It’s difficult to escape news reports and headlines that don’t provide an insight into the alarming condition of the planet these days. We are more and more conscious of the environmental impact of our lifestyles, and there has been a major shift towards saving and protecting the Earth since the proliferation of documentaries like Planet Earth and Blue Planet. While many of us may have been guilty of wondering what kind of difference we could make a few years ago, we’re now starting to realise that even small changes have consequences. If everyone took the decision to go green, there’s no doubt that the planet would be a healthier place to live in the future. If you’re thinking about how you could make a difference, here are some practical changes every single one us can start making today.
Commuting and getting around
One of the most pressing dangers is the impact of our collective carbon footprint. While you may not be able to control other people, you can take steps to reduce your own carbon footprint by adopting greener ways to get around. If you usually drive to work, you take regular flights, or you tend to jump in the car, even when you’re only popping around the corner, considering more eco-friendly transport options could make all the difference.
Many of us commute to work on a daily basis. How do you get to work? If you drive, would it be possible to switch to cycling, walking or using public transport? If your office or private serviced workplace is too far away to use a bike or to walk, consider the option of sharing lifts to work with colleagues or even adopting a more flexible timetable that enables you to work from home on a regular basis. Some businesses offer incentives to encourage employees to cycle to work or to ride share, and this trend looks set to grow in the future. If the company or organisation you work for doesn’t already have a green commuting scheme in place, why not suggest some ideas?
If you drive a lot, either for work or as a result of having children that need to be in a million places at once, think about the type of vehicle you own. In the last few years, manufacturers have really upped their game in terms of creating eco-friendly models, and there’s a vast range of green cars on the market today. If you’re driving a gas-guzzling truck or you have an old car, it may be worth looking for a more eco-friendly replacement. You should find that as well as doing your bit for the planet, you also save money on running the vehicle.
Flying is another major contributor to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. While many of us only fly once or twice a year, some people fly frequently. If you attend a lot of meetings overseas, for example, speak to your boss about potential alternatives. Could you replace some of those face to face meetings with video calls or conferences, for example?
Saving water will cut down your bills, but it will also help to reduce runoff and wastewater that ends up in the ocean. There are various ways you can reduce water usage, and one of the simplest and most effective is investing in rainwater tanks. If you have a tank that collects rainwater, you can make use of a natural resource, decreasing the amount of water you need to use from your taps. When it rains, your tank will fill up, and you can use the water you collect to water your garden, clean the car or even fill up a swimming pool. Rainwater tanks are particularly beneficial in areas that experience seasonal extremes in terms of the weather. If there are long periods of dry weather, for example, an authority may introduce a ban on using hose pipes. With a water tank, you don’t need to worry about the impact of any restrictions.
If you’re keen to save water, it’s a good idea to run an informal audit to see how much water you actually use in an average day or week. We tend to fill up glasses, run baths, take showers and water our lawns without paying too much attention to our usage. If you take a closer look, and you make a concerted effort to use less water, you might find that the amount of water you use decreases dramatically. Simple ways to save water include taking shorter showers, swapping baths for showers, and turning the taps off when you’re brushing your teeth.
Using less plastic
Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough’s epic BBC documentary series, highlighted the shocking consequences of our obsession with plastic. Most of us looked on aghast as we saw turtles with nets around them and whales sucking up pieces of plastic as they grazed on schools of fish. The truth is that we became reliant on plastic a long time ago, and it will take time to try and tackle this problem, but the sooner you start using less plastic, the better. Swap single-use cups for flasks and bottles you can use time and time again, buy foods and products that come in recyclable packaging, and make sure you dispose of waste properly. In the UK alone, more than 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, and currently, less than 1% of these products can be recycled. Every year, as much as 12 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans.
With festival season approaching, it’s also a great idea to consider eco-friendly ways to add some sparkle to your outfits. Glitter may look fabulous, but it’s made from a type of plastic, which is particularly harmful for the oceans. If you are thinking of dressing up and dancing the night away, look out for biodegradable products. The range of eco-friendly alternatives is growing by the day.
Another simple way to cut down on plastic use is to carry your bags for life around with you whenever you go shopping or you head to the supermarket. Introducing charges for plastic bag has cut usage significantly, but there’s still a long way to go. If you have a mountain of plastic carrier bags at home stuffed in a cupboard, take them to a recycling site.
Reducing energy usage
Technology plays an increasingly integral role in our modern lifestyles. According to the Energy Consumption in the UK Report 2017, the average number of electrical appliances used in a UK household has jumped from 4 to 13 since 1990. If you’re keen to lower your bills at the same time as helping to conserve the planet, there are myriad things you can do.
One of the most beneficial moves you can make is to start using a smart meter. Many of us aren’t really aware of how much energy we use on an average day. With a smart meter, you have a running total that is available to view at all times, and you can keep track of your consumption. A meter will help you budget, but it can also flag any issues that may crop up. If the numbers are higher than usual, for example, this could indicate that you’ve left appliances running or lights on. It’s also a good idea to turn all your appliances off at the socket, rather than leaving them on standby. This could save you up to £80 a year if your home is full of gadgets and gizmos.
Another effective means of saving money and reducing energy usage is fitting a thermostat. If you have a thermostat, your heating will only come on when the temperature falls below the figure you have set. You can also lower your bills even more by dropping the temperature by a degree or two.
Replacing old light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs and swapping appliances for smart alternatives can also have a significant impact on energy consumption. The average LED bulb lasts 25,000 hours compared to 10,000 hours for a CFL bulb and 1,200 hours for an incandescent bulb.
Changing your diet
There’s a vast amount of media attention focused on the impact of eating meat at the moment. Studies show that increased meat consumption and steady population growth has put pressure on the food system. Everyone has a right to choose what they eat, but if you are looking to go green, one change that will make a difference is consuming more plant-based foods and less meat. The production of animal-based products contributes to the release of greenhouse gases, and reducing global meat consumption could help to prevent further damage. There has been a surge in the popularity of veganism and vegetarianism, but if you don’t want to give up meat, you can still make a difference by eating less and buying more organic produce and less processed meats. If you’re interested in vegetarian cooking, and you need inspiration for tasty dishes, there are a plethora of recipes available online.
It may seem like it’s impossible to make a difference to the future of the planet as an individual, but if we all made simple changes to the way we live, the impact would be massive. You don’t have to overhaul your lifestyle or made radical changes to your daily routine to do your bit. Hopefully, this guide has shown you that even small steps can go a long way.