“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” – Jane Goodall
Let’s take a moment to appreciate our beautiful planet. Could you imagine living anywhere else? I’m sure some of you can – you, Star Trek fans who have been daydreaming about exploring the galaxy since you were 10 years old, and all you Elon Musk followers who are already saving up for your ticket to Mars. But what kind of life would that be? No grass, no plants, no beautiful old trees? I’ll admit, when Donald Trump won the U.S. elections I was ready to jump ship too… but, being the unrelenting optimist that I am, I believe that even that cloud has a silver lining. I refuse to give up on earth.
A wise person once said: “The planet doesn’t need saving, we do” – Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. Think about it. The earth has been around millions of years before human existence. No matter how badly we ruin it with our carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses and plastic, the earth will continue to go on. It will become an inhospitable place, unlivable for humans and most animals, but it will go on.
If we want to continue enjoying life on earth as we have up until now, we have to make some changes – major changes. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and like all good things, change takes time. If you are aware of the damage our current modern, big city lifestyles are doing to the planet but are completely at a loss as to what to do about it, well… you’re not alone. You could, of course, go completely vegan and live totally off-the-grid, but for many of us, these are not feasible (at least not short-term) options.
When it comes to major lifestyle changes, slow and steady wins the race. If we all contribute by changing our lifestyles one step at a time, change will happen faster than you think. Below are just a few ways you can start to make changes.
Become a conscious consumer
One of the easiest ways to begin your journey toward a more sustainable lifestyle is to become a conscious consumer. By this I mean being aware of the environmental and social impacts of the products you buy, whether it be food, clothing, beauty or household products.
Fortunately, organic, fair-trade, and cruelty-free products are becoming increasingly popular and are now available in most mainstream supermarkets, so you don’t have to make a special trip to the health store or organic market to do your shopping. However, along with the rising popularity of organic products, “greenwashing” has become a problem, so it’s wise to carefully read labels and do a little research before buying a product that claims to be organic. The same applies to fair-trade and cruelty-free products.
Will ethical consumerism really make a difference? I’d like to think so. At the very least by increasing the demand for organic food, we can influence the amount of food being grown without pesticides and other undesirable farming methods. Similarly, by increasing the demand for fair trade products, we increase the growth of companies who offer a fair price to farmers and factory workers. Organic and fair trade labels do not only apply to food, so be sure to look out for them when shopping for household and beauty products.
Grow your own
The best way to avoid falling into the green-washing trap is to grow your own fruit and veg. This way you’ll be absolutely sure that your food was grown without pesticides, and you won’t have to shell out for expensive organic produce.
Growing your own food sounds like a lot of work, but, if you make the initial investment of setting it up well in the beginning, it doesn’t have to be. I have been growing my own herbs and small veg for years. It takes me a few hours to set up at the beginning of spring, and after that about an hour each week to maintain. I have worked mostly on a trial-and-error basis, but doing some research beforehand as to what crops grow well in your region, how much sunlight and water your plants need, and how to keep pests at bay will save you time and money in the long run. I also suggest reading up on companion planting. If you only have a balcony, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of plants that grow well in pots, and plenty of advice to be found on the great interweb. In many cities there also community vegetable gardens, where you can rent a piece of land on which to grow all the veg you want.
As if all that wasn’t enough, gardening has also proven to be therapeutic… and it’s much cheaper than visiting a psychologist. Gardening therapy has been used to rehabilitate troubled youth and people with mental illnesses. Read more about gardening therapy on the Let it grow blog.
Reduce your meat consumption
While we’re on the topic of food, let’s talk about the strain placed by meat production on precious resources. I’m sure this is not news to you. It takes 15 500l of water to produce 1 kg of beef. Here is an infographic by Waterfootprint.org that puts it into perspective.
According to UCSUSA (Union of Concerned Scientists), cattle farming uses up 86% of agricultural land, while only accounting for 8% of the food we eat. Cattle farming also produces a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. A study by The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has concluded that meat production alone now contributes to more GHG emissions than all the world’s transport combined.
But for me, the most heart-breaking factor is the atrocious conditions in which the majority of farm animals are forced to live and die. Witnessing these horrors may be enough to make you give up meat forever. Unfortunately, my willpower is not that strong. If yours is, I seriously respect you. However, I don’t believe that everyone on the planet becoming vegan is going to solve our problems. I do believe that the amount of meat we consume and produce needs to be reduced drastically, and farming methods need a major make-over.
As consumers, we have the power to reduce the demand for meat by simply reducing the amount of meat we consume. Again: baby steps. Reduce your meat intake gradually, and you will realize that you hardly even miss it much on the days you don’t eat it. Buy organic, free-range meat, eggs, and dairy. By buying organic, free-range meat, eggs and dairy, you ensure that the animal products you consume are produced in a more ethical way. Even though organic meat is pricey, by decreasing your meat intake, you can calculate it so that your food budget doesn’t increase at all. Again, research is crucial to be certain that the organic/free-range stamp on your purchase is more than a marketing ploy.
Buy seasonal produce
When are tomatoes in season? What about peaches? Sometimes it’s difficult to know since many foods are available year-round at your local supermarket.
Aside from the obvious CO2 emissions produced during the transportation of imported fruit and veg, there are a few other reasons why buying seasonal, locally grown produce is friendlier to the environment than the convenient alternative. Growing fruit and veg out of season (in a greenhouse, for example) demands extra resources such as lighting, heating, fertilizers and pesticides. Food that is grown abroad uses up a lot of resources in the production of chemical treatments and fungicides to prevent decay. Foods grown when in season also taste far better and are more nutrient-rich.
What produce is in season, naturally, depends on where you live. One of the easiest ways to determine whether your favourite fruit and veg are in season is the price. Items that are in season are usually on promotion and cheaper than usual. So that’s a plus for your wallet, too!
Taking the time to do a little research as to when your favourite fruit and veg is in season certainly worth the effort (google is your friend).
Reduce waste in all forms – and avoid anything disposable
Rapidly increasing mountains of waste are arguably one of the biggest problems of our century. Plastic bags, packaging waste, and clothing… these are all results of the convenient throw-away culture to which we have become accustomed.
Whether you blame it on planned obsolescence created by corporations as a scheme to sell more products, or on the laziness of consumers, the responsibility to change this culture of wastefulness is ours. Of course, this is a problem that requires a large-scale approach, but here are a few things we can do to help the situation along by reducing the demand for disposable products:
- Exchange plastic bags for reusable shopping bags – Plastic bags have become one of the biggest polluters of our environment, and as they are not biodegradable, they have caused many problems for both land and marine animals, and eventually end up in one form or another in the food we eat. Opting for reusable shopping bags is one way to reduce this problem, and with the variety of compact foldable shopping bags that easily fit into your handbag or glove compartment, forgetting your shopping bag is no longer an excuse.
- Reusable bottles – disposable water and soft drink bottles have become just as big a problem as plastic bags, for more or less the same reasons. Research has also proven that they are bad for your health. Is that not reason enough to invest a little in a good reusable water bottle?
- Re-evaluate your approach to clothing – The fashion industry has also embraced this throw-away culture. Over the last 50 years, fast fashion has evolved, with big retailers churning out 56 micro-seasons a year (that’s 1 every week!) for low prices, that are designed to last no longer than 1 season. Much of this clothing eventually ends up in landfills, and the rate of production and waste in the fashion industry is highly unsustainable. One way to address this problem is to buy sustainable clothing, preferably made from recycled textiles. Another is to change how you deal with your clothing waste. If you’re throwing out an item of clothing simply because you don’t like it anymore, consider organizing a clothes-swap with some friends. This is also a great way to “shop” new items without spending a cent. If clothing is worn or damaged, make sure you dispose of it correctly, by finding the organization(s) in your area that recycles textiles. If you want to get really creative, you can re-design an old item of clothing to make it fashionable again.
These are a few changes that I am implementing in my lifestyle, and while I don’t expect these small efforts to change the world overnight, I do hope to inspire others to do the same. Living by the philosophy: “be the change you want to see in the world”, I believe that if we all start making changes, and work together in doing so, the world has no choice but to change with us.
Of course, there is much more to be done, and many more positive changes to be made, but it is a journey of continuous learning. Making a small start could eventually lead to big results. I would love to hear your ideas and how you plan on living more sustainably (or planning to make).