Climate change is one of the gravest threats our world faces today. Since I started this blog in 2017, we’ve had reports that the carbon in our Earth’s atmosphere has reached the highest level in human history, cities across the UK continue to have illegal and harmful levels of air pollution and the IPCC told us we have until 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. You’d expect an uproar from those who are in power, right? Except, there wasn’t one. We’ve had some lip service after teenager Greta Thunberg led protests around the world, and that’s about it.
Relying on our current governments to take action isn’t getting us anywhere. And yet, we’re not completely powerless. There is a lot we can do to reduce our own impact on our planet. If enough of us lead by example, we can hope our governments will get the message. Consider this post the beginner’s guide to reducing your impact. Fair warning though – it’s pretty meaty, so you might want to pin, tweet or share this post so you’ve got it saved for later somewhere.
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Switch to renewables
This is probably the easiest transition to make. Switching to a 100% renewable energy supplier is such a fast and easy way to clean up your energy usage. It’s not necessarily more expensive either – I’m currently on Octopus Energy’s Super Green tariff and my bills are cheaper than they’ve been for a long time!
Get £50 off your energy bill when you switch to Octopus Energy using this referral link*. If you switch your business over using that link you’ll get £100 off.
A quick note about greenwashing: some energy providers are marketing their energy as 100% renewable despite continuing to purchase their energy from fossil fuel providers. They’re able to do this by purchasing certificates called Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin, or REGO, through a broker. This can make choosing a green energy provider very confusing! Thankfully, Ethical Consumer has a great guide on gas and electricity providers that can help you choose. Look for providers who have rated positively for product sustainability.
Reduce energy usage at home
Switch appliances off when they aren’t in use, gradually switch them to more efficient models and turn that thermostat down – you know the drill. Renewable or not, it makes little sense to use any more energy than you need to. Saving energy around the house isn’t difficult. Start trying different things now and watch your bills go down!
Generate renewable energy
If you already own your dream home you could be generating your own power to go with it. Solar can be used for electricity or water heating, and for most people looking at generating their own energy this would be their best bet. Other options include turbines, hydro and biomass – the Energy Saving Trust is to go-to place to start researching how to generate renewable energy at home.
It’s also possible (and a lot of fun) to generate your own power on a small scale. The video below has two cool projects for you to try at home!
From a purely environmental perspective a vegan diet requires less water and land, creates much less greenhouse gasses and is much less polluting for our waterways than a meat-eating diet. It’s a massive change to make and not one to take lightly. I talk in more depth about this in my beginner’s guide to going vegan, but my biggest tip here is to treat each vegan meal you eat as a win. This doesn’t have to be a sudden change. Take time to gradually explore vegan food while aiming to remove as much meat and dairy from your diet as possible. My favourite recipes to cook are tofu scramble, sweet potato and broccoli curry and sweet potato and butter bean chilli. Oh, and a Baileys Almande freakshake for dessert of course!
Reduce food waste
The food you eat needs a lot of energy, and water to produce and ship to your plate. If you grow your own food (more on that below) you’ll already have an idea of just how much! Lowering your portion sizes, planning in advance and rotating your fridge regularly are all pretty good ways to start reducing your food waste. Batch cooking is another – some of my favourite recipes to batch cook are potato and leek soup, vegan cottage pie and tofu saag.
Grow your own
Reduce reliance on supermarkets by growing some of your food yourself. It doesn’t have to be a lot – even some salad leaves and herbs on a windowsill will help. Not only will you save on food waste and carbon dioxide emissions by not buying those things in a supermarket, but the plants you grow will take carbon dioxide from the air around you and convert it into oxygen.
Eat locally sourced, organic produce
The further away your food is grown, the more fuel is required to get the food to you. Try sourcing a local organic veg box – if there isn’t one near you then Riverford have a great range*. Organic farming supports biodiversity and soil fertility as well as rejecting artificial pesticides and fertilisers.
Eat seasonal foods
Eating food that is in season in your country anyway reduces your reliance on food that’s forced in hothouses or shipped in from overseas. I have monthly guides on what’s in season in the UK with lots of vegan recipes for you to try each month!
Do a waste audit
The easiest way to get started with reducing the amount of waste in your home is to do a waste audit. For the next week or two, keep a record of all waste that comes through your home and what you do with it – there’s a handy printable in the subscriber’s vault should you need one. Now you have a list, you can use it to decide what to phase out first.
Reject unnecessary packaging
The best way to deal with your packaging is to stop it coming into your home in the first place. Choose products with less packaging, or go for brands that take their packaging back for recycling such as Splosh cleaning products or Faith in Nature bulk containers*. If you’re feeling brave enough, you could even unpack your goods in store and leave the packaging there for the people who supply it to deal with.
Find ways to reuse your waste
Buying zero waste products is one way to reduce your waste, but that should only really be the last resort. Every new item you buy takes time, energy and resources to make. Think about what you throw in the recycling bin each week and what else you could use those things for. Takeaway containers are useful for freezing leftovers. Most of our drinking glasses are Nutella jars from our pre-vegan days. A good portion of our cardboard waste is used for mulching or compost. Old clothes can be made into wax food wraps or make up remover pads.
Phase out single-use plastics
Did you know that virtually every piece of plastic ever made still exists today? Microplastics have been found in table salt, human stools, the seabed and the Arctic snow. While sometimes plastic is still the better option, most of the time we can simply do without it and this is especially true for many single-use plastics in the average home. The simplest way to get started on reducing your plastic waste is (with the help of the waste audit) gradually swap your single-use plastic items for plastic-free alternatives.
Take your money out of fossil fuels
This one is a biggie, and I’m going to write more on it soon. We need to think more about where we put our money. According to Ethical Consumer, the big banks all invest heavily in fossil fuels. With more choice than ever before and online banking on the rise, do we really need to be sticking to the usual providers? Of course we don’t. Thankfully, the same article lists several places to get your current account that aren’t loaded with fossil fuels. Switch – and tell your bank why you’re switching too.
Explore working from home
Working from home cuts out the commute and reduces demand for energy, space and fuel. If you can work from home, then great! If you can’t, you could consider public transport (more on that below) or carpooling instead.
Walk or cycle more often
Walking is the most energy-efficient form of transport – leave the car at home for trips to the shop or school! It’s also better for your health.
Embrace public transport
Using transport that is already there means less energy is used and there is less traffic on the roads. If you’re not sure how you can get from A to B, Google Maps is your friend! Direct coaches and trains are the most energy efficient forms of public transport. They’re not as expensive as you might think either – we have a Family & Friends Railcard and save a small fortune on rail travel every year.
Switch to an electric car
If you must use a car, make it an electric car powered by your renewable energy supplier (Octopus have a tariff specifically for people with electric cars*) or even your very own solar panels. Don’t know which car to get? The Fully Charged show has loads of reviews. Binge-watching that show is probably the best (and most fun) way to start your research.
Move away from air transport and freight
In most cases, long haul air transport and freight are not necessary evils. Choose companies that shun air freight such as Riverford* and use land based public transport, checking Google Maps or Rome2Rio to plan your travel. Even long distances can be travelled exclusively (or almost exclusively) by land and sea. Hazel Hedge travelled from Yorkshire to Thailand without flying – a very epic journey indeed!
Stop buying so much
Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need something new or if you’re doing it out of habit. Everything you buy needs resources to create and by cutting back on that overall, you’re helping to reduce demand. I find this comes naturally the more you work on other areas of your life.
Buy second hand
Buying second hand means you still get what you want/need, but nothing new is produced. If your second hand item comes from a charity shop, you raise money for your favourite charity as an added bonus. eBay*, Facebook Marketplace and charity shops are your friends here. Oxfam* and other charity shops are moving online too, so it’s easier than ever to buy second hand. In 2020 I’m doing a “Buy Nothing New” year, so why don’t you hop over to those posts to see how I’m getting on?
Make do and mend
With a bit of patience and curiosity, you can probably manage to mend most things that need a bit of repair in you home. Back in April I tried fixing an escaping underwire for the first time, and when I realised how easy it was I was both pleased that one of my favourite bras was saved and angry at all the equally great bras I’d thrown away over the years for such a simple problem. I recommend Sian Berry’s Mend It!* for solutions for hundreds of common repairs on your bookshelf, but YouTube is a quick and easy way (usually) to find a fix for a specific problem.
Support local businesses
Buying local reduces road miles, supports local people and keeps your money in the local economy. It’s not difficult either – if you can’t find what you need on the high street, then Etsy* and eBay* both offer search filters for local sellers. Asking in your local Facebook group is also a pretty good shout.
Help the bees
We rely on bees for 1/3 of our food worldwide. Bees are in decline and it’s up to us to help them. Plant wildflowers, let grass and “weeds” grow, and shun pesticides and herbicides in favour of a bit of elbow grease.
Plant trees every time you search
Small tweak to routine = massive impact to the environment. I’ve been using Ecosia for just over a year and have “planted” about 200 trees. Check out my review for more info, then find out how to make Ecosia your default search engine (almost) anywhere.
Remember – activism is not a dirty word
People tend to shy away from activism and I’m still not really sure why. It’s not all being angry and attending protests (but you can definitely do that if you feel up to it). Get involved in local green initiatives, find out who your elected representatives are and write to them, sign a petition, campaign with Friends of the Earth, and lastly join the Greens! No matter what your interests are, or your skillset, there is a form of activism out there that will work for you. The only time you don’t have the power to change something is when you do nothing.
So there we are – 25(ish) ways you can make a difference to your environmental impact in 2020. Pick one thing to work on today and start chipping away at it. If you’d add anything to this list, let me know in the comments.