Where Do I Start?
To answer the above question you must first realize that just by being here, you have already started. Just by opening up the beginners’ guide to sustainable living, you have made the decision to investigate ways in which you can be a better person.
You have also realized that today’s use then throwaway culture, is both immoral and unsustainable and there is a real need for change. However the good news is that by adopting a sustainable living lifestyle, you can help the planet, it’s people, plants, and animals and start the process of preventing a global catastrophe.
All this can be done from your own home and with very little cost, indeed over time you might actually make savings rather than add extra expenditure.
Yes, thats right, moving to a sustainable lifestyle can indeed save you money in the medium to long run!
Sound too good to be true?
Well its not, it’s just about lifestyle changes and being better informed as to what is the best, most ethical, most sustainable and planet-friendly way of doing things.
This guide to sustainable living is edited down into bite-size chunks. I can then will quickly explain some of the concepts associated with living a sustainable lifestyle.
You can choose to adopt some, none, or all of them but if you change just one aspect of your life for the better, then this post will have fulfilled its purpose.
Why Change To A Sustainable Lifestyle?
As we steadily increase our demands on the world’s limited resources, we also see our actions having a direct effect on the climate of the world. Climate change is now largely accepted as real and as such, is a threat to our delicately balanced ecosystem and all life on earth.
However, all is not lost. Many people around the world are switching onto this enforced realism and are starting to take action to curb its effects. From direct activism, to social media chats, to small proactive changes in personal lifestyle choices, people are trying to make a difference.
Society itself is now moving towards living a more sustainable and greener lifestyle. Furthermore, all this is done in the hope that we can reverse this catastrophic turn of events. That being said, making the transition to an ecotype lifestyle is not an easy one.
There are many paths which an individual can choose and even more variants to each path, so where do you begin? From ideology to activism to lifestyle and ethical choices, zero waste to cutting out plastic and upcycling; the list is large and seemingly endless. However, the trick is just to start.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
As I said, transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle is not an easy one. There are many critics out there and seemingly just as many “eco shaming” people who will pour scorn upon your efforts. So this transition will require dogged determination and strength of character to stay focused which you may not believe you have.
However, remember that this is a journey and like all worthwhile journeys, you will experience highs and lows but the more you walk it the greater the rewards.
It is also crucial to remain aware that, in sustainability, there is no one size fits all solution. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. That is why it does not matter “how” the shoe is worn throughout the journey, the important part is that the “destination” will remain the same for all of us.
That is to say, whether it be zero waste, ethical fashion choices; plastic-free, carbon footprint reduction, non-toxic cleaning or many others, all efforts will eventually aid to accomplish the ultimate goal.
Sustainability is something that we are all responsible for and something we will all benefit from.
This is why I would encourage you not to go down the eco shaming route, or look down upon those whose efforts may seem like a very small drop into a very large ocean.
As Lao Tzu put it, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step”. So take a step back, breathe, then encourage those around you to help in the sustainability struggle.
Where Do I Begin My Journey To Sustainable Living?
It might be easier to answer that question if you thought about what sustainable living looks like to you. From the small list above you can see that there are many possible interpretations of sustainability, which therefore means that we all have different points of entrance.
For me, it started with reducing my plastic usage, then onto greener cleaning and is now moving into a more minimalist style of living. For others, it began with healthier food choices, ethical shopping, and support of the local farmers.
However, some things are constant and in the beginning, we all faced down the same barriers. These common barriers threatened to sabotage our goals, knock us off track and turn us away from sustainable our efforts. We will talk about those later but for now, where to begin?
The first step and the one which will keep you grounded, is working out a strong definition of what a sustainability lifestyle looks like for you.
An example of this might be; to shop ethically, upcycle, create more quality family time and volunteer your services to a green cause.
Whatever it might be for you, the point is that it gives you something solid to aim for and fall back on when life gets tough. Following on from that I will now share with you a few of those common barriers that we all faced, plus some methods to overcome them.
Remember that the transition to sustainable living is never easy, so please take the time to work out what it really means to you and focus upon that.
Do not let others drive you away from your goal and remember that individually we are strong, together we are unstoppable.
Breaking Old Habits
The way you live is habitual and by that I mean it is regular, usual, constant, fixed, normal, compulsive or even addicted and like any addiction, it’s hard to break.
Your will to change must be stronger than the power of your addiction not to. So strong is the power of the norm.
That is why you must start small, recognize the wins and then congratulate yourself on achieving them on a daily basis.
I believe that recognizing and feeling emotive about change, are the two biggest and possibly the most influential factors, in achieving and sustaining long term goals.
As I mentioned above, for me it was simply reducing my plastic usage that started me on my journey. I made a point of recognizing and feeling good every time I visited the supermarket and I didn’t use a plastic bag.
Personally, I broke that one small habit and that has now encouraged me to sustain my change and aim higher.
I started small and now I do bigger, (smiley face).
Now, experts also say that on average it will take 21 days to form a new habit and longer to break an existing one. So keep this in mind as you affect your change and don’t be too discouraged by any minor failures.
Remember it’s a long comfortable journey you want, not a fast-paced race, as you may run out of steam!
With all that in mind, my advice is to start with one, or two little new habits, whilst at the same time trying to break one or two old ones. Like for like habits are the best place to start.
For example; a material shopping bag rather than a plastic one, plus a refillable water bottle in place of the throwaway plastic kind.
Small steps but ones which are sustainable and that you can build upon. Celebrate the success and for that extra boost try calculating the difference that you will make over a year, or even your lifetime!
I would also encourage you to think about the potential loss of life, or damage that you may have prevented, by not creating more plastic waste to fill our lands or our oceans.
Involve Others In Your Sustainability Decision
Why celebrate success on your own when you can do it with friends?
One should never underestimate the power of friendship and the positive feelings of being able to share the new, and exciting changes to your life.
Family and Friends will provide support, love, and understanding and give you a soundboard for new ideas and events. They can also provide fresh ways of looking at things and encouragement when things go wrong, or when criticism comes your way.
Also, remember to be nice to yourself. After all, doing good things for the benefit of the planet and the next generation, is something that we should celebrate and feel good about. This euphoric state of feeling will ultimately help even the quietest of souls to spread the word and share the good.
Moreover part of the key to getting rid of old habits and creating new ones is to improve oneself and to involve others. So try advertising the fact on social media, with work colleagues or at gatherings. With all these people involved and the happy feeling, how can you fail!
What About The Cost And Convenience?
Cost is one of the biggest worry factors for newbies to a sustainable living lifestyle, and not without reason.
From toothbrushes to soap to your humble water bottle, all these things cost more and can hit your finances hard. However, it’s not all bad news.
You can replace things over time and slowly and what’s more the long term cost savings can be enormous.
Quite literally the long term savings that you make will put money in your pocket!
Sustainable living does not need to be expensive or complicated but it gives the impression that it is. This is largely based on the short term startup costs and our desire for convenience over effort.
This is where you need to be dogged in your approach and committed to the sustainability cause.
In times like these, I fortify my commitment by thinking about what I do and why I do it. I think about my children, about the world that I am leaving to them, and about how they will look back upon my actions when I am gone.
I also take the time to remember “what sustainability looks like to me”:
Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future or future generations.
To live a sustainable lifestyle and to help change the world, we must first look to making real world changes to our living habits and our perceived view of the world.
It is all too easy to think that you are a very small cog in a giant machine and that your actions will change nothing.
Indeed you are a small cog but you are also part of that machine, which means that you are essential to its overall performance.
So when I walk into a coffee shop and am offered a throwaway cup I refuse and pull out my own washable cup for them to fill. I refuse the plastic straw in favor of my steel one and I take my own non-plastic tableware to BBQs.
All this costs me no more than a little time, inconvenience and effort but believe me when I say that, it genuinely brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart, (truly happy days).
This is the sort of feeling that no amount of money can buy or a sustainable website can express.
The Shame And Imposter Factors
It may seem odd to say it but one of the things which stop us from trying out new things is the feeling of being different. We look at ourselves and think that others are somehow viewing us differently and not in a good way.
These negative emotions grow stronger and then the worry, trepidation and fear set in. All these emotions tear at us and we start to question ourselves our abilities.
We question our reasons for wanting to be different and then look for the safe space, which is doing nothing at all.
It’s easier to tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, haven’t the time or commitment to change and we are imposters on the scene.
Those who run websites are the real sustainability people, not me.
Shame on me for thinking I could do it, shame on me for thinking that I was better than everyone else, shame, shame, shame.
Of course, none of these scenarios are real, they only exist in our heads and are designed to stop us from being different.
A caveman who was different might suddenly become a dead caveman!
Suddenly you are no longer seen as a follower but a leader, one who has integrity and an independent mind, one who can show others the right path.
Someone to be admired.
I do however understand your fears. No one wants to be the killjoy who asks for a paper goodie bag rather than a plastic one at little Tommy’s birthday party.
Or the strange one who brings his own plate at a bbq but why the hell not. If you are truly genuine and don’t force it down the throats of those around you, then you will be seen as someone living the values.
It’s only when you try to influence others and change them to your ways, that you might come off as being superior or better than them, so don’t try.
Most people will just quietly observe you from a distance and then when the time is right they will come to you with their curiosity. The ice will be broken and you can converse in an atmosphere of mutual clear thinking and understanding.
The Change To Sustainable Living
As I mentioned earlier the transition to a sustainable lifestyle is not an easy one. The choices of where to start and how to do it in a sustainable manner are varied and deeply personal.
However, this can be mitigated somewhat by following these basic steps and keeping in mind the bigger picture.
Take small steps and congratulate yourself on each and every achievement, don’t let your own mind be your own worst enemy. We all fall sometimes but it’s the getting back up that’s the important part.
Surround yourself with the right network of family and friends, not forgetting to look for like-minded individuals to share your thoughts and ideas with.
Take each day as it comes and remember, it’s only the initial cost which may be relatively expensive. In the long run, living a sustainable lifestyle will save you money and your kids will thank you for it.
Sustainability looks different for everyone so do what is right for you and don’t compare yourself with others or them with you. Live it, love it, enjoy it and savor the journey.
Oh and one very small but hugely important point;
Remember that no one is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the sustainability wagon on occasion.
It happens to the best of us whether we admit to it or not, at the end of the day that’s life. The intention to do better next time and then in the long term is what really counts!
So now we have established that you can make a difference and that you only need to change your lifestyle choices in order to make huge changes to the planet. Let’s briefly talk about four of the sustainable lifestyle changes that you can adopt to facilitate that change.
Is Zero Waste Achievable?
the aim of the zero waste philosophy is simple; send nothing to landfill.
Now that might sound unachievable and in it’s purest form it probably is. However, if we make this our ultimate goal and we all strive to get there then great things are possible.
Do you know that some zero wasters can fit all there discarded waste for one year into a mason jar!
How do they achieve that?
Their aim is to send nothing to landfill so they strictly follow the 5 Rs of the zero waste mantra.
- Refuse what you don’t want. (such as plastic carrier bags from stores)
- Reduce what you need. (do you really need 30 pairs of shoes?)
- Reuse as much as you can. (an empty spray bottle can be refilled)
- Recycle whenever it’s possible. (such as making handbags from jeans)
- Rot. (if can go into your home compost bin, it does!)
Zero waste is a philosophy and a goal, it sets targets but does not criticize if we fail to achieve them. Don’t look at yourself now and think that the task is too hard, or the bar set too high that it cannot be achieved.
This sustainable living task is easier than you think!
In truth “Zero waste” is the end target for everyone.
Furthermore, it is inevitable that this is a journey that we will all be walking in the not to distant future.
“Zero Waste” is a goal that is ethical, economical, sustainable and visionary.
Setting zero waste as a goal will guide individuals and businesses into practices that will create sustainable natural cycles.
Cycles where all discarded materials will be redesigned or recycled to the benefit of us all and the planet as a whole.
By doing this we will look to eliminating the volume and toxicity of our waste which is a great threat to our human, animal and plant health.
How Can I Change To Zero Waste?
I will cover the subject of zero waste more fully in another post.
At this moment just think about those things or items that you consume the most, then consider replacing those things with more eco-friendly or sustainable alternatives.
Some of those items to change may include:
- Plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one
- Tampons/pads to a menstrual cup
- Bottled shampoo to shampoo bars
- Plastic bags to hemp or biodegradable ones
- Bottled soap to soap bars
- Bleached toilet paper/kitchen towel/ tissues to recycled unbleached alternatives
- Plastic water bottles to a metal reusable water bottle
- Coffee pods to coffee beans
- Plastic storage containers to glass containers
- Composting your plant-based food waste
- Plastic straws to paper or metal ones
- Manufactured sponge to a compostable and reusable dishcloth or brush
- Plastic cutlery to metal or bamboo cutlery
- Disposable razor to a stainless steel safety razor
- Plastic sandwich bags to beeswax wraps
- Changing chemical cleaners to natural-based cleaners
- Upcycling old products and materials rather than throwing them away
Remember’ The transition into a zero waste lifestyle takes time and effort. This will test you every day but the effort will produce results that can quite literally change the planet.
By making these changes (and hopefully many others), you will be drastically reducing the harmful effects that man has on his environment.
Another win in this respect is that it will also save you time and money, all of which can be invested in your family and attaining a happier life.
So go ahead, start today and make those small changes that will have BIG and everlasting results!
Minimalism is intentional and a true minimalist will live with less than 100 things.
They will not possess a car, house or tv and will only surround themselves with the things that they most love, cherish and value.
Now that ideal is far too strict for most people however it is a good example of how little we truly need to live sustainably.
It also shows how, once we have cleared out the clutter, we can focus on the true goals that we are trying to achieve.
As I mentioned above the idea of living with only 100 things or less is not for every minimalist. I would also argue that most minimalists have in their possession, a number in excess of that.
Furthermore, it must be understood that Minimalism is a lifestyle choice, not a number counting exercise.
As such it is full of benefits which, quite simply, go far beyond the number of items that you can count.
Living the minimalist lifestyle will give you more time, money, space and freedom to do the things you love and to follow your dreams.
It has the power to increase your activity levels, make you happier and feel less stressed.
Consequently, it can have both positive physical effects, as well as the observable positive effects surrounding your mental health and general well being.
Minimalists surround themselves with the things that they love.
The things that they cherish and those items that bring them to delight every day. They see little need for those items which do not stir emotion in them. Why fill your world with magnolia when you can dip into the vast palette of color!
This category of “collected items” are seen only as clutter, cluttering the mind and preventing them from seeing those items of value around them.
This is why most minimalists do not stick to the 100 items or less rule. Instead, they will adopt a more, “if I love I keep it,” attitude.
However, it’s never easy for us to let items go and we will unconsciously find reasons for keeping them. This is why I say minimalism is intentional.
You have to intentionally make daily choices or ask yourself the question of, does this, or will this, item bring joy to me when I see it? If the answer is no, then the true minimalist will not keep it.
How Do I Start My Sustainable Living Minimalist Journey?
- The first step is to tell your family and friends what it is you intend to do. This will not only decrease the number of items coming into your life but will also help others to understand, help and support you along the way.
- Don’t rush into things. Any change in lifestyle can be difficult and the size of the task daunting at first so take it slowly. Split your home into rooms or even sections and tackle one section per month, week, day or just whatever works for you. Making the task smaller will be easier, less stressful and undoubtedly more achievable and sustainable in the long run for some people.
- Don’t get rid of everything immediately as you might inadvertently dispose of someone else’s loved possession and they may want it returned. Try to box some things up and if you find that you don’t need them in six months’ time then you can dispose of them then.
- Decluttering and zero waste go hand in hand so think hard about the products you are decluttering and where their future home should be. Donate items to charities, run a garage sale or two and try to find a local upcycler who may be overjoyed at all the new materials you can supply to them.
When buying new things avoid impulse buying and instead go away and think about it for a short while or even a day or two.
If you still want it after this time, then go ahead and get it as you know it will be loved and appreciated not frowned upon as a mistake.
To a minimalist, it’s the few loved possessions that you own that make you happy. These are the special ones that encourage a feeling of warmth, well being and happiness.
- Invest in good storage solutions to hide or display your items so that everything has a place. This is very important as if you love it you should see it or know where it is as this will bring you joy and happiness.
- Try making your own products and gifts as this is not only fun to do but things made with love are some of our most treasured possessions.
- Celebrate your achievements along the way as this will keep you on track and motivated. Remember this is a journey and all the great journeys are long and enjoyed along the way, only a race is hard.
- Invest in yourself! As you spend less you will have more for the things you love, family, friends, and “me time” so enjoy it, after all, it is what you are doing it for.
- Minimalism is not about owning as little as possible but is about owning only those things that we view as adding value to our lives and that is different for everyone. It’s ok to be messy, it’s ok to have lots of things if you value love and use them, however, if it’s in a draw and not used or seen, then ask yourself, why do I keep it?
Remember that minimalism is a lifestyle and will look different for everyone, it’s not a hard and fast 100 items or less enforced choice for most of us.
It may also take you years to get to where you want to be but again that’s ok, so long as you enjoy the journey and keep the destination in your heart.
Sustainable Living And Your Carbon Footprint
The phrase ‘Carbon Footprint’ is expressed and talked about a lot but what does it actually mean?
The accepted dictionary definition of a carbon footprint is:
“The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization or community.”
So that explains what it is, however, what it doesn’t do is tell us is why we should care about it, or what we can do to reduce it.
Simply put, the extra carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, increases in the greenhouse effect.
This then warms our planet beyond its natural state and this increase in temperature is called global warming. Firstly, humans burn fossil fuels to power cars, trucks and planes which then move our goods around.
Secondly, we also burn these same fossil fuels in other machines to generate electricity for other purposes.
Thirdly, all these activities (and more), then contribute to the extra carbon dioxide release, which then continues to fuel the greenhouse effect.
How Do We Calculate Our Carbon Footprint?
Waste gases are released during combustion including carbon dioxide and the amount generated can be calculated. This calculation is then spread across the people or items it has directly affected and a carbon calculated footprint is attributed to it.
Every action we take therefore increases our individual carbon footprint. Only by knowing this we can take steps to reduce it and help to reduce the planetary consequences.
The consequences of global warming are now being felt in the weather changes all over the world.
Our oceans are steadily warming up, the arctic ice is melting and extreme weather conditions are becoming the norm.
Furthermore, we are also losing plant and animal species as they struggle to cope with these accelerated changes.
The aim of living a sustainable lifestyle is to help reduce this strain on the environment at grassroots level.
I also believe that the power of an individuals actions, when linked to other individuals actions, far outway the power of any government which hands out false promises, targets, and words.
How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
- Try to buy local and seasonal groceries from the producers near to you supporting home-produced whenever possible to do so.
- Walk, cycle, or take public transport instead of driving.
- Try “staycations” or travel by bus or train rather than fly if it is a lower carbon footprint calculation.
- Decrease your meat and dairy intake as animal agriculture is a major pollutant and plant-based foods are more accessible to all now.
- Recycle, reuse and upcycle as much as possible.
- Buy organic produce as no chemicals will have been used in its production thus reducing the footprint.
- Change your energy supplier to one which supplies from renewable sources such as wind, sun or green gases.
- Unplug appliances when not in use and switch off lights when not needed.
- Consider changing your car for a newer more energy-efficient model or even go electric.
- Avoid high carbon footprint vacations such as cruising and the biggest poshest hotel.
- Grow your own fruit and veg, even bags and pots can be used to create a home for a plant.
- Buy in bulk.
- compost your food waste.
- Make bigger meals and freeze the excess for another day.
- Support the divestment movement to take the investment out of fossil fuels.
Non-Toxic And Sustainable living
Many of our purchased goods are not quite as clean, or carbon-neutral, as they might first appear.
Fresh fruit and vegetables and even our fresh meat, may have first undergone a chemical cleaning process before landing on our supermarket shelves.
All these chemicals may seem ok to some as they are there to protect us, or enhance our crop yields in order to feed us but are they really ok?
A “safe” chemical to us, may be extremely dangerous to another form of life on the planet. It may even be damaging to a section of the ecosystem that we are not even aware of yet.
For this reason, I think it would be best if we could limit the use of man-made chemicals in our homes.
Once limited we could then investigate how we could replace them with those that mother nature has provided for us.
Many natural products found in our stores and around the home, can be used to clean and freshen with zero effect on the environment.
These are are the very products that were used by our bloodline relatives for many years before the industrial revolution.
If we care about our environment, want to live sustainably, and would like to lower pollution levels for future generations, then we need to lower our dependence on toxic chemicals.
It is something that the generations that have gone before us did with ease. It therefore must be true, that with a little effort on our part we can revive this eco action and do it again.
Are There Any Toxic Chemicals In My Home?
Many household cleaning products such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners and carpet cleaners contain toxic chemicals, and this may not surprise you.
However you should take a close look at the list of ingredients shown on the bottles and cans in your kitchen cupboard. I think that you will be surprised at what you find.
Even the humble air freshener can carry a hazardous waste warning!,
Many households simply have no idea what is contained within the products they buy or the dangers within.
- 6.4 poison exposures/1000 population,
- 39.1 poison exposures in children younger than 6 years/1000 children,
- 1 poison exposure reported to U.S. poison control centers every 14.9 seconds.
These figures are staggering and are just one reason why people are turning to sustainable living and a non-toxic lifestyle.
Toxic chemicals can be found in furniture polish, bleach, glass cleaner, dishwashing detergent, disinfectants, deodorizers, mothballs and many more.
This is why the reported exposure rates are so high, the dangers masked so well and the need for you to change your habits so necessary.
How Can I Reduce My Dependance On Chemical Products?
- Investigate natural cleaning products and replace your chemically laden ones.
- Make your own non-toxic products from natural ingredients and invite your friends and family to do the same.
- Don’t use conventional dry cleaners.
- Buy non-fluoride toothpaste if you want to cut down on the amount of fluoride flushed into the system each day.
- Use organic shampoos, soaps, and conditioners.
- Avoid non-natural products with fragrance, (companies are legally allowed to keep secret the chemicals used).
- Buy organically grown produce.
- Use natural cleaning products or those from companies who specialize in this field.
- Use natural products in your garden and encourage safe habitats for all your garden friends.
- Bring nature into your house with plants that can literally clean the air for you and filter out pollutants.
The beginners’ guide to sustainable living has been written to give you a flavor of what is possible. It is my hope that it will inspire you to begin your own journey and recognize that it is unique to you.
Don’t compare yourself against what others are doing and don’t beat yourself up when you fail.
The journey is long my friend but ultimately it’s a journey that will feed the soul and send your spirit soaring.
Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.