How to live sustainably – concrete steps you can take

A more sustainable way of living means to find a way to use resources today in a way that preserves the resources for the future. Sustainable living is a lifestyle that tries to reduce the use of resources by an individual or society. People who strive for a sustainable life try to reduce their ecological footprint by adjusting their methods of transport, energy consumption and diet. Sustainability, however, does not mean that you have to live without luxury. Above all it means that you are aware of your use of resources and the waste you produce. Living more sustainably is fairly simple if you stick to a few basic principles, with fundamentals such as reduction and reuse. Examples such as turning off lights when you leave a room and washing your laundry at 30 degrees are already deeply rooted in our society. The purchase of sustainable products – for example fair trade and locally produced products – is also on the rise.

Different sustainable actions

A shift to a sustainable lifestyle involves different types of actions. Some of these can be performed daily (using less water, recycling), while others are only performed once or sporadically (getting rid of your car, insulating your home). Other examples of directly sustainable behavior are: limiting or ending behavior (driving less), replacing old behavior (cycling instead of driving), and making behavior more efficient (carpooling instead of driving alone). In addition, there are a number of behaviors that are not sustainable actions in themselves, but that still contribute to creating a sustainable world. Reading a book about growing organic vegetables is an example of an indirect sustainable actions. Other examples are: civil actions (voting, signing petitions), educational actions (looking up information), financial actions (donating money, boycotting a company), legal actions (to enforce a company to comply with environmental legislation) and persuasive actions (letter writing).

Do people want to live sustainably?

The majority of people believe that a sustainable lifestyle can create positive change. Among other things, behavior like energy-saving and making energy efficient investments show an increasing awareness and willingness to live in a more sustainable way. Most people are genuinely interested in sustainability, for example because they see this as their responsibility, they want to improve their quality of life and / or want to save money. However, the transition to a sustainable lifestyle presents a number of challenges: people say that green living is more expensive and that they lack a like-minded community around them. These people feel that they have to do it all on their own. They lack support and lose motivation after a while. In addition, people feel like they don’t know where to start. For example, they lack organic produce in their environment and alternatives to plastic. Moreover, they feel that they don’t have enough information to make changes in their lifestyle.

Text continues below the image.

groen huis natuurlijk duurzaamheid woning

Concrete steps

Sustainable shopping

Every product we buy has an ecological footprint: from the materials used in the production to the pollution that is released and the packaging that ends up at the landfill after disposal. If you do not use products often, you can think of lending them out. You can also look at second-hand options and options that are not packed (in plastic). To produce less plastic waste, you can opt for reusable bags and avoid disposable plastic (such as water bottles and straws), as well as products made from (or packaged in) plastic. Conversely, you can invest in reusable products for the plastic items you use most often, such as a water bottle. In addition, it is important that large purchases have major environmental benefits. Sustainability is financially more attractive than many people think. Because although sustainable products are (sometimes) more expensive to purchase, they often offer considerable energy savings in the long term. Finally, you can still save energy on your current devices, namely by not leaving them on unnecessarily, not even on standby.

When it comes to food, it is important to waste as little as possible. Also, it is best to eat (mostly) plant-based. Exchanging intensive livestock farming for biological alternatives is simply not enough to stop climate change. We need to eat less meat, fish and dairy. Instead we should get our proteins from plant-based alternatives. To prevent you from contributing to the extinction of wild animals, choose products made from sustainable materials and eat in restaurants that do not serve endangered species. In addition, it is important to opt for seasonal fruit and vegetables and for local products. Organic products are grown without artificial fertilizers and pesticides, so that these chemicals do not end up in the environment. Furthermore, for a sustainable lifestyle it is important to not buy bottled water, but to drink water from the tap. In addition, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients in your food. For example, rice is less sustainable than potatoes and rainforests are being cut down for palm oil production.

Sustainable living

Sustainable houses are built using sustainable methods, materials and facilitate a green lifestyle. The construction of a house and its maintenance have a neutral impact on the earth. To label (building) material as green, air and water quality must not be affected during production. Also, the process must be energy efficient and use as few resources as possible. The latter can be achieved, among other things, by using as many recycled materials as possible. In addition, locally available material and material that will last for a long time is the better option. It is even possible to live off-the-grid; these houses are no longer connected to the public energy grid or sewerage system, because they generate drinking water and electricity themselves.

If you want to make your current home more sustainable, you can think of installing solar panels and insulating. You can also opt for energy from a green supplier and set the thermostat a few degrees lower than you normally would. Even with relatively small investments you can live in a more sustainable way, so sealing cracks and drafts is a good first step. You can also use a programmable thermostat for more efficient heating of your home, as well as energy-saving lighting. A measure such as installing double glass windows also ensures that the comfort in the home increases. Water saving is also crucial. You can save water by taking a shorter shower, repairing faucets and opting for devices with a lower water consumption. It can also help to choose native plants for your garden that you do not need to water, and provide birds and insects with food and shelter. Another measure is the construction of green roofs, which insulate buildings, collect rainwater and reduce the heat island effect.

Sustainable travel

More sustainable options are also possible in areas like transport and holiday. Of course it is better to use your bike or to walk instead of using your car. If the latter is necessary, you can at least adapt a more fuel-efficient driving style, and opt for a more fuel-efficient car or shared car, or to carpool. Another sustainable measure is to travel outside rush hour and / or to work from your home as much as possible. Otherwise choose an electric car, or one that runs on green gas. Because of the lower weight and the smaller engine, a smaller car uses less fuel. Motorized transport, however, almost always leads to depletion of fossil fuels, even the electricity for train, tram and metro is often generated with fossil fuels. However, public transport still amply wins the green comparison – even when a car is fully occupied.

Go on a sustainable vacation by staying closer to your home or opting for the train instead of a plane. Accommodations also differ in terms of sustainability. The more luxurious the accommodation and the circumstances, the greater the environmental impact. Regarding environmental friendliness, nothing beats camping. Lying on the beach can be extremely environmentally friendly unless you first have to fly to the Philippines and stay in a luxury resort. Snorkeling hardly harms the environment, while jet skiing heavily pollutes the environment. Finally, it is important to avoid souvenirs made from wild plants and animals, and protected species.

Sustainable lifestyle

There are a number of ways to reduce waste. For example can prevent paper waste by choosing to receive advertising brochures and statements digitally. In addition, it is important to avoid packaging material as much as possible and to re-use it as much as possible. Reuse reduces the need for raw material extraction, because the collected material serves as raw material for new packaging or other products. Many materials such as glass, paper, organic waste and plastic are reused if you throw them away separately. Glass can be recycled infinitely, old paper and cardboard are the most important raw materials for new paper and cardboard, compost or gas is made from organic waste, and around 40% of all plastic packaging is reused. Upcycling is an extension of recycling. The aim is to convert (old) material into something of comparable or higher value. Think of turning old clothes into a bag or making sea containers suitable for living. If you do not know what you can do with an old item, you can always sell or donate it. By extending the life of each product, you reduce dependence on single-use products. You can borrow items from other consumers, including items that you do not use every day, such as garden tools, camping gear or cars. Often these shared cars are newer than the average own car, so they usually drive more economically and cleaner. Moreover, if many cars are shared, the environmental impact of production, maintenance and demolition of cars will decrease. Collaborative consumption (sharing, exchanging, trading) shows a shift from the preference for ownership of goods to “access” of goods and services, and from passive consumers to co-producers of goods and services (growing your own food).

When choosing a bank or insurer you can pay attention to their policies. Most banks still have to take significant steps in areas such as ​​climate, weapons and animal welfare. Most banks are not open about the extent of their share in greenhouse gas emissions of companies in which they invest, nor have they published measurable CO2 reduction targets for these companies. In addition, it is of course important to vote for political parties with strong environmental goals. Encourage your representatives to pursue stronger policies to combat climate change, protect animals and nature, and support access to family planning. Better education and access to family planning reduce family sizes and thus our overall ecological footprint.

You can find more English articles in our blog.

Other articles you might enjoy:

What is climate change: An introduction
Examples of sustainability for companies
What is a smart city: An introduction