. Are you crafty? Handy? Or do you prefer to outsource? The choice is up to you. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Make Eco-Friendly Household Products
This is where you can put those creative skills to use! Say you use disposable cotton rounds for your skincare routine. If you have basic sewing skills there are tons of tutorials on making reusable rounds from organic cotton or bamboo.
Tired of throwing away plastic hand soap bottles? Try making your own soap.
Concerned about the volatile organic compounds in traditional cleaning products? Make your own eco-friendly cleaning products using planet- and people-friendly ingredients.
Beware— once you get started with making your own household products, you might just get hooked! Imagine creating sustainable products for yourself and your family that doesn’t harm you or the environment!
Buy Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Products
As much fun as making soap and other household products is, what if you’re not crafty? Or just don’t have the time? The good news is you can buy a more sustainable version of just about anything!
Let’s take the same disposable cotton rounds example. If you’re not crafty or don’t have the time, you can buy reusable bamboo pads for makeup and skincare application.
As part of your framework for sustainable living, anytime you make a purchase, practice conscious consumerism. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I buying this product?
- Will I use this product often?
- What happens to the product at the end of its lifecycle?
- What kind of packaging does the product come in?
- Does the company address sustainability? Example: carbon offsetting, plastic-free packaging
Asking these questions leads to more thoughtful and satisfying purchases. Bonus points for holding companies accountable! If there’s a product you like, but the company doesn’t address sustainability, or the packaging is single-use plastic, write to them! Demand companies take accountability for what they’re producing.
DIY Those Eco-Friendly Home Upgrades
Doing small energy upgrades is a great way to be more sustainable in your home. You should have a good idea of where your home needs improvement, based on your energy audit. Taking our framework into account, start small with measurable goals. Maybe you want to reduce water use. You can start by installing a low-flow shower head and converting your toilet into a low-flow toilet.
Unless you’re super handy, you may need to call in the pros for bigger projects, like insulation and HVAC upgrades. Decide what works for your lifestyle, budget, and home.
An Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Framework: Final Thoughts
To sum up:
- Figure out how you’re living now, and what changes are most important to you. Audit your lifestyle, making sure to spend enough time on each area.
- Set realistic, measurable goals.
- Involve a friend as an accountability buddy.
- Aim for progress, not perfection. Small changes in habit add up to life-changing results.
- Decide if you want to make, buy, or DIY your way to a more sustainable lifestyle. For most of us, it’ll likely be a combination.
We hope you’ve found our guide on how to live sustainably helpful. Be sure to share it with your friends and family to increase your positive impact on the planet!