So you want to be better about helping the environment and admire those who live green lifestyles, but you aren't ready to indulge in tofu and plant a community garden? That's fine! The truth is that some of the most effective environmentalists are those that make small differences on a daily basis. You don't need to live in a completely sustainable hovel to do your part. In fact, you can start today to make a few changes in your day-to-day life that have a big impact on the quality and sustainability of the environment. Just thinking twice about the way your actions affect the environment can be enough to help you practice these eco-friendly tips—and trust me, you only have to eat tofu if you want to.
- Drive less. If you live close enough to work, go for a walk or trade in four wheels for two and bike it. Impossible to get to work on your own two legs? Hop aboard public transportation, or if you simply must drive your own car, slow down and stop weaving in and out of traffic. Not only is it dangerous, but it uses way more gas and produces more emissions, according to Michael Bentley, Education Associate of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
- Stop wasting water. Love to shave in the shower? Stop! Wasting time while bathing uses up gallons of water you don't need. Switch to being a sink shaver and save water. If you're known for your luxurious showers, set a time on your phone to five minutes to avoid wasting water. If you have the cash, try swapping out your toilets for low-flow models so you can stop flushing so much water—along with your hard-earned money—down the toilet.
- Stop "standing by." Even if you're religious about turning off your TV and computer when you leave the room, you could still be using up electricity. When in standby mode and plugged in, these electronic devices can run power continuously, like a lightbulb. Instead, attach them to a power bar that can be switched off completely when you're done.
- Cool off. You don't need to make drastic cuts to help save energy, but small changes can make a huge difference. Swapping out your hot water cycle for cold in your laundry is one way to make a completely effortless and imperceptible change. Just switch to a cold-water detergent and you'll save on your heating bill and your carbon footprint.
- Think twice before printing. Do you really need to print that spreadsheet or can you view it as a file on your computer instead? Printing uses electricity and paper resources. Technology is portable, so you can share files online without having to pass around unnecessary paper. You could even take three seconds to add a disclaimer at the end of your emails for recipients to think twice before printing.
- Skip bottled water. Bottled water accounts for a large amount of plastic waste each year. Bentley advises, "Don't drink bottled water, but if you must, recycle the bottle." Instead, invest in a refillable aluminum bottle. It's reusable and won't leach harmful chemicals, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), into your water.
- Hit the farmer's market. If your community offers a farmer's market, check it out to see if you can buy some of your bread, produce and even dairy products locally. Not only are you supporting the little guy, but you're cutting back on the travel costs and resources used to bring produce from places like South America to your grocery store. Plus, homegrown produce usually tastes better anyway—double win!
- Eat lower on the food chain. While you're at it, why not change a few of your eating habits? They don't need a complete overhaul, just better consciousness. "[Eat] lower on the food chain. In other words, cut down meat in the diet, especially beef which is the worst offender in terms of one's carbon footprint. This can be done by eating less meals with meat and/or by cutting portion sizes." No need to go vegan; going meatless just two nights per week can make a difference.
- Swap out your light bulbs. Come on, they're on your honey-do list anyway! Instead of using the same old bulbs, switch to CFLs or LCDs. They might cost a little extra, but they last longer and use less power to operate.
- Recycle your stuff. Above and beyond the usual glass, aluminum and plastic recycling, you can find ways to recycle and reuse other stuff around your home. Instead of junking old toys and electronics, deliver them to the Salvation Army. Browse the racks at the Good Will to try your luck at thrift shopping, and avoid buying new clothes. You can even try recycling around your house—balled-up newspaper inserted into boots is a great way to reduce wear during storage.
You don't need a complete lifestyle overhaul to make a change in the environment. By being smart about energy usage and being just a little more green, you can make a huge difference without any hippie connotations.