14 Simple Habits to Help the Environment

My friend over at Zen Habits was kind enough to write a guest post for me while I am away on vacation. Leo writes about productivity, goals, habits, motivation, inspiration, simplicity, and more at his Zen Habits blog. If you like this article, check out his site for more great stuff, it’s one of my favorites!

Let’s face it: we all want to help the environment, but many times we are too busy with our daily lives to make the big changes that we think are needed to develop a more sustainable lifestyle and a more environmentally friendly culture. We don’t have time to lobby for climate change initiatives, or get involved with Green Peace, or fit our houses with solar panels, or even buy a hybrid car.

Fear not, my friends, there is another way: make small, simple, easy habit changes that all add up to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

You don’t need to incorporate them all at once. Do them one at a time, until you’re doing all or most, and you can be proud of what you’ve done. These are nothing new, but it’s useful to consider adopting them into our daily lifestyles. Here they are:

  1. Use CFLs. These energy-saving lightbulbs are a little more expensive than regular lightbulbs, but they last much longer and will lower your power bill in the long run. The habit to develop is to buy a couple of these at a time, instead of the regular incandescent bulbs, and replace your bulbs with CFLs as they burn out. In a few months, your entire house will have energy-saving bulbs. Simple!
  2. Buy used first. Instead of going straight to the store to buy a new gizmo, gadget, widget, or hoozit, see if you can find a used one instead. If it’s already been used, you’re lengthening the lifetime of that product and reducing the need for new ones, which in the end saves the environmental impact of creating and selling that item. And it’s an easy habit: ask around, and someone might have a used hoozit to give away for free (or cheap) or look in used shops or yard sales. Plus it’s fun!
  3. Donate your stuff. Got a bunch of stuff you want to get rid of? Don’t contribute to the landfill. If it’s usable, give it to someone who needs it. Or donate it to a charity thrift shop — they can sell it for a little bit of fund-raising cash, so you’re not only lengthening the life of that item but helping a good cause. The habit to develop: when weeding out your old stuff, put them in a box or basket near the door. Then when you run errands, grab the box and drop it off at a charity shop. If it’s an expensive item, you could email your friends and family to give them the first shot at it.
  4. Recycle. Yeah, this is old hat. But it’s important. Many of you will live in cities or towns where recycling is easy — you just put your glass, paper, plastic, and cans in bins at the curbside, and the recycling truck picks it up as the regular garbageman does. For those of us who don’t live in such progressive areas, we have to find a recycling center and drop it off. Either way, the simple habit to develop is to have separate containers for each type of recyclable good and simply separate them at the point of disposal instead of tossing them in the trash. For those of us who have to drop them off somewhere, just throw the boxes in your trunk (along with your donation box) and drop them off on errand day.
  5. Buy energy-efficient appliances. Similar to the CFL item above, this can be done on a replacement basis — no need to run out and buy a bunch of new stuff. But when you do need to buy a new washer or fridge or anything, really, make energy efficiency one of your top criteria. This goes for cars as well.
  6. Use less stuff. One of the biggest problems we have as a society is overconsumption. We buy, consume, and throw out a huge amount of stuff. More than any other society in history. The habit to develop is to see if you can do without something instead of running out and buying it. When you feel the urge to buy something, hesitate. Put it on a 30-day list, and don’t buy it until 30 days have elapsed since you put it on the list. Instead, while you’re waiting, think about whether it’s truly necessary, and again, are their ways to get it used or to do without it.
  7. Use cloth grocery bags. Paper or plastic? Paper is better, but the cloth is even better than that. It’s a very easy habit: buy a few cloth grocery bags (or better yet, make your own or get them used!) and take them to the grocery store. Some stores will even give you a discount for using reusable bags. If expense is an issue, just buy 1-2 at a time, until you eventually are using all cloth bags.
  8. Turn things off. Many times we have a habit of leaving things on. This wastes energy, which contributes to the burning of more fossil fuels and global warming. Instead, develop the habit of turning things off when you don’t use them: lights, air conditioners, water heaters, computers, televisions, etc.
  9. Walk and cycle more. Cars are one of our biggest polluters and fuel wasters. Do as David does, and try to go carless! Even if this is not practical for you on a daily basis, you can try to use the car less often — walk to the store or school for short trips, and try making many of your medium-distance trips by bike. Bonus: you’ll burn more calories and lose weight!
  10. Think about packaging. Besides the production and waste of the goods themselves, the packaging of products is hugely wasteful. The habit to develop: when you’re shopping, look for products that use less packaging than others. Some companies go out of their way to minimize packaging. Bulk products are also good for this. And avoid styrofoam products and packaging as much as possible, because of the harmful pollutants used to produce them.
  11. Eat local foods. One thing most of us rarely think about when we eat something is how far that food had to travel to get to our plate. Oftentimes its thousands and thousands of miles — sometimes halfway around the world! Think about how much fuel is wasted bringing those items to you, when similar food is often grown right there in your area. The habit to develop: when shopping at a grocery store, see if there are any fruits and vegetables labeled as “grown locally”. It’s also great to shop at farmer’s markets and other such venues with locally grown foods.
  12. Avoid McDonald’s. Well, not just McDonald’s, but they’re the worst. Not only is their food nutritionally empty, and actually harmful to your health, but they are one of the worst polluters and destroyers of the environment. Their huge supply of beef requires the destruction of the rainforest and a huge contribution to global warming. Not to mention all their unnecessary packaging. Actually, all fast food companies are guilty of this. Habit to develop: adopt the attitude of the Slow Food movement (basically, the opposite of fast food), eat at home or at sit-down restaurants, and take the time to enjoy your food. Your palate, your stomach, your heart, and the environment will thank you.
  13. Use Microfiber Cloths. Thanks to a gift from my mother-in-law, we rarely use paper towels in the house anymore. While we had rags and dishtowels around to do some of the work, once we got our hands on microfiber cloths we haven’t looked back! In fact, my wife just picked up a few more the other day – now we have one for drying dishes, one for use on the kitchen counters, one for the bathroom – all to be used in place of paper towels! The only time we use paper now is if there is a big spill in the house somewhere, as the microfiber cloths actually work much better on small spills, cleaning, wiping down, etc. So if you are still using paper towels for everything, pick up a microfiber cloth and give it a try – they really do work rather well!
  14. Reduce Your Waste. Have you ever noticed how much paper and plastic comes with the stuff that you buy? What a waste! In order to cut down the waste that comes into your house when you make purchases, try the following tips:
  • Choose products with a minimum amount of packaging. If you have a choice between two products that do the same thing, pick the one with less “wrapping”.
  • Buy your fruits and veggies loose (like from the Farmer’s Market) rather than in bags or packaging.
  • When looking for lunches for your children, try to avoid those pre-packaged lunches and snacks. Instead, buy those things in bulk and pack their lunch in a reusable container.
  • Look for packaging that is recyclable in your community.
  • Try wrapping presents in a newspaper or other creative ways. Wrapping paper is a huge waste product in this country! We use bags over and over again each time we give each other gifts…so there is never any waste from our gifts.

It’s a simple list, but I’m sure you could easily think of a dozen more. The main point is to change your lifestyle in small and easy ways, over time, and soon you’ll be just as much of an eco-head as David! Bonus: almost all of these habits save money!

Read more about habit changes, goals, productivity, simplifying, and more at Zen Habits.

technorati: tips, environment

4 thoughts on “14 Simple Habits to Help the Environment”

  1. I was struck by the fast food tip in particular. We really are surrounded by fast food, and the entire destructive way of not-living that it creates. Even “healthy” prepared foods (Wolfgang Puck eateries, airport salad stands) are fast food. It’s hard to keep this in perspective until you’re somewhere else. I recall being pretty amazed during a trip to Germany last year. “Fast food” is just not a phrase that’s in the vocabulary (excepting a few McDonald’s encroachments in places like Berlin). I had the luck of being able to tour a lot of the countryside and smaller towns and never saw a fast food place – although there was one “swift food” restaurant! Every meal was made from scratch, of delicious, local ingredients. And that was the status quo – it wasn’t expensive, luxurious or anything anyone thought much about at all. Just real, simple, natural food. The “slow food” was so enjoyable and was so wonderful for reducing any stress that had accumulated by the afternoon. There’s a reason for humans to do this.

  2. I agree Sara, it is gross how much fast food there is…it is everywhere! We are on vacation right now and that is almost the only thing to eat while in the road…thanks for the comment!

  3. The shops that exist near my home tend to over-charge for used items. Often, sadly, clothing has not been washed. One shop in particular stinks. If I am to donate clothing, I’d have to find a car-owning friend to drive the items over. Sometimes, donating to charity is not easy.


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