There is a long list of habits you can add or change to reduce your footprint on this planet, and live a happier, healthier life. If everyone in this world was living and consuming like an American (or a Canadian, or a Singaporean...) it would take 4 to 5 planets to fill our need of resources. Hence, something has to change. All our individual actions can have an impact, and the best way to influence others is to show the example. But adopting a new habit or behaviour is not easy, as status quo is usually so comfortable. You don't want to make many changes all at once; it would be too overwhelming and the chances of failure are high. Instead, pick one thing to improve or change at a time. Imagine you tackle one habit every month. In three years from now you would have 36 new habits! Small steps matters, and have more chances of succeeding.
Here we go for some suggestions:
- Eat better
- Reduce the amount of meat. You can start slowly by removing the four-legged animals from your diet (beef and pork), then the two-legged animals (chicken and duck), then the zero-legged ones (fishes and seafoods). Slowly transitioning to a vegetarian diet will do a great deal for the planet1, the animals2 and your health3.
- Choose local. You don't really need to eat blueberries that come from the other side of the planet in winter. Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season as much as possible. Register to a local farmer for weekly vegetables baskets.
- Choose organic. Believe me, I'm an expert on pesticides. They have detrimental effect on biodiversity, from bees4 to aquatic organisms5, as well as on children's development6.
- Pay attention to some ingredients. Palm oil is everywhere, and its production contribute to deforestation in Indonesia and destruction of Orangutan's habitat7.
- Commute wisely
- Do you really need to take your car every day? It is a little bit inefficient to use a 1500 kg automobile to transport a 70 kg person. Can you use public transportation? A bicycle? Heck, some people run or skateboard to work! Even a few days or no-car a week can help.
- Pay attention to your energy consumption
- Lights, air conditioning, house insulation...
- Unplug the appliances you are not using to avoid the loss of "ghost energy".
- Use cold water for washing and hang your clothes to dry.
- Reduce your consumption of stuff
- This is a hard one because marketing has invaded all spheres of our life and is really good to convince us we need stuff. But everything you buy has an environmental cost due to its production, transport and disposal. The less thing we buy, the less impact we have.
- Think carefully before you buy anything. Do you really need it?
- Can you buy second-hand?
- Engage in meaningful activities instead
- Invite your friends for a meal, volunteer, enrol for beach/trail cleanup
- Spend time in nature
- It will make you feel better and make you want to protect the environment even more.
- Recycle and compost
- You can even have vermicompost in your apartment!
- Make your own
- Cook at home with your local veggies
- Spend one day every 2-3 months to make your own personal care products. You will hence avoid detrimental chemicals or components such as plastic microbeads and triclosan. This natural deodorant works wonder and take two minutes to prepare. This toothpaste is pretty great too!
- The same applies to cleaning products.
- Say no thanks to plastic
- Plastic shopping bags, single use water bottles, plastic cutlery, straws, little plastic stirrer in your fancy drink that has no use at all, packaging...
- Buy staple foods in bulk in specialised store.
- Bringing your own container, even for take out food.
- Choose your home carefully
- A big house will use more construction materials, energy to heat, and will need more stuff to fill the rooms than a small apartment.
- Houses in the suburb are usually cheaper, but leads to urban sprawl, inviting people to use their car more often. On the other side, city densification helps getting a better public transportation system.
- Write to your politicians
- About the causes that are important to you. Lots of organisations like the David Suzuki Foundation helps you to contact your ministers about environmental issues.
- The same applies to private companies you think could improve their environmental sustainability policy.
- Cheat once in a while on the above suggestions
- It's ok not to be perfect and indulge in a "bad" habit occasionally. It makes you feel more human.
- Stay informed
- Follow your favorite experts, magazines, blogs, podcasts. It's never been easier to acquire knowledge.
This list is non-exhaustive and will keep improving! What are your ways to be environmentally-friendly? Share your actions and ideas below!
Notes and references
1It is now well known that red meat, in particular beef, is contributing to the CO2 emissions more than cars (see Carrington, D. Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert, The Guardian, 21 July 2014 and references therein).
2Animal cruelty exists in a lot of farms - tons of videos will prove it - and there is the ethical issue of killing sentient animals for our taste buds.
3The World Health Organisation has added red meat and processed meat on the "probably carcinogenic" and "carcinogenic" lists, respectively, in 2015. This comes from the growing evidences of a link between high meat consumption and colorectal cancer. See references in The Physicians Committee, Meat consumption and cancer risk.
4Johnston, I. Pesticides linked to a 'large-scale population extinctions' of wild bees, The Independent, 16 August 2016
5Morrissey, C.A., Mineau, P., Devries, J.H., Sanchez-Bayo, F., Liess, M., Cavallaro, M.C. and Liber, K., 2015. Neonicotinoid contamination of global surface waters and associated risk to aquatic invertebrates: A review, Environment International, Volume 74, pp. 291-303
6Roberts, J.R., Karr, C.J., Paulson, J.A., Brock-Utne, A.C., Brumberg, H.L., Campbell, C.C., Lanphear, B.P., Osterhoudt, K.C., Sandel, M.T., Trasande, L. and Wright, R.O. Pesticide exposure in children, Pediatrics, Volume 130, Issue 6, December 2012, pp. e1765-e1788
7Johnston, I. Orangutans face complete extinction within 10 years, animal rescue charity warns, The Independent, 19 August 2016