Sustainable habits: we all need them, but which ones we choose depends on our lifestyle and interests. Don’t worry, this list has something for you – and it’s definitely more than the basics you’ve already heard!
Sure – while “bring your reusable bags” or “use a bamboo toothbrush” are great sustainable habits to start with, they’re not going to change the world.* And I know you’re here because you’re ready to change the world for the better.
*If you are starting at the very beginning and looking for those tips, start with these zero waste resolutions!
What's in this post
- Sustainable habits: consumption
- Sustainable habits: food & food waste
- Sustainable habits: at home
- Sustainable habits: wealth redistribution
- Sustainable habits: community action
- Sustainable habits: education and awareness
- Sustainable habits: zero waste kids
- Sustainable habits: reconnecting with nature
- Other zero waste and sustainable habits
Sustainable habits: consumption
- Stop spending money on things you don’t truly need and/or enjoy. It’s hard when we’ve been primed to consume all the time through relentless marketing, but reigning in spending is critical to living sustainably. Limit yourself to only items that you really need or will actually bring you joy beyond the fleeting satisfaction of spending money. This is one of the best sustainable habits to learn!
- Buy used when you need to make a purchase. No new material or energy for a new product, no negative impact on the planet! Spots like ThredUp for clothing or eBay for just about anything are great for finding second-hand goods. Check out my guide to zero waste thrifting for more info!
- Take it one step further – complete a shopping ban. Integrate no shopping at all into your daily life! Set a goal of a week, a month – even a year like this blogger! – and buy nothing except the absolute necessities!
- Reuse something you don’t think has any more life. Forcing yourself to get creative is nothing new – it’s what many cultures and older generations did simply out of necessity. A too-old shirt can become a rag. A cracked bowl can become a plant holder.
- Create and bring a zero waste kit with you. These are what I bring with me every day when I leave the house, regardless of where I’m going. I keep them all in a tote to make the transfer between bags easy; but don’t worry, it’s a small enough bundle it even fits in my small purse. See what to include.
- Create a list of OK companies to support. It’s easy to just buy from wherever when we’re in a crunch and don’t have time to research properly. Avoid this by doing research and creating a list of companies you feel are aligned with your ethical and sustainable values. Here, I’ve started one for you.
- Save your money wisely – invest and divest. I won’t talk too much about this as I’m certainly not a financial expert, but so many of banks use our money to support Big Oil and other destructive companies. This guide to personal divesting is a great place to start.
Sustainable habits: food & food waste
- Reduce your animal product consumption. While an all-vegan diet isn’t necessarily the most eco-friendly diet (or even attainable for many), there are some compelling reasons to eat less animal products. You can read more about how meat contributes the most to our water footprint and whether there’s a perfect eco-friendly diet.
- Learn one new way of food preservation. Opt out of the constant cycle of buying and wasting food by learning how to make your food last longer. Whether you decide to just freeze something or learn how to can, here’s a handy video on how to get started.
- Boycott items from companies with suspect ethical/sustainable records. So many of the largest companies in the world have a rap sheet that reads like a horror story: child labor. Slave labor. Tens of millions of acres of forest destroyed. Look into the brands you support – and remove those that don’t meet your ethical or sustainable standards. Not knowing is not a reasonable excuse in 2020.
- Make a list of local farmers and support them when you can. You’ll find a lot of this advice boils down to: research and know your options before you have to decide. This is no exception. Learn about local folks you can buy from so you can… buy from them! (And be able to give advice when people ask!)
- Reuse your scraps in a creative way. From making soup stock to regrowing food to a whole cookbook dedicated to scraps, no need to toss your food scraps right away. Give them new life!
- Start a compost bin or find a way to get access to one. Compost is key! Sending organic matter to the landfill almost guarantees your food won’t break down. Because there’s no room for oxygen to circulate, that organic matter just sits and mummifies, emitting greenhouse gases that accelerate the climate crisis. Learn more about composting no matter where you live!
Sustainable habits: at home
- Make a DIY swap and stop using store-bought products. You don’t need to do everything at once, but choose a few high-impact swaps like deodorant or lotion. You can also support really cool makers on Etsy if you’d prefer to “vote with your dollars”.
- Are you someone who menstruates? Consider making a sustainable (super thrifty!) swap with period underwear, reusable cloth pads, or a menstrual cup. There are plenty of options – one will likely suit your needs.
- Get to know your local recycling rules! So many bloggers write about things in such black-and-white terms: “you can 100% recycle [x product]!” Simply not true! Recycling is incredibly complex and every city or town offers a totally different set of rules. Learn your rules, not what someone halfway across the world thinks is true!
- Swap your dryer for a clothesline. Save money on your electric bill and reduce your carbon footprint by doing laundry like most of the world: without a dryer. More on a zero waste laundry routine here.
- Learn more about your energy options. Most of our energy in the US is fueled by extractive, climate-crisis-accelerating oil or natural gas. Can you switch to a more eco-friendly electric or gas company? Organizations like the Sierra Club are often trying to promote greener energy and may be able to help guide you.
- Make sure you replace deprivation with joy! Especially if you live with other people that aren’t quite as motivated as you, living sustainably can often feel like it’s just a lot of “no”s and “can’t have”s. Instead, try to have a positive alternative for each thing you remove. Ex. no more child-labor chocolate? Fresh, homemade cookies or tarts instead! No matter how devoted you are, no one needs to be suffering to prove how eco-friendly they are!
Sustainable habits: wealth redistribution
- Support someone in your community with money. If you have a mutual aid group, free site, or just know someone in need, find someone who needs some cash for groceries, bills, or rent! Remember: the most revolutionary form of aid comes without strings attached! Venmo some cash and feel at peace, knowing your community member is doing what they need to do with that money.
- Support someone in your community with your extra resources. Wealth redistribution isn’t always about cold, hard cash. (Great for us with a limited supply!) Offer up furniture or kitchen items you no longer need, or kid’s clothing your child no longer fits into or an abundance of fresh produce that might go bad. Most areas have a free Facebook group, Craigslist, or a formal Freecycle community up and running.
- Support someone in your community with a skill. Again, money not always needed! What do you know how to do that could help others? Offer to mend some clothing, look at someone’s car, polish up a resume… whatever you think might be helpful!
- Find and support a great sustainable creator. Enjoy someone’s newsletter or their consistently mind-expanding Instagram stories? Figure out how to support them through Patreon, buying them a coffee, or purchasing something they’ve created!
- Set up reoccurring monthly donations to your favorite climate/social justice groups. One-time donations are fine but don’t help incredible organizations create a stable budget. (How hard would it be for you if you made $5,000 one month and then just $700 other months?!) If you can’t give a lot all the time, consider giving less more frequently! Remember: these are sustainable habits! I give to New Economy Coalition, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and some Patreon accounts, among others.
Sustainable habits: community action
- Find or create a supportive activist network. Don’t do it alone! Check out a couple of activists groups either local to you or online and see who you mesh with. Finding a group of people to work with not only amplifies your voice but makes you feel less lonely in the long fight for climate justice!
- Contact your representative or sign a petition. One super-simple habit to get into is to find one petition to sign every day. If it’s a cause that’s especially important to you – or you have some extra free time – take a few minutes to write up an email to the appropriate representative.
- Show up to a city council meeting and learn more about your elected officials. It may sound tedious, but millions of dollars get shuffled around like play money at some of these meetings! The more you know who represents you and how the system works, the easier it is to make asks about climate-related action!
- Attend or create a climate-focused event. Get out of the house and off the internet (unless it’s a zoom meeting due to your government’s unwillingness and inability to control a pandemic) and meet up with other people. There’s power in numbers and attending as many events as you realistically can will help you stay informed and feeling involved in the collective struggle!
- Say no to the lawn! Lawns suck! And in the US, they’re the biggest, most useless monocrop we have! If you have access to a lawn and can rip it up, do it. You can grow food or native plants to help out yourself and pollinators. I removed my entire front lawn and a piece of my back – here are some ways to get started.
- Host a letter-writing campaign. One piece of feedback is good; a mass effort is better. Identify an issue important to you and then get a group of people together to write and send a letter about it. Amplify your impact with others! Here’s a template if you’d like to send a packaging feedback letter to a company.
- Host a zero waste workshop or other event. It’s all well and good to read books and blog posts describing a lifestyle and how to live it, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it for yourself. I know personally zero waste workshops opened my mind to exciting possibilities and empowered me to make tangible differences! See four examples of easy zero waste workshops.
- Vote – then get back to the real work. Voting is the bare minimum that we as privileged folks can do – but it’s really nothing more than harm reduction, not actually challenging or solving systemic issues. Make sure you vote – locally, federally, within organizations you belong to – then adopt more radical sustainable habits and do more.
Sustainable habits: education and awareness
- Check out a book on sustainability and read a chapter daily. One of the easiest zero waste resolutions! Because reading blogs is all well and good, but sometimes you need to deep dive into books to get nuanced information. Here’s my list of zero waste and sustainable book recommendations.
- Curate a feed of climate news to skim over. I used to get a lot of my climate news from Instagram. When I left, I didn’t know where to turn to stay informed. So I made a list. These are all the beginning of understanding the events surrounding us. It’s up to us to dig deeper and find out the larger meaning and action items to take.
- Audit or fully invest in an online sustainability course. The only way we can find real, meaningful solutions to the climate crisis is by getting educated by experts. Luckily, the internet makes that a relatively easy reality. I recommend trying out one of the EdX sustainability courses from renowned universities all over the world.
- Commit to frequent conversations around climate activism and sustainable habits. What’s the point of doing all this if you’re keeping it to yourself? Make a commitment to sharing what you’re doing, asking questions of others, and generally (gently) forcing a conversation about the climate crisis. It’s easy to ignore in the hubbub of daily life – make it a focus for those around you.
Sustainable habits: zero waste kids
- Consider using cloth diapers. Traditional diapers are made of plastic, get tossed in the trash, and will remain unchanging in the landfill for longer than the lives of you, your child, your grandchildren, and beyond! Cloth diapers are a great potential alternative. I’m not about that #momlife, so take it from someone with more know-how than me!
- Offer to teach a quick lesson on zero waste/recycling/climate change. Offer to teach or share resources for a zero waste lesson at your child’s school. Learning to sort recycling, crafts with second-hand materials, or conducting a classroom waste audit are great ways to engage kids.
- Connect local to global issues. Understanding the climate crisis is hard even for us adults! Make it more accessible by teaching on a small scale, showing the positive (plant life cycles, identifying local animals) and the negative (increased heat, stronger weather events) all around them, as appropriate for their age.
- Volunteer regularly as a family. Teach them young that helping out others is a critical part of a sustainable, resilient community! Many places – I’ve noticed food banks tend to be especially accommodating – offer volunteer slots for full families so they can work together!
- Follow the experts! So many families are already living sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyles together. Learn from them! Lucky for you, I have a list of tips and tricks from some epic zero waste parents already compiled!
Sustainable habits: reconnecting with nature
- Find time to get outside daily. For many of us, our disconnection from nature makes it A) easy to toss it aside in favor of our interests and B) difficult to tell when things change. Make it one of your sustainable habits to spend time outside and just exist. Remember that we’re intrinsically connected to the planet.
- Learn to identify native plants. Again, our division from nature has led to many of the climate issues today. One of these symptoms is plant blindness. Plant blindness is when we don’t notice the wide variety of plants around us. Fight the ignorance and apathy by finding a local foraging class to learn more about the (edible!) plants around you.
- Seed bomb your life! Seed bombs are just little balls of clay and compost with native seeds (learn how to make them here) that can be stealthily thrown into places where you might not be allowed to traditionally garden – or just can’t reach. Encourage native plants and help native pollinators while seeding (literally) a bit of anarchy!
- Eat and exist with the seasons. So many of us are used to avocados and oranges 24/7, 365 without a thought – but consider what’s really growing in your area. Connect with local markets and makers to find out what’s reasonable and sustainable at that time. This should be one of your year-round sustainable habits!
Other zero waste and sustainable habits
- Calculate and set daily goals to reduce your ecological footprint. Your ecological footprint is a holistic look at your resource usage. It’s used to calculate how many earths would be required if everyone on the planet lived like you. When you measure it, you can see the ways in which you’re “overspending” your part of the planet’s budget. More about your ecological footprint and how to measure it.
- Recognize that zero waste and sustainability is systems, not individuals. Zero waste is never zero because this problem is bigger than all of us. Also understand that climate change will affect us all differently (explicitly, it will affect BIPOC – particularly in the Global South – first and worst). Learn more here.
- Avoid oil-powered transportation whenever possible. Walk, bike, take a scooter if and when possible! I recommend setting a two mile or 30 minute walk rule (whatever distance is reasonable for you on foot!) AKA if something is closer than a 30 minute walk away, no car!
- Kill the commute. The more you work at home, the less resources you’re using to get to work. For those of us in jobs where we don’t need to be in a specific location, staying home as often as possible is the most eco-friendly option. (And also, probably makes you more productive.) If you do still commute, find ways to offset it.
- Find an accountability partner. Going zero waste and becoming a climate activist isn’t easy. To make it a little more likely that you’ll stick to any and all of the sustainable habits you’ve chosen to try, find an accountability partner. Someone you can meet up with (virtually or IRL), discuss the highs/lows with, and stay accountable to is critical!