Not everyone has the time or energy to live sustainably in every aspect of their lives. It’s a big ask, so no one should feel bad for just doing what they can.
If you’re one of those people who can’t do it all but still wants to make a difference, here are some of the most impactful ways to get involved.
These are the biggies, the simplest ways to make the biggest difference to your personal environmental footprint, as well as contributing to the global sustainability effort.
Picking even one of these actions to focus on each week is a great way to start.
1. Make Your Voice Heard
It would be nice to believe that governments and businesses would always keep the planet’s best interests in mind when they make decisions. But sometimes that’s not the case.
In reality it often takes a ground swell of public opinion to push for progress. And the only way to exert that pressure is to make your voice heard.
Vote regularly, talk to friends and family, write to your government representatives, ask businesses to do more, protest peacefully, share your opinions via social media, write blogs, make videos. Whatever medium is easiest for you to express yourself.
I have a whole post on ways to speak up, check that out here!
2. Vote with Your Wallet
Ever since the industrial revolution it has been more profitable to take advantage of the environment than it has been to protect it.
But you can help change that. By only giving your business to companies that trade sustainably, you are helping create a circular economy that rewards environmental responsibility!
Money makes the world go round, and as cynical as it might sound, financial incentives are the best way to encourage businesses to behave responsibly.
Here are some things to look for in a company before you buy from them:
- They have a clear environmental policy
- They use recyclable, reusable materials
- They comply with labour laws in their factories
- They use local materials and minimize transport emissions
- They offer repairs or repairable products
- They are carbon neutral or offset their impact in some way
- They use minimal or recyclable packaging
Sites like Good On You are great for finding sustainable fashion brands.
3. Save Energy at Home
When we talk about energy emissions and fossil fuels, most people’s first thoughts will be of smoke billowing from the tops of factories or fumes pouring out of their car exhausts, but the one that people often overlook is the impact of their energy consumption at home.
Residential energy consumption is the second largest source of energy use in Ireland annually, second only to transportation. And residential emissions are responsible for almost 11% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The biggest culprit here is the energy used to heat our homes. Now, I’m not advocating for anyone to let themselves freeze, but moderating your heating use is a good way to reduce your impact.
Feeling a little chilly? Throw on another layer before you crank up the heat. Too hot? Open a window instead of relying solely on aircon.
Other tips include switching off lights, appliances and devices when not in use and using those devices efficiently.
For more info hop over to my energy saving tips post.
Note: Some people have this idea that electricity is automatically “cleaner” than oil or gas fuels, which is not true. In fact, roughly 65% of Ireland’s electricity is generated using fossil fuels.
4. Cut Down on Plastic
Ireland has the highest rate of plastic production per person in the EU, so clearly there is a huge amount of work to be done here.
Some of the changes that are needed will require government crackdowns on single use plastics in particular, but until then we can all do our bit by reducing the amount of plastic we use individually.
Avoiding excessive packaging while you shop and using reusable bags and containers are simple ways to cut down on your plastic consumption.
See my Zero Waste List for a bunch of plastic free tips.
5. Travel Responsibly
In Ireland 40% of transport energy is from private car use, with 20% from air travel and a further 20% from HGV and LGV (Heavy and Light Goods Vehicles). Public Transport makes up just 3%.
Personal transport is where we can all make a difference. That means driving less, and only flying when absolutely necessary. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we can get by without constantly being on the go.
Changing up your daily commute can be a great way to lower your transport consumption and emissions. Walking, cycling, carpooling or using public transport are all great commuting alternatives.
My Transport and Travel post goes into more detail on ways to reduce your impact.
6. Eat Less Meat and Dairy
The production of animal products for food is a well-known culprit for a host of environmental problems, including greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and pollution.
The global emissions percentage for animal agriculture is difficult to pin down, with estimates ranging from 5% all the way up to 50%.
In Ireland agriculture accounts for 35% of emissions, with roughly 80% of that number being directly related to the production of animal products.
Add that approximately 39% of habitable land on earth is used either to raise animals or grow their feed, and you start to see the scale of the problem.
What we eat has a huge impact. And while vegan and vegetarian diets might be too extreme for some, reducing the number of animal products in your diet is definitely doable.
7. Make Do With Less
A big part of the sustainable puzzle is reducing your consumption. And while there’s no need to live like a monk, this is definitely an area where you can make a major difference.
Overconsumption leads to huge waste, increased emissions, widespread pollution and has a hand in pretty much every kind of environmental problem we face.
Try to limit the number of new products you buy. Ask yourself if you’re buying because you need it or just because you can.
Secondhand shopping, a bit of DIY, growing your own food, and repairing or upcycling products you already own are all good ways to reduce the need for new purchases.
Plus, when you learn to make do with less you have more time and money for more worthwhile things.
8. Volunteer and Donate
If you don’t have the time to sit down and think about any of the above yourself, maybe it makes more sense to set aside one or two hours a week to volunteer with, or donate to, an organisation that has done the thinking for you.
Environmental groups have already done the research and they will know what needs doing. Lending a hand to their cause is a great way to make a difference if you don’t have the knowledge or the time to figure it all out for yourself.
Volunteering opportunities might include litter picking, tree planting, conservation efforts, educating the public and many more.