I used to believe living sustainably involved giving up the comforts and convenience of modern life that I’ve become accustomed to. It took a global pandemic to make me realise that this isn’t true.
We’ve all been living through periods of lockdown. It’s affected us all in different ways. I certainly didn’t expect to learn to live more sustainably during a lockdown. But that’s what happened to me.
I’ve grown up during a boom in consumerism. Life is pretty good for me. I can order pretty much anything I want at any time of day and have it delivered to my house. And I did just that in the first lockdown. Delivery van after delivery van turned up at my house. I initially thought that this was great. How convenient. I might never have to leave the house again. But then it hit me. Or I should say, the cardboard got in the way. The single use plastic was overflowing in the bin. (Do you remember those few weeks when there was no bin collection?)
Something had to change and I’m glad to say that I have made small changes to my lifestyle that enable me to live more sustainably. Here are 9 lifestyle changes you can make to start living a more sustainable life.
The high impact options
Let’s get some context first. A return flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per person – more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year, and about half of the average carbon footprint of someone living in Britain. Even a return flight from London to Berlin emits around 0.6 tonnes CO2e – three times the emissions saved from a year of recycling. With this in mind, we’d ask that you consider making changes to how you get around.
1. Fly less
This one was easy, although I did manage a ‘working holiday’ to Spain when restrictions were lifted.
I love traveling, and living in Northern Ireland I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people not to fly. But you can definitely control how often you fly. My wife works in London, but her job is now remote. Thankfully, she no longer has to commute each week for ‘meetings’. The working from home guidance means that more and more of us can produce the same outputs without the same level of travel.
2. Use the car less
My wife isn’t flying for work anymore and I’m not driving to the office on a regular basis. For selfish reasons, I prefer to work from home and not sit in traffic while commuting. What about you? Could you see yourself commuting less for work?
3. Eat less red meat
The science tells us that recycling is four times less effective than someone switching to a plant based diet. Our own Public Health Agency stresses the health benefits of limiting red meat consumption. But back in the real world did I reduce the amount of red meat in my diet? My first meal after lockdown was a burger. But if I’m not near a canteen or restaurant I don’t cook red meat regularly. I do love a slow cooked brisket and a Sunday roast. Red meat is staying on my menu, but I’ll continue to eat less of it. I’m also in that age bracket where I need to be more mindful of my diet.
4. Living sustainably actually saved me money
Let’s ignore the lack of holidays, trips to the pub and fueling the car – those saved me a small fortune – and look at how else I was able to save money during lockdown.
Lockdown encouraged me to cook a range of meals.
Grocery shopping is not my favourite activity. I’m always looking at ways ‘to beat the system’ i.e. avoid other shoppers. Lockdown made me switch my grocery shopping to click and collect. And it changed my life. Ok, not literally, but wow why did I not do this sooner? I no longer have to wait patiently for other people to get out of the way, I no longer risk an accident due to crazy car park drivers, and someone else does my shopping. And no more useless plastic bags either.
Here’s my advice: buy as much as you can afford in one go. By stocking up you are reducing your carbon footprint by reducing your need to go back to the shop. It’s also more efficient. My previous weekly shop is now fortnightly.
5. I reduced my food waste
Being stuck at home means eating at home. Once I got over the “can I have a pizza for lunch” phase, it became clear that I used to throw out loads of spoiled food. I know, I’m a bad person. Shopping online made me more aware of my food budget. It adds up quickly, so when I thought about how much money was in my food caddy I knew it was time to make a change.
I could give you an excuse as to why I waste food (I’ve used them all) but in reality it’s because I was spoiled by choice. I was eating out (at work), I was buying lots of different food types in my shopping and then not having the time to eat them (because we used to leave the house). But lockdown changed that. It became almost an obsession of mine to not waste food. When you don’t want to go to the shop, it’s actually quite easy to eat what you already have in the house.
When you aren’t spending two hours in the car each day commuting, all of a sudden you have time to plan meals. But you also have time to learn how to become a smarter eater. This is what I call someone who prepares a family meal and then magically turns that into another two or three meals for later in the week. The genius behind this knows that this reduces your food bill and encourages you to eat healthy on a regular basis. Right now my Mum is rolling her eyes and saying “this is not new”. And she’s right. However, life! The point is that anyone can do this right now. You can save money, eat healthy, and free up time by becoming a smarter eater.
6. No more work clothes
Working from home introduced a whole new dress code. It wasn’t quite a bum’s life, but ‘house clothes’ became a thing. I also stopped buying new clothes.
Would you like to reduce your carbon pollution by 38 kg?
If you don’t buy any new clothes over the next two months and you donate or recycle your old clothes you will reduce your carbon pollution by 38 kg. I mean, how easy is that? I didn’t buy any new clothes during lockdown. I’ll think twice before buying a new shirt for work.
7. Lockdown Walking
While I’m a convert to online grocery shopping, I still need ‘essentials’ every now and again. Milk, bread, crisps, beer. You know, essentials 🙂 But I didn’t know how enjoyable I would find walking to my local shop. Turns out, being cooped up all day means that I’ll walk anywhere. I’ve managed to turn a chore (going to get milk) into exercise. I pretend I’m getting fitter while reducing stress. I’m not a doctor, but it can’t be bad for me. So, now when I need the essentials I go for a walk and come home via the local shop. Apparently this reduces my carbon pollution by another 7 kg.
8. Repair and Reuse
This is another great way to save money. The first question you should ask yourself is “do I need to buy something new?”. We live in a materialistic world, so I get it, but not buying stuff is actually quite easy. What did I learn during lockdown? That if shops were closed I might not be able to get what I wanted. Did this affect me? Not at all. I became more careful with my stuff and looked for ways to repurpose or reuse existing stuff. Look at all the ways you can reuse an old tablet.
9. I switched to a green energy tariff
They say actions speak louder than words and I’ll be honest, this was easier than I thought. I even managed to save a few quid at the same time. By switching electricity companies I have given a clear sign to someone that I want to support renewable energy. Eventually most if not all of our electricity will come from renewable sources. But in the meantime we need to drive adoption by switching.
Why don’t you switch?
Find out how much CO2 you could save by living more sustainably
We’ve partnered with ‘Count Us In’ to tell you how much CO2 your small lifestyle changes could save. Use the Count Us In calculator to find out how much CO2 you could save just by walking. You can make a difference. Start today.