Jan 13, 2022
How to Start a Sustainable Lifestyle: 14 Simple Steps

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What is sustainable living?

With climate change forcing us to rethink how we use Earth's natural resources, more people are getting interested in environmental sustainability. Not only does sustainable living leave a better world for the future generations, but it lowering your environmental impacts can also have a direct benefit for you in lowering your energy costs and other bills.

Sustainable living means balancing your needs with those of the Earth. To achieve this "net zero living", it's necessary to reduce one's ecological footprint by lowering carbon emissions, switching to sustainable energy and rethinking the way one's personal resources are used. In short, using less and switching to better sources helps the Earth.

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Sustainable living vs zero-waste living

There are several ways to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle, some more involved than others. The Zero-Waste Movement is one of the radical options for consumers to reduce their environmental impact - aiming to achieve a lifestyle where personal trash output is eliminated entirely. It's often described with "the R-s": refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, repair and rot. Some models add regift, repurpose, recover or rethink to the list.

While the goal is admirable, not everyone is able or willing to reorganize their entire life around that concept. You can practice sustainable living without going that far, for example by adjusting your shopping habits. A great model to visualise consumer impact is The Buyerarchy of Needs by Canadian illustrator Sarah Lazarovic. She reimagines Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a neat guideline for how to decide whether you need to buy something.

The Buyerarchy of Needs by Sarah Lazarovic

How to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

Starting sustainable living practices and committing to them can feel like a daunting task. Don't pressure yourself to get everything perfect - every little bit helps and you can always add new steps over time. The main thing is to start now, even if it's just one small thing.

But what are sustainable use practices? There are a lot of things you can do, so we have compiled some handy tips. Some are easy to swap to immediately and some need more effort, but they all help you to transition to more sustainable living.

15 steps to a sustainable lifestyle

1) Reduce food waste

A shocking study revealed that Americans waste up to 40% of all food that is safe to eat. That puts completely unnecessary strain on natural resources that could otherwise be preserved. Everyone can do their part in reducing food waste and the easiest place to start is your own fridge.

Pre-plan your meals so you know exactly what to shop for. Make a shopping list to cut down on impulse purchases. Prioritise foods that have their eat by dates approaching. Only buy what you can reasonably consume.

2) Eat less meat

While we are already on the topic of food, going plant-based is an easy way to make a big impact. Animal products take more energy and water to produce, so they place a far heavier load on the planet for the same amount of nutrition. Even if you don't intend to go the entire way to both vegan diet and lifestyle, just cutting down your meat consumption is a big step towards achieving a more sustainable lifestyle.

Not only does animal farming cost more in land, water and other natural resources, but it also contributes to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions. The manure and gastroenteric releases  from livestock make up nearly a third of human-caused methane gas emissions. In short, cow farts help to heat up the Earth. The more you know.

3) Grow your own food

Depending on where you live and how much space you have, this step can land anywhere from getting a few plants in your apartment to having your very own mini farm. Good news is that many who try growing their own food end up liking it as a hobby, since gardening can be a very relaxing activity. Who knew sustainable living could be this tasty - there is nothing better than a meal from your own garden or windowsill pots.

You can start out with getting pots of pre-grown tomato and herb plants and later graduate to growing them yourself from seeds. Check out your local plant nursery and don't be afraid to ask the employees for information before you purchase something. There are plenty of beginner-friendly plants to help you get started!

Since sustainable living has been increasing in popularity, you might even be able to find a community garden near you. In addition to offering a space to grow your own food, community gardens are a center of community life and a growing source of information.

4) Conserve energy

Saving energy in your home can range from quick tips like reducing your energy use by turning off lights and appliances when you leave a room to swapping your home's heating system to geothermal heating and cooling.

A quick and easy fix you can get done today is to check what bulbs do your lamps use. Most bulbs can be swapped out for more energy efficient alternatives - LEDs need just a fraction of the energy that traditional lights use.

Air conditioning can make up a big chunk of a house's energy consumption, so keep an eye on your thermostat. You could keep it a bit lower in winter and wear a sweater or a hoodie on top of that T-shirt. And in summer, especially if you have to move between inside and outside, don't make the gap between room temperature and outside heat too big. Human body doesn't handle sudden temperature changes that well and you could end up making yourself ill, in addition to paying huge amounts to cool your home.

If you are ready for some bigger work, you can both benefit the environment and further reduce your own heating costs. For example, installing energy efficient windows (and no, we're not talking an operating system for your computer) ensures you don't lose heat in cold weather and don't let in as much heat during hot days. Not only does it reduce your energy use, but it creates a better environment for living.

5) Use renewable energy

Fossil fuels are a big contributor to climate change, so swapping to renewable energy is more environmentally friendly. Install solar panels to produce electricity yourself or find other ways to harness renewable energy, like solar water heating. You could also be eligible for government credit for this, so search online or contact appropriate government officials for more information.а

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You can also talk to your utilities provider if you want to increase your renewable electricity usage percent and reduce your carbon footprint. The more interest from users, the more motivated the providers get to swap over to greener energy sources. In turn, that leads to a more sustainable life for everyone.

6) Conserve water

Access to water varies by region, but clean water scarcity is a growing problem. For starters, you can help by choosing showers over baths and not letting water run unnecessarily. If you have a yard/garden, choose more sustainable plants that suit your climate and don't require constant watering. The amount of water used on watering green lawns would be much better used irrigating your food garden.

7) Reduce mail waste

This may seem like an oddly small thing for sustainable living, but it can have a great impact. If you're one of those people who prints out everything, consider whether you actually need to generate all that paper waste. But even if you keep your emails strictly online, they still take a toll. All those emails are stored somewhere in a physical server that takes resources to build and energy to run.

Delete old emails you're never going to read again. Even better, stop the waste before it's even generated: unsubscribe from mailing lists you never read anyway. All it should take is scrolling to the end of the email and clicking the unsubscribe link.

8) Look for sustainable packaging

Hopefully you have never seen the horrors of separately plastic-wrapped carrots or a single fruit on a plastic tray, covered with a plastic film. It gets even worse if that fruit already has a naturally grown protective shell. Separately packaged oranges and bananas are just painful to see.

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9) Prefer reusable over single-use

As we're already on the shopping topic, let's get into single-use items. So, you skip the separately packaged fruits, but then put them in plastic bags anyway and then toss the bags once you get home? That's only marginally better. There are so many different mesh or other reusable bags available that carrying one in your pocket should not be an issue.

If you grab a cup of coffee every day you go to work, that can make up over 250 cups per year that go straight into a landfill. Instead, you could help save the environment and show your style at the same time by picking a beautiful reusable coffee cup to carry in your bag. There are plenty of great designs that keep the drink safely in the cup and prevent spillages when you put the cup back in your bag.

As convenient as plastic bottles are, it is not much more effort to get a nice glass or metal bottle and fill it at home, not to mention it's much cheaper. If weight is an issue, there are plenty of light-weight bottles available, made from sustainable materials.

10) Learn about ethical fashion

The fashion industry creates both an endless supply of new clothes and the push for people to keep consuming to stay in style. The worst offender is fast fashion, which offers abundant cheap clothing - but the price for those is paid by the environment and underprivileged workers in dreadful conditions.

Fast fashion can seem appealing and affordable. However, you do a favor to earth's resources by choosing to buy less, but ecological and quality clothes. They last longer, put less strain on the environment and you even reduce your storage needs by having less.

If you have the choice, prefer local sustainable fashion instead of choosing clothing shopped from the other side of the world. And with that, we get to the next point.

11) Shop local

Do you know if you live in a 15-minute city? This concept, developed by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, imagines cities where citizens can access their daily necessities by foot or by bike within 15 minutes. If you are one of the lucky ones to have this kind of infrastructure, you can limit most of your necessary trips to a small area and easily get local food. As an extra bonus, this benefits the local economy through taxes and contributes to making your neighborhood a better place to live.

12) Rethink your modes of transportation

When commuting or taking any other trips, you probably (hopefully!) have a choice between several different transportation modes. Those options can be reduced due to intentionally car-centric infrastructure and weak focus on more environmentally friendly modes of transport with a smaller carbon footprint.

13) Put pressure on your (local) government

Feel like the previous steps don't do enough? Fair point, considering that the biggest polluters are a handful of companies or governments around the world. Compared to that, an individual is a drop in the ocean. However, change happens through demand for it and one person can get change started, with others following and amplifying the message.

Most governments should have a way to submit petitions - and that is one way you personally could make a change. Want companies to be required to use more renewable energy or follow other guidelines for a more sustainable life? Propose an idea, rally others behind it and get more sustainable legislation in your area.

For example, you could get in contact with the Environmental Protection Agency (if you live in the USA), use Environmental Petitions page of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (obviously for Canadians), or petition the UK Government and Parliament (yes, for UK folks).

14) Plan and live according to your actual needs

Living a sustainable life requires trimming down excess in what you use. As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with messages about needing to buy more, go bigger, live larger. You just got a new phone? Nevermind, there's a brand new model and you need to get it right now! ...or do you?

You don't need to downsize to a micro house and let go of all your belongings to reduce waste. For starters, you can analyse before buying new gadgets and other items whether you actually need that or whether it's societal pressure to upgrade your belongings. When you have changes in your living situation, have a look at whether you need to go for the largest home possible or whether you'd suit a smaller one that would also help you conserve energy.

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It's absolutely fine to treat yourself with things that are in the "I want" category instead of the "I need" category, but make sure you prioritise the latter.


Sustainable living is not the latest fad that will pass within a season - it's what we need to ensure a livable environment for ourselves and future generations to come. As a society, we need to move towards a more need-based life instead of want-based. Thing will not change overnight, but we can all be a part of that change. Everything starts with one person making a choice for sustainable living, be it by switching to renewable energy or starting to carry their own cutlery for take-out.

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While you're making strides towards a more sustainable lifestyle, don't forget yourself in the equation. After all, if you take care of yourself you will have more energy to use for saving the world as well. Don't be hard on yourself if you forget your reusable shopping bags at home one day or accidentally use a disposable cup for your morning coffee. The main thing is that you're trying and that's already more than a lot of people do. After all, every little bit helps.

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