It’s easy to become overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done to combat climate change. However, making small changes to your habits throughout the year, perhaps one every month, can make a big difference. After all, being sustainable is not about being perfect. While this article lists 12 things you can try, incorporating even one of them into your daily life can have a positive impact on the planet.
Read on to learn about sustainable habits you can adopt each month of the year.
January: Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Join in the Veganuary movement, a challenge to eat vegan for the entire month of January. Global food production is responsible for 17 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and animal-based foods make up 57% of those emissions. We’ve all seen the grocery stores stocked with milk alternatives and meatless meats, but if almond milk and tofu aren’t to your taste, there are several other easy swaps you can make, like substituting avocado for mayonnaise and jackfruit for pork. Here is a list of some other comfort food swaps you can make.
February: Reduce Food Waste Through Composting
Try composting your food scraps instead of throwing them away. According to a study from the UN Environment Programme, 17% of all our food gets tossed in the trash. The study also found that households all over the world contribute to the food waste problem, with 11% of the food in people’s fridges and cupboards ending up in the trash.
One way to reduce or repurpose food waste is composting. The benefits of composting include the prevention of soil erosion, assisting stormwater management, promoting healthier plant growth and combating climate change. No garden? There are also many places that accept compost donations for community gardens and personal use.
March: Reduce Single-Use Plastic Waste
Another way to lessen your landfill contribution is to cut down on single-use plastics. Many of us have cloth grocery bags and carry our own reusable water bottles, but there are other options to replace single-use plastics as well.
- Bringing your own cup for coffee at your favorite café.
- Bringing your own container and shopping in the grocery store bulk aisle.
- Declining plastic utensils with your takeout.
- Bringing your own container to a restaurant for leftovers.
- Bringing your own bamboo straw when you eat out.
Consider trading single-use items for reusable ones to help keep plastic out of landfills, oceans and waterways.
April: Cut Back on Home Energy Use
Consider looking for ways to cut back on home energy use and reduce your carbon footprint. You can calculate your carbon footprint here. By taking steps to reduce your household emissions, you can also reduce your energy costs. Energy-saving ideas include unplugging electronics, replacing high-wattage incandescent lightbulbs with energy-saving options like LEDs, switching to Energy Star appliances and upgrading your thermostat.
May: Help Pollinators in Your Backyard
If you have a lawn, consider participating in the “No Mow May” initiative to encourage pollinators to frequent your yard. Mowing the lawn less creates new habitats and can increase the abundance and variety of wildlife such as bees and other early-season pollinators in your area.
No lawn? Encourage your friends and neighbors to participate!
June: Cut Commute Emissions
In June, consider walking, taking public transport, carpooling or biking to work when you can. Road travel accounts for 15% of total CO2 emissions globally, with cars being higher emitters than buses and trains. Biking, walking, carpooling and using public transportation are all simple solutions for reducing your carbon footprint.
Calculate your daily commute’s carbon footprint here. Then, find ways to reduce it through greener modes of transportation.
July: Rewild Your Backyard
If you have a lawn, flower bed or garden, consider “rewilding” it with local plants. By reducing the size of your lawn and adding native plants, you can turn your yard into a habitat for birds and insects to thrive. Rewilding Our Cities, a report out of London, found that the benefits of rewilding and restoring urban ecosystems are impressive and include climate change mitigation and adaption, reduced pollution, reversal of biodiversity loss and the improvement of residents’ wellbeing.
To find a list of plants native to your area, visit the Native Plant Finder. And, if you don’t have a backyard to rewild, consider volunteering to help local rewilding projects or lending a hand at a local nature preserve.
It’s also important to consult experts and local stakeholders before starting any projects, as poorly managed rewilding efforts can actually harm the environment.
August: Choose Your Sunscreen Wisely
When heading to the beach to swim, use sun protection that won’t harm the environment. Common sunscreen chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate can wash away from skin and damage coral reefs and other habitats. According to the National Park Service, around 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off into oceans each year.
But before you rush off to buy “reef-safe” sunscreen, it’s important to note that “reef-safe” doesn’t have an official FDA definition. Experts say you should check the ingredients to find one that is non-nano zinc oxide based and does not contain the following reef-damaging ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate.
When in doubt, opt for a mineral sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays with active ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
September: Clean Up Your Local Environment
Participate in “World Cleanup Day” on September 16. Worldwide municipal solid waste generation is expected to rise by roughly 70% by 2050. World Cleanup Day is a social action program battling the global solid waste problem. So, pick up some trash, reduce your waste and help make our world a little cleaner!
October: Buy In-Season Food and Swap Meat for Vegetables
Buy local, in-season produce and commit to eating a vegan or vegetarian meal during the week. It’s a bit of a misconception that buying locally is better for the environment, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. However, as the organization notes, it can be beneficial to buy locally when the produce is in season.
Even more beneficial than buying in-season produce is swapping out meat dishes for vegetables. While Veganuary is a fun challenge, consider eating vegan or vegetarian once or twice a week throughout the year to cut down on meat consumption.
November: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Educate yourself on your local recycling rules. Each region has its own guidelines on what is acceptable material for recycling. If you don’t know what is and isn’t allowed in your area, you may think you’re recycling when, in fact, your items end up in a landfill anyway. Some ways to educate yourself on local recycling regulations include utilizing sites like Earth911 to find ways to recycle more difficult items, reading materials from your recycling provider and looking into store drop-off programs.
Learn more about some of the most common recyclables here.
December: Give Your Time and Money to Sustainable Organizations and Charities
Donate your time and money to charities and sustainable organizations that are working to fight climate change and improve the environment. The holiday season is often referred to as the “season of giving.” Much of that spirit revolves around the giving of physical objects, and this focus isn’t always the most sustainable. Instead of buying physical gifts for the holidays, consider donating to a sustainable charity or volunteering your time with local organizations.
If you are planning on giving physical gifts, consider giving homemade gifts or giving secondhand items a new life. For more suggestions on how to celebrate the holidays more sustainably, read our blog.
A Year Well Spent
Battling climate change is no easy feat, but when a lot of people take small steps such as reducing plastic waste, composting and cutting energy use, it can help create a better, more sustainable and eco-friendly world.