What Does Sustainability Mean?
Sustainability is a vision of our shared future and instructions that guide our actions to protect it. While ensuring the future availability of resources is a primary component of sustainability, many other factors play a part in its definition. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists 17 sustainability goals, ranging from climate change to education to maintaining a clean global water supply. These goals make up a total system that aims to benefit both people and planet. So sustainability means, in essence, working to leave the planet in decent shape for generations to come.
What is Climate Change?
The UN’s 13th sustainability goal is Climate Action, specifically to “Take immediate action to combat climate change and its impacts.” But what exactly is climate change? What causes it? Well, modern climate change is a change in global climate due to human activity. Greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate change. Gases are released into Earth’s atmosphere from activities such as factory farming and the production and consumption of fossil fuels. These gases trap infrared radiation from the sun, causing the planet’s surface to warm. This is known as the “greenhouse effect.” The primary greenhouse gases emitted by the United States are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
Scientists expect global temperatures to rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. While that may not seem like a lot, climate change affects our average weather. Current surface warming has already caused sea level rise, exacerbating the frequency and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. You have likely noticed this in recent years.
How to Be More Sustainable in 2021
Climate change is our reality, but it doesn’t have to be our future. Small actions have the power to make a positive impact on our climate, soil, and oceans! Here are 10 tips to be more a more sustainable, Earth-friendly human and reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Reduce Waste
According to the EPA, every year landfills in the United States release the equivalent CO2 emissions of 11 million households. Reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills each year can significantly lower the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Some governments around the globe are implementing circular economic programs to reduce the buildup of non-reusable waste. A circular economy is a system that aims to eliminate waste by designing products to be reusable and consume fewer resources.
Even small actions like these can positively impact the environment and reduce waste contributed to landfills.
- Consider replacing single-use plastic water bottles with a reusable one.
- Compost food scraps in your kitchen or backyard.
- Buy biodegradable packaging instead of plastic whenever possible.
- Be mindful of what you buy, use, and throw away at the end of the day.
2. Eat More Plant-Based Food
The EPA estimates that agriculture contributes to 10% of the CO2 emissions in the United States. Of that, livestock contributes 40% or 250 million metric tons of CO2 yearly. Although farming methods are more efficient than ever, industrial farming continues to be a substantial contributor to environmental issues such as climate change. So, if you’re looking for an Earth-friendly alternative, eat more plant-based food! A plant-based diet includes a wide range of foods, from fruits and vegetables to bread and pasta. The goal is to incorporate more foods that originate or are derived from plants.
Another alternative some people are considering is lab-grown meat. Lab-grown meat, a recent innovation in the agriculture industry, is meat grown from cultured cells as opposed to obtained through the slaughter of an animal. Lab-grown meat could significantly reduce the environmental costs of meat production.
3. Participate in Regenerative Agriculture
Current industrial farming systems have been depleting soil nutrient content and quality for decades. Regenerative practices take traditional organic farming methods a step further by focusing specifically on soil health. Using low-till and no-till methods and increasing biodiversity on farmland keeps carbon trapped in the soil instead of in the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture is the world’s best available farming strategy for responding to the looming food, water, and climate crisis. Participate in the regenerative movement by learning more and supporting brands that source regeneratively farmed ingredients.
4. Source Organic Foods and Ingredients
Where ingredients come from matters. Industrial farming is an unsustainable practice that has far-reaching environmental consequences. Farmers’ markets and local co-ops are great places to source organic foods and ingredients that are grown ethically and responsibly. Look for organic on the shelf, in the produce bins, and when you buy online. Did you know even fabric and toilet paper can be organic? Read labels carefully for organic certifications so you can confirm a product was sourced with care for mother earth.
5. REDUCE ONE-TIME USE PLASTICS
Plastic pollution is one of the planet’s most pressing environmental issues. The most common source of ocean pollution today is plastic. A cup, a stirrer, a straw, or a plastic bag may be handy for a minute or an hour, but then it lasts for another 1000 years. Combat ocean pollution and be more sustainable by re-using containers whenever possible. Reduce the purchase of products in plastic containers and replace single-use plastic items with reusable ones like reusable straws, water bottles, shopping bags, and vitamin cases.
6. Reduce Energy Consumption
Save money and the planet by reducing energy consumption at home. Use natural light during the day and unplug unused electronics. Consider unplugging your desktop computer when it is not in use or switching to a laptop. Over the summer, turn off the lights and air conditioning when you leave the house. Getting an energy audit from your local power company can help determine what you can do to improve your home’s efficiency. If your local power company has a demand-response program, you could receive financial compensation for using less energy when demand is high!
Microgrids provide access to a secure and reliable power supply for a growing population—even in regions with power scarcity. Microgrids can disconnect from the main power grid and provide electricity to localized areas during storms and other natural disasters. Since microgrids can be powered by renewable energy sources like solar, they are more efficient and better for the environment. For small businesses, microgrids are a great option for saving energy.
7. CHOOSE Renewable Energy
Emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are the dominant driver of climate change. Most homes in the United States get their heat and electricity from fossil fuels. If you have the resources available, consider powering your home with a renewable energy source instead. Powering your home renewably can reduce your energy bill and your carbon footprint at the same time! Some states offer tax incentives for switching to renewable energy. Check to see if your state or local community has a renewable energy program. Popular options for homeowners include solar and wind.
8. Become Carbon Negative
This year, companies like Microsoft are committing to becoming carbon-negative by removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit. While this is a challenging task, with today’s technology it is possible. Innovations in technology and agriculture such as regenerative agriculture aim to trap carbon to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. Try these ideas to become carbon-negative at home:
- Install energy-efficient appliances.
- Switch your lightbulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs).
- Insulate and weatherize your home.
- Turn off and unplug electronics when not in use.
- Transition to renewable energy!
9. Shop Local
Think globally, act locally! Global supply chains can be contributors to environmental issues such as climate change. Imagine how much energy it takes to transport bananas from Asia to your kitchen table. The trucks, boats, and planes moving those bananas release exhaust into the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Support farmers in your area whenever possible to cut down on transport costs and exhaust. Plus, you’ll get good nutrients that are in season!
If you want a hands-on option, try gardening. Gardening has a variety of positive health benefits. Spending time outside reduces stress and can significantly boost your mental health. PLUS, when you grow food yourself, you know that it doesn’t have questionable chemicals that could potentially be dangerous to your health and the environment. Support local farmers or grow food whenever possible to ensure that your food choices have the most positive environmental impact.
10. Conserve Water
Less than 1% of water on planet Earth is usable fresh water. Try to distribute that small amount among 7 billion people! The UN predicts that by 2030, the world will see a shortfall in the global water supply as high as 40%, which could displace as many as 700 million people. Water scarcity affects every continent, and conserving water is the number one method of prevention.
- Conserve water at home by taking shorter showers and installing a low-flow shower head…or just take a bath.
- Regularly check your appliances for leaks.
- Only run your dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load.
- Even turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth conserves water!
The Bottom Line
We each have a responsibility to take care of our shared future. Talking about climate change and sustainability is a conversation that needs to happen. Fortunately, small actions can have an impact on our collective carbon footprint and help to create a more sustainable future. Thank you for everything that you are doing to help save our planet today and every day!