Sustainable Living: what can we do to make a difference?

What do we even mean by sustainable living? Does it conjure up images of being completely self-sufficient so that we are not dependent on others?  Or conversely, is sustainable living all about influencing others so that we work together towards a common goal? We think there is a middle ground where we can work on the things we can do as individuals to make a difference to our planet.

Sustainable living requirements

What are the requirements for sustainable living? Each of us have some common basic needs. We all need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, clothing to wear and shelter from the elements. 

There is a lack of balance in the world. There are people in the world who have everything they desire and others who have very little. In the most developed countries, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, and the United States, the vast majority of people have more than they need. They might not think that they do, but they do. The consumption in these countries is unsustainable. It is driven by the need for continual economic growth. And as our population grows we make even more demands on the one planet we have to live on. 

Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.


Most of this will not be news to you. The question is, what can we do as individuals to live more sustainably?

Causes of air pollution

One of the causes of air pollution is particle pollution. Particle pollution is bad for our health, especially if we have underlying health conditions (CDC). It is caused by primary sources like wood stoves or forest fires that directly introduce particulate matter into the air. Secondary sources of particle pollution let off gasses that can form particles. Secondary sources of PM are power plants or coal fires. Some sources, like factories, construction sites and transport can be primary and secondary. 

This gives us clues as to what we can do as individuals about air pollution (EPA). 

  • We can save on energy use. This is beneficial in terms of savings for our households but also reduces demand on utilities. We can reduce heating or increase air conditioning temperatures to use less energy. 
  • We can drive less and take public transport or carpool whenever possible. When we drive, we can use efficient cars that have been serviced. We can inflate our tires correctly, so that our cars use fuel efficiently. We can use eco-mode and reduce idling the engine. Even better, we can bike or walk.
  • We can be careful when refueling that no gasoline is spilled on the forecourt or if we are refueling a boat, ensure that any gas containers are spill proof. Refueling in the evening when it is cooler reduces vapors. 
  • We can use environmentally safe cleaning products and paints in our homes. 
  • We can mulch leaves and make compost in our gardens. We can reduce the use of gas powered garden tools. 

The importance of water conservation

Did you know that less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh and most of that is frozen in the ice caps. We survive on 0.5% of fresh water resources. That’s why water conservation is important. What is water used for? 69% is used for agriculture, 19% is used for industry and homes use 12% (UN). This shows that we can influence water use because we can save water in our homes. Here are some ideas from Ofwat.

  • We can use a bowl in the sink when washing dishes or use an energy efficient dishwasher.
  • We can turn off the tap while we are brushing our teeth.
  • We can wait until we have a full load of washing before using the dishwasher or washing machine.
  • We can shower instead of bath and use a water saving showerhead.
  • We can use an eco-flush setting or add a water saving device in the cistern.
  • We can use a watering can instead of a sprinkler system in the garden.
  • We can start to collect rainwater and use that for our gardens instead of tap water.

We can also choose more sustainable foods that use less water in their production. For example, beef uses 15415 liter/kg vs chicken which uses 4325 liter/kg. Chocolate uses a whopping 17196 liter/kg whereas dates use 2277 liter/kg (Water Footprint). 

Sustainable food

Beef and other red meats are highlighted as bad for the environment because they require land and water to raise, but also because bovine animals release methane gas into the air which is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gasses are raising the world’s temperature and causing climate change. 

This doesn’t mean that we need to give up eating meat completely, but it does mean that if we reduce the amount of red meat that we eat, we can reduce carbon emissions and save water. Also, eating more vegetables and plant based proteins is healthier for us. 

Slow fashion

Fast fashion is a global industry that has grown fast. Clothing production doubled to meet consumer demand between 2000 and 2014 (UNECE – PDF). The average person buys 60% more than they did decades ago and 40% of garments are never worn. The average person throws away more than they used to too, with 85% of textiles ending up in landfill. In 2018, the fashion industry was estimated to contribute 10% of the global carbon emissions. Producing a cotton t-shirt uses 2500 liters of water and a pair of jeans, 8000 liters of water. 

Slow fashion aims to address this by encouraging consumers to buy less, reuse more and recycle when an item is no longer worn. This is the premise behind a circular economy. Brands are encouraging consumers to be more intentional about buying clothing (Forbes). We can buy fewer pieces of clothing and look for sustainable materials and ethical production lines. We can be more mindful about buying clothing that we love and will continue to wear. We can repair and update clothes, rather than replacing them. We can look for ways to recycle in charity and second hand shops or buying from brands that offer a recycling system. 

Sustainable homes

We have already touched on some sustainable living ideas for the home. We can live more sustainably by conserving energy and water use in the home. As a homeowner, we can do many things to make our homes more sustainable. 

  • We can buy electric vehicles or use our cars efficiently. We can reduce the amount we travel whenever possible and use alternatives like public transport, walking or cycling. 
  • We can build efficient homes and extensions and take advantage of new technology in insulation.

Even if you are not the homeowner, you can make changes to achieve more sustainable living.

  • We can shop sustainably, buying fresh local produce whenever possible. We can shop for plastic free and eco-friendly products. We can use refill shops. We can buy less clothing and look for brands that are responsible. 
  • We can choose finance companies and products that are ethical and environmentally friendly. 

Sustainable living

There is so much that we can do that will contribute towards sustainable living. We can look at the ways that we exacerbate air pollution and carbon emissions. We can think about how we use water and energy in our homes and make the changes that we have control over. We can buy less, use more and recycle what we can no longer use. We can build sustainable homes or use our homes as sustainably as possible. We can consider every aspect of our lives from finance to food in the light of sustainable living. That’s a lot, when you think about it.