With the increasing amount of protests, such as Fridays for Future, and the demands from the public for the Governments in the World to do something to mitigate climate change and to keep global warming under some kind of control, we have to ask ourselves how we can develop sustainable habits. Namely, what can we – as individuals – do, in order to live more sustainable and environmentally-friendly life.
While it is true that the big changes that address all the relevant sectors that emit humongous amounts of CO2 should be controlled by the authorities and be limited with variety of policies of laws, one should keep in mind that the people are the ones who generate demand for any product or business behavior. Simply put and highly idealized – if there is no demand [for anything environmentally unfriendly], there will be no supply for it. I do agree that only one person probably will have no effect whatsoever on the climate; but, when we multiply and spread our endeavours around the World, we can make a change!
Thus, in this post, I will list my top 12 sustainable habits as means of how to live a life with a smaller carbon footprint.
1. INFORM YOURSELF
In order to develop sustainable habits, you firstly need to understand the problem. Additionally, if you want to make changes in your life style, you firstly need to really want them and see a point in doing them. Otherwise, you will soon loose your motivation and quit.
Therefore, let’s start by informing ourselves where the most greenhouse gases (mostly CO2 and methane) emissions are coming from. On the figure above, you can see the Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, per economic sector, in 2014 (Source: Source: IPCC and EPA). Sadly, I was not able to find a newer pie chart, but the picture has not changed much in the past five years.
It is important to understand that it is not only about burning fossil fuels for electricity production, although these indeed play a major role. If you want to inform yourself better how the energy industry impacts the environment, check out this apprehensive article by Save on Energy.
On another note, understand that agriculture and land use are emitting almost as much as the electricity and heat production sectors (the ones that burn the most fossil fuels). Keep in mind that you should also consider your nutrition when building long-term, sustainable habits.
2. Develop the sustainable habit of always keeping the PRODUCTION-USAGE-WHAT AFTER? trio in mind
Every product that you are buying goes through three major stages: production, length of usage, and finally disposal. How much a certain product emits, depends on the combination of these three factors.
For example, a product might be emitting not much of a CO2 while it is being in use, but it might have overproduced green house gases during its production, therefore giving the false image that it is “environmentally friendly”. As a golden rule, before thinking of any other sustainable habits, you have to keep this list in mind:
- Do I really need this product? If not, remember that not consuming is better than any environmentally-friendly option, because there is no such thing as carbon-neutral product yet!
- If you need the product, where was it produced? Local production usually leads to lower CO2 emissions because you do not transport the product from the other side of the World.
- How long will I use this product? If something is to be used and thrown away a day or even less after its usage – you do not need it! This, for example, includes, but is not limited to, all sort of plastic packaging, cutlery, and bags.
- What resources were used?
- Can it be recycled?
3. Reconsider your NUTRITION when building sustainable habits
As you saw in the first point above, agriculture and land usage play a crucial role in the green-house-gases chart. Is there something that we – as consumers – can really pay an attention to? YES. And it is the meat, especially beef, consumption.
Ruminant animals like cows, sheep, and goats, emit methane when they digest the food. With the ever increasing demand for beef meet, the amount of methane emitted in the atmosphere is not negligible. Additionally, in order to keep all the livestock, we are demanding more pastureland and this land is obtained by cutting down trees and destroying forests – the best natural CO2 sink that we can think of.
In case you want to read more, check out the following report “Cattle ranching and deforestation“. Last, but not least, green-house-gases are also emitted from the waste of the ruminant animals (mostly nitous oxide), and the fertilizers that are used on the crops that the cattle is later fed with, also emit significantly.
Comparing beef meat with other types of meat, beef meet is also more resource-intensive compared to other meat types such as pork. However, keep in mind that any animal-based food is always more resource-intensive than the vegetarian option. Beef specifically, requires 20 times more land and requires 20 times more green house gases per edible protein than the usual plant-based proteins, such as beans for example.
As much as I hate to admit, the coffee industry faces both ethical and green-related problems. Strictly speaking about its environmental impact, coffee has a negative effect on the environment due to deforestation, erosion, problems for migratory birds, and water usage. Add on top of that the amounts of one-use coffee cups and espresso capsules thrown away daily – you will end up consuming a fairly environmentally unfriendly drink.
When you start to develop your coffee-related sustainable habits, focus first and foremost on avoiding one-use cups and capsules. Anything that we buy, use, and throw away a minute to ten minutes later is a bad option! Single-use coffee cups contain plastic, because if we made them out of paper only, they would not be waterproof and will soon fall apart in our hands. This also makes then literally UNRECYCLABLE since it is pretty hard, if not impossible, to separate the plastic from the paper.
The same argument holds for some capsules as well, which can be a mixture of plastic and aluminum. Hamburg, for example, banned these capsules a while ago. However, some capsules’ producers such as Nespresso say that their capsules are fully made of aluminum and that the company recycles them completely. Nevertheless, the consumers need to collect the capsules and send them back to Nespresso and I really wonder if all of them do this or if they just simply throw them away.
Aluminum is an important resource for us, so I am not convinced that it should be used in a coffee capsule and then recycled into a product with a longer lifespan. Why not use it in the product directly and make your espresso with a capsule-free machine? If you run on low budget, the typical two-floor espresso pot that you put on the stove is quite affordable.
Regarding the coffee itself, there are some companies that offer organic or carbon-negative coffee. Shade grown coffee is also an option. Aim for these, and if you care about the ethical aspects of the coffee, check if it obeys the Fair Trade regulations.
5. Build sustainable habits when COMMUTING
Transportation plays also a crucial role when it comes to green-house-gases emissions. I guess it is pretty clear why: cars use fossil fuels and when you are alone in your car, this effect is significant on a World level. Thus, try to use your car as little as possible. If you have to use it, try to be with more people in it. Use public transportation as much as you can, and if you feel ready and capable, walk or take the bike.
Many people raise the question of electric vehicles and claim them to be the solution to the problem. I cannot name myself to be a radical ecologist and I do understand the people’s need to be mobile. However, when it comes to electric vehicles, once again, we should keep the production-usage-what after? trio in mind.
In order to produce an electric vehicle, we need to have a battery in it. We make the batteries on the market from lithium and cobalt. Both of these elements are rare materials that we need to be mine – a process in which we emit quite heavily. Then on top, we get the battery and the car production. Finally, we proceed to drive a car which uses most likely fossil-fuel based electricity. Thus, we only shift the emissions from one to another place, but they are still there.
They are better for pollution though. China, for example, is actively trying to fight pollution by increasing the number of electric vehicles. However, when it comes to green-house-gases emissions, we need to wait for the technology to develop a bit more: for the production to become more environmentally friendly; for the batteries to be made more efficient; and for the electricity to be mostly produced from renewable energy sources.
6. STAY GROUNDED
Another, more important contributor to climate change, is the air travel. There is no such thing as “green flying”! I do not say that from today on you have to stop flying, but try to avoid the “oh look, here is 30€ flight so I’m gonna be away for the weekend”. Try to keep your flying for the long distances, for the trips that really offer you no other travel option, and for real emergencies. If you really decide to not fly at all – even better!
One of the reasons why these cheap flights exist is because airlines pay no fuel taxes and VAT is charged only on domestic flights. This is also the reason why often trains in developed countries such as Germany or Switzerland are more expensive than airplanes and apparently, one of the reasons why night trains stopped operating in Germany.
There are ideas how this should be tackled, but whether it will come to see the light of day, we will have to wait and see. However, with the growing concerns for climate change, I think it is only a matter of time until the aviation will start paying for its green-house-gasses emissions and with ideas like carbon taxation becoming more and more attractive, or at least discussed and considered, there will come a time when we will not be able to take those weekend flights.
7. AVOID the PLASTIC
We make plastic – among other materials – out of crude oil, which we later refine in an oil refineries. One of the fractions we obtain from refining the crude oil is called naphtha. This oil-derivative is the one we use to produce plastic. In addition, plastic is bad for the environment since we dump much of it in the oceans. Thus, you cannot really say you have developed sustainable habits if you consume plastic carelessly. Here is an example of how to go plastic-free.
Do not be fooled that if you are sorting your garbage, that you are automaticaly recycling. It is expensive to do so and most of the businesses see no point in it. Try to buy as much as non-packed food and products, take your cotton bags to the supermarket, use glass instead of plastic containers and so on. Once again: keep the production-usage-what after? trio in mind, and for plastic this consideration leads to devastating results.
8. Build sustainable habits regarding your CLOTHING
It is important to realize that the fashion industry is a major green-house-gases emitter! It requires a humongous amount of water (around 3000l per one cotton shirt!); we burn textiles on landfills; and we shop more, but use the clothing for much shorter periods than what we used to.
Producing and washing a pair of jeans emits as much as driving 69miles. Additionally, during washing, we release microfibers that end up in the oceans and in our food chain. Everything is pretty well summed up in this video from the World Economic Forum and also in this post.
Developing sustainable fashion habits is pretty simple: buy less clothes; use your clothes longer; inform yourself about the production of your clothes; search for brands that try to have more sustainable fashion (for example Uniqlo is developing jeans production mainline that uses way less water); and last, but not least, try clothes swapping or second-hand clothes shopping.
Before you buy clothes, go back to point 2. and of course, ask yourself: “Do I really need this piece of clothing or am I buying only to look cool on my new insta photo?”. I would say the environment matters more than your social media timeline. 🙂
9. Respect NATURE
This sounds too vague when we talk about sustainable living, but the truth is: we have destroyed nature and many of its ecosystems.
I often wonder: why do we even have to write or mention this? Why do some people just go out, throw garbage in the forests or waters (rives, seas, lakes, oceans), illegally cut wood, mess with the ecosystem?
Something often disregarded are the bees – the insects that ensure pollination takes place, and thus, play crucial role in our survival. Do not kill them! Keep in mind that we as humans are not the God of the ecosystem. We have to respect every living creature and every natural phenomenon out there. Show love and care to the nature – and it will give you ten times more. Show ignorance and disregard to the nature – and it will punish you ten times stronger. It is simple as that.
10. CLEANING SUPPLIES and CHEMICALS
When it comes to respecting the nature, you also have to keep in mind that every chemical and cleaning detergent that you are using will end up in our nature/water. When you flush the toilet; clean your bathtub; when you clean your dishes and clothes – you release a lot of chemicals into our water supply.
Thus, try to find more Eco-friendly cleaning options. There is increasing numbers of eco detergents for any cleaning that you might need. I struggle to like some of them, I admit, I sometimes think they do not clean as well as the non-eco options, but then again, it is all a matter of habit.
11. INSPIRE and INFORM other people to also develop sustainable habits
You can be the start of a larger change. If this post informed you, inspired you, or made you think in any way – stay curious. Read more, think more, change more. Spread the word to other people, help them see that they can also live a more environmentally friendly and sustainable life. In this way, they will be contributing – no matter how little – in our endeavors to fight climate change.
We can inspire our families, friends, coworkers, and finally the big beasts – like industries and Governments – to make changes as well. Every small step matters, even though at the start it can be frustrating. Especially when the results are not right away visible.
However, if we keep the big picture in mind, we can stay motivated and we can play a crucial role into the creation of the World that we want to live in. As the famous saying goes: “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money”. Therefore, we must not prioritize our drive to earn money over our need for a healthy planet.
12. Check your CARBON FOOTPRINT
You can very easily check your carbon footprint here. Numbers do not lie, so you wil know right away if you are living a sustainable life. If you speak German and you want something simpler, you can also use ein guter tag – where you need to have 100 points to live a sustainable life. Apparently, the average German has around 400. Oh, well…
13. Extra tips if you live in Germany
- Use the trains and here is why
- Consider getting a BahnCard: travel greener while saving money
- Consider switching your electricity provider to one from renewable-energy sources
- If you take FlixBus, consider CO2 compensation
Finally, what do you do to protect the environment? Was any one of this tips useful for you? Would you like to read more posts such as this one?