The Japanese have a cultural ideology of ‘constant improvement’ when it comes to all aspects of life. It’s something Japanese businesses ingrain into their business models, so much so it even has a name, Kaizen. It presents the idea that no matter what you’re doing you should always consider ways to do something better. Small, seemingly inconsequential changes can add up to a significant improvement.
This approach to life is something I’ve come to realise I try to embrace - sometimes consciously but often subconsciously, and I feel it is as applicable as ever when it comes to building a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle, regardless of your starting point.
Truth is, yes, the climate change clock is ticking and big changes in western lifestyle and culture are likely needed to curb our indulgent use of the planets resources, but attempts by hardcore environmentalists to force an ‘all or nothing’ approach onto unsuspecting individuals just won’t work on 95% of people. It’s too much change too quickly and truthfully daunting and impossible, especially when the rest of culture is too far behind (an example, an attempt to ditch all plastic packaging in your life today will end in a world of pain, it’s just not practical without law and business practices in place to make it easier for the individual).
So with that, my approach has been and continues to be kaizen - small constant changes. Full disclosure, I am far from a model example of an environmentally friendly individual but I am making the environment a factor I consider when making decisions, both short and long term. It’s an approach I suggest for others too, and so I wanted to compile a list of every little thing I have done, do, or plan to do in the near future that has any relevance to the environment.
This is NOT to say the future of the environment lies in the hands of the individual - my opinion couldn’t be further from that. Governments and corporations are to blame and must take big actions against the various environmental issues we face today, but that’s not to say we should all aim toward leading a greener lifestyle. If we as consumers demand environmentally friendly practices then you can bet corporations will start doing it, they want our continued business.
The point of this is both a personal exercise of keeping track of things, but also to put out ideas for others. Everyone is in a different situation so some of you could do more than me, some could do less and some could do completely different things. If you live in the countryside, growing your own vegetables and sourcing food locally, you inherently have a pretty sustainable lifestyle compared to the likes of myself, living in the city.
That’s a long intro.. Onto the list. This will be continuously updated as time goes by (remember Kaizen, continuous improvement!). Each point is also going to be as succinct as possible to make it a quick and easy list to read.
- Switched to a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. A glass KeepCup is my choice. I actively try to avoid plastic water bottles and disposable cups (within reason, again, it’s about reduction not all or nothing).
- Switched all lightbulbs to LED or low wattage alternatives. This can even be fun and more convenient if you go with something like Phillips Hue (albeit an expensive option, regular LED bulbs are cheap).
- Switched to Bamboo toothbrushes. I’m still an advocate of a manual toothbrush, and there’s no reason not to switch to bamboo. A pack of 4 bamboo brushes is about £10 on Amazon.
- I use Ecosia. Ecosia is a fairly new search engine that uses 100% of ad revenue to plant trees (turn off your adblock for the Ecosia domain!). It’s a decent alternative to Google for basic searches (it uses Bing). A separate post on how I’ve got my browser/phone setup for Ecosia and Google to come.
- Switched energy supplier to a renewables focused one. I went with Bulb Energy (review in the works!) who promise 100% renewable electricity supply at a very competitive price. Disclaimer, above is my referral link (money off for us both!). There are other green suppliers are out there.
- I buy less crap. No matter how small, all physical goods have an environment footprint. I’m slowly moving away from consumerism as best I can and avoiding buying stuff I don’t need. Got a music streaming service? You probably don’t need the CD too. Got an iPhone X? You probably don’t need an XS.
- I say no to pointless ‘free stuff’. If you’ve already got enough pens to last a lifetime, you don’t need that free pen with someones logo on it.
- I’m reducing single-use Related to the coffee cup thing, I’m generally trying to reduce single use. Recycling is good, but not enough. One example, Nespresso. I still use my Nespresso machine, but less - I have an Aeropress which is a much less wasteful way to make coffee. Yes, you can recycle capsules, but it’s still resource and energy intensive.
- I’m reducing my meat intake. Western culture has developed a huge and unsustainable dependence on meat. Historically, meat was an expensive, occasional luxury - today you can get a cheeseburger for 99p. The food industry, and meat in particular has a huge environmental impact. Cutting meat completely is hard, reducing it isn’t. I am aiming to eliminate all other meat except chicken and fish and make at least 80% of my lunches/dinners vegetarian or vegan within the next few months.
- Fish/Chicken beats red meat. Stopping to eat meat is hard both mentality and practically, but opting for fish or chicken over red meat (particularly beef and lamb) makes a big difference (it’s healthier too!). , but we can safely say red meat (beef/lamb) is 4-10x worse (maybe more!) for the environment than chicken. I am aiming to eliminate all other meat except chicken and fish and make at least 80% of my lunches/dinners vegetarian or vegan within the next few months.
- I buy packaging free where possible. Supermarkets (especially the smaller ones) don’t make this easy, but I look to buy packaging free versions of things were possible. Especially stuff like fruit.
- I’m trying to buy food more local. This one’s difficult for me, but buying food from local sources saves a lot of energy from lack of transport and methods of keeping food fresh over long periods of time and distance. It usually means less packaging too.
- I put less water in the kettle. Boiling water fast requires a lot of energy. The more water, the more energy. I put only slightly more than what I need in. Saves money, time and reduces energy usage.
- I use less water. Mine, like many homes in UK, has a fixed monthly water bill. No matter how much or how little water you use, the price is the same, making it tempting to not care. But getting that water treated and delivered to your house takes a lot of energy. Easy changes like turning the tap off while brushing your teeth should be a quick improvement.
- I stopped using ‘flushable’ wipes. For a short period of time I started using flushable toilet wipes. Not only are they causing huge issues to the sewage systems, they’re also terrible for oceans and contain plastics.
- I pay more attention to energy usage. I’m generally becoming more conscious of how much energy things are using around the house, and being careful how much heating is being used.
- I’ve added some plants to the home. Perhaps more of a personal health one, but this is especially worthwhile if you live in the city. Adding plants to your home not only adds to the decor, but also assists in reducing CO2. I went for a snake plant and some other smaller table plants.
- I’m selling/donating stuff I don’t need. Instead of having clutter around the house, or throwing things away - finding a new home for perfectly usable goods is an excellent way to help the environment. Help others avoid buying new.
- I buy less beverages. Jointly health related, I drink far less soft drinks and juices now. Tap water is cheaper, far less wasteful, and of course way healthier. Every can of Coke is the accumulation of a lot of resources to produce, package and transport to your house. I consider these drinks an occasional treat rather than a daily part of my diet.
- I consider alcohol more carefully. I don’t drink a lot anyway, but I only recently considered how many resources goes into production of a bottle beer or a glass of wine. Between that and my health, I find myself drinking even less than before.
- I do washes at lower temperatures. Heating up water is the most energy intensive part of a washing machines process, and switching to cold washes where possible can reduce energy use by up-to 70%.
- I turn lights off. It’s an obvious one, but I was terrible at this as a kid. Even with energy efficient bulbs, no light is better when no one is in the room. Consider timers or smart plugs if it will help.
- I use an electric blanket. Something like this. These things use next to no electricity (yes, even far less than boiling a kettle for a hot water bottle) and warm your bed up nicely. Using one of these for an hour a night could make you more comfortable reducing your central heating.
- I rarely print stuff. Nowadays there is very little need to print a physical copy of most things. Boarding passes for plane? I use the app. Manuals? I read them on my phone/computer.
I say no to paper bills and correspondence. If paper bills and other letters can be avoided, I do. They’re not needed, waste paper and require delivering.
- I live by “buy cheap, buy twice” More of a practical/financial piece of advise, but one that leads to environmental benefits too. When it comes to buying something for long-term, I believe it’s better to spend more on better quality products that last rather than cheap ones that’ll you’ll replace again far sooner.
- I use soap! Sounds simple because it is. I primarily use good old fashioned bars of soap to wash myself. No plastic packaging and lighter to transport than liquids. I still use a small amount of shower gel to freshen up, but each bottle lasts far longer this way.
- Plastic shopping bags get at least 2 uses. If I do get caught out without a shopping bag and need to buy a 5p one, I use that bag later as a waste bin bag, doubling its usage.
- Be conscious of taking flights. Flying is one of the biggest areas in my life in which I feel the most guilt. Having a partner who currently lives in France, I have been taking more short-haul flights than ever before. For now, I am contributing to carbon-offsetting for these flights and trying to limit them where possible. I have looked at the train as an alternative, but costs make this a tough sell, often around 6x the price! It is reasons like this that the individual alone can’t solve these problems, train prices need to be reduced and flights need to be heavily taxed to even the cost. Trains need to be made more realistic for individuals.
- I use smart plugs. There has been some debate over the usefulness of smart plugs and it’s true their environmental benefits are certainly minimal, especially if you don’t make use of them much. But I bought some for convenience too and now have them scheduled to completely switch off my TV and other devices at midnight, until I turn them back on manually. This reduces how long my devices are in stand-by mode significantly as I can often go days without using my TV (and therefore turning it back on).
- I limit my car use. My car only gets used a handful of times a month, only using it when it’s strictly necessary.Written on December 1st , 2018 by Josh Unwin