Shifting our lifestyle towards a sustainable model is a journey that takes a lifelong commitment. It requires learning, exploring and experimenting with sustainable practices in all the spheres of our lives. Beyond the reach of international agreements, campaigns, politics and economy, there are individual people who can do a lot to improve their way of life and the lives of people around them by following these examples.
Fresh water takes up just a little over 2% of the world’s water, and only 1% is accessible drinking water. Water conservation not only reduces the energy and resources needed for its purification and transport, but also decreases pollution of natural water systems. There are many ways to use water more responsibly. Purchase only water-efficient appliances and install a grey water system. Front-loading laundry washers use up to 40% less water than top-loading models. Captured rainwater can be used for watering, and in combination with drip-irrigation, the amount of wasted water is even smaller.
How you reach your destination and how you move around once you get there makes a big environmental difference. A flight from New York to London emits about 1.2 tons of carbon per person on-board. The prospects are not glamorous as you might hope, but a cheap vacation closer to home is always a greener option. Trains and ferries are awesome transportation methods – like cruise ships for the environmentally aware. If you still have to fly, always look for direct flights. Once you’re there, consider public or human-powered transportation. Local buses and trams are perfect for getting a feel for a new city and its residents, while a bike can take you to the countryside or parts of town inaccessible to vehicles.
According to an article published in Time in December 2013, ‘There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.’ What we put on our table makes a big impact on the environment. By filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, you help reduce freshwater withdrawal as well as deforestation necessary for raising livestock. Some popular species of fish are at risk of being overfished, so feel invited to try some new seafood. By exploring farmer’s markets you can find fresh locally-grown produce, but also get the chance to meet people who produce your food.
Shift to solar energy
While communities can benefit from geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and wind power, solar energy is also suitable for individual households. Apart from using its thermal component to heat water, photovoltaic cells convert the sun rays into electrical energy. There is a hardly cleaner energy source, as it leaves no waste nor emits greenhouse gasses. The cost of solar systems is coming down, and some of the best solar panels in Australia are becoming more affordable to many households. These systems have no moving parts and require minimal maintenance, while the development of new lithium-ion batteries for homes increases your potential to store the energy surplus to be used during the night or on cloudy days.
Own fewer things
Getting rid of everything you don’t need and cutting out any activities that don’t add value to your life is one of the most effective ways to start a sustainable life. Keep only the things and activities you find useful and you love. By donating to charity or a freecycle program, you will de-clutter your home, but you also need to commit yourself not to re-clutter. Francine Jay, the author of The Joy of Less, says that you should store the items you use once a year or less in labelled boxes and keep outside your main living area. If you need to purchase something non-essential, wait for 30 days to see if you’ll still be needing it then.
Our every choice impacts the others through creation, use and disposal of the things we buy, the energy we use, the food we eat, etc. While we’ll probably never meet those who are impacted, our choices can change everything.