52 Small changes to make a huge difference

Want to live more sustainably, without massively changing your life?

We know we did and here's how we've gone about it.  As we all love a list, we've made one. This is our definitive list to make your life more sustainable.  We've a tip for every week of the year. 

Crucially, this doesn't mean you can't live a full 21st century lifestyle, but if everyone followed these steps it would solve many of the issues we face today as a soceity.

There is more detail on many of these items elsewhere on the site, so read on and as always we'd love to hear your thoughts (we'll be updating this list regularly to keep it entirely relevant and as effective as possible).

 1.  Don't waste.  Sounds simple - and is!!  When you do something wasteful, think of it as both wasting a valuable resource - but also literally throwing money away.  This can be throwing out food, leaving taps running or lights on when not needed etc all count.  For more see here.

 2.  Grow Food at Home - even in the smallest of spaces, it is both useful and rewarding.  You can grow in the garden, on a balcony, in pots, on window ledges or window boxes.  See our 1 day food challenge for some inspiration.

climate sustainability

3. Try to fly less.  We all love holidays and/or need to travel for business and we wouldn't want to stop this, but before clicking to make a booking just think if you could travel more sustainably to your destination.  In time planes will become electric and the carbon footprint will be significantly reduced.  Until then our message would be just think about the flights you take, rather than abstain completely.

4. Collect rainwater / grey water so we use less highly process drinking water from the tap for water plants / flushing toilets

5. Compost.  It's amazing just how much can be composted, from food to cardboard to old clothes, if you get the right set up it will all produce great compost to help your future crops grow fantastically.

6. Drive an electric car.  Not the cheap option, but if you do a lot of miles (and can find a place to recharge your car) this can work out very economical and environmentally friendly.  Imagine how good (and a little smug) you'd feel if you could have an electric car that got it's power from solar panels!

7. The next obvious point to mention is get solar panels.  We realise this isn't feasible for everyone, but if you have a suitable roof why not make use of it rather than just having plain old tiles up there.  The payback is a bit longer than previously (due to the loss of the feed-in tariff), but it is a great thing to do - particularly if you can power your car with this energy.

8. Buy Green Energy.  If you don't have access to put up solar panels, do the next best thing and buy from someone who can generate electricity from renewable sources.  There are lots of choices out there for companies who will supply electricity this way.

wind power sustainability

9. If you can avoid a journey by motorised transport do - walk or ride a bike for short journeys (definitely cheaper than owning an electric car!)

10. Be politically involved.  Campaigning might not be your thing (it isn't really ours), but keep informed - find out who says what and how it might impact the things that matter to you.  For us it's about who will enable sustainability to happen - not the extremes of either ignoring it - or forcing it against people's will.

11. Eat less meat / dairy products.  Methane is big contributor to greenhouse gases and cows produce a lot of it! All meat production is less environmentally sustainable than other crops, but that doesn't mean we believe you should stop completely, just try to have a bit less than before.

12.  Use less plastics, particularly single use plastics.  The UK government is banning (in most cases) the use of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.  This compliments the charging for plastic bags in supermarkets.  There is probably further to go, but this is a great start.

13. Get LED bulbs. These use on just over 10% of the energy for incandescent bulbs about 50% of CFL (compact flourescent bulbs) and last about 20 times / 3 times as long as these respectively.  This is very attractive, but does require a great outlay initially - up to 5 times as much, but the environmental and financial savings over time are significant.

14. Recycle and mend. It is often commented that we have a throwaway culture, with many items only having a limited lifespan.  However, if we can mend a zip, fix a piece of furniture, get a gadget (economically) mended or sew up damaged clothing, why not?

15. Try to avoid cleaning products with damaging chemicals in them. Many cleaning products are toxic to humans or the environment - try to avoid these where possible and use greener products instead.

16. Buy local products. This particularly applies to food - locally grown produce has less "food miles", which currently average 800 miles per product we consume, generally all using fossil fuels to deliver them to our door.

17.  Create a "wild" area in your garden.  On a small scale we need bees, insects, worms etc to grow food and create a healthy ecosystem.  Biodiversity of plants and animals is not just desirable, but will be needed to sustain us going forwards.

18. Use a microwave - it uses a lot less power than a conventional oven.  Obviously not ideal for all foods, but where possible (maybe for reheating foods), it is much more energy efficient.

19. Give sustainable gifts to friends and family.  We're not suggesting a compost bin (unless someone you know really wants one), but how about a fruit tree or a nice water bottle to avoid using single use plastic ones.

20. Take an eco-holiday / staycation. We live on a small wet island, but there is still a huge amount to see and do - or you could take part in a conservation project overseas.

21. Get you food from the supermarket delivered to your door.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but if normally drive to get the "big shop" each week, getting it delivered uses much less mileage per shop - because the delivery driver will have as short a route as possible to deliver 20 to 30 lots of shopping, as opposed to 20-30 return trips in a car from people's houses.

22. Try a bamboo toothbrush.  Not the world's biggest change - but every bit counts and they are just as good as a plastic one.

23. Read the labels. Where possible find out about the products you buy, are they damaging the planet / wildlife?  Are they energy efficient?  Do they contain unsustainable ingredients?  etc. etc.

24. Insulate your home.  This is one of the cheapest ways to save energy in a way that has a short payback period - particularly if there is currently no insulation in your loft.  Double glazed windows also make a big difference.  For more see Carbon Projects.

loft insulation

25. Change the thermostat.  This is deliberately vague as this can mean setting it lower, to reduce bills (it is okay to wear a jumper round the house) or you could literally get a new smartthermostat, which is programmable to be warmer when you are home and cooler / off when you are not.  We look at this further on our Energy Projects page.

26. Use insulated Electric Kettles to boil water (from renewables).  The energy required to boil the water is lower than hob or microwave heating - there is less energy escape or ancilliary consumption (eg fans).  Obviously, renewable energy isn't from a carbon producing source too.  Look at our Energy Research page for more.

27. Sell second hand items (clothing, furniture etc) rather than throwing away.  Extending the life cycle of goods means that not only do less goods need to be made, but you make some money back on unwanted stuff around your house.  See more about ways to reduce waste.

28. Drink tap water.  It's just as healthy and safe as bottled water, better for the environment and literally less than 1% of the price.  We've included ways to get drinking water here.

29. Shop Fair Trade. Many items (probably most famously chocolate and bananas) have fair trade schemes with farmers in developing countries to ensure they make a reasonable living from their labours.  They are marginally more expensive, but you'll get a self-righteous glow from buying them.

30. Learn about the circular economy.  The brief idea of this is that we need to design and innovate our way to living more within the available resources of our planet.  Learn more about this here.

31. Keep your bedroom cooler at night.  Not only will this save on your heating bill, but scientists have shown this gives us a better night's sleep.  If the heatings off and it's too warm, open a window. www.sleepadvisor.org/sleeping-in-a-cold-room/ has more information on this.

32. Turn down the temperature in your washing machine and dishwasher.  Again this saves money, reduces your carbon footprint and you still have clean clothes and crockery.  Energy Savings Trust calculate that we save about 40% on costs (and therefore energy use and carbon emissions) by washing our clothes at 30 centrigrade instead of hotter tempertures.

33. Use a clothes line.  When you've done your washing, if it is a nice day outside, why not hang them on the line to try?  Even if it isn't a great day - if you have room in your house to dry clothes, rather than a tumble dryer it will save energy.  (about 2.5KwH per use - or 45p - or around 1.3kg of Carbon Dioxide if from gas produced electricity).  Check out our page on what your carbon footprint is and how to reduce it.

34. Put a sticker by your door saying "No Junk Mail".  It won't stop all of it, but all that paper that drops through the letterbox and is then dumped in the recycling.......  Not good is it!  It is estimated 12,000,000,000 (yes Billion) pieces of junk mail are posted through UK letterboxes each year - if a sticker to cut this back stopped half that would save near 3,000,000 trees every year.

35. Passive Heating or Cooling.  This is expensive to install, but cheap to run and is a great way to stop using fossil fuels.  See more.

36. Use rechargeable batteries.  Initially more expensive than regular ones, but will recharge many, many times and workout cheaper overall as well as more sustainable.  Here we look at the cost and environmental benefits of rechargeable batteries.

37. Eat food with less packaging.  Cooking from scratch and not getting ready meals / takeaways as often means less packaging, more nutrition and is cheaper.  If you can source it locally - all the better (what's more local than growing it in your back garden!) Here's some practical experience we have of excessive packaging.

38. Ask for all bills / bank statements etc to be sent electronically. This is far less wasteful and allows for quicker and easier payment tracking too.

39. Don't sweat the really small stuff! We are all for making small changes in your life to be more sustainable, but, for example you can recharge a regular mobile phone about 100 times on 1KwH.  Therefore the savings suggested from those selling a solar phone charging kit are so small they are non-existent.  (If, on average, a phone is used for 3 years and charged twice a day - that will be about £2.50 of electricity in it's lifetime!)

40. Mulch your garden where possible.  This saves on excessive water use - hopefully you'll be able to collect water from roofs to water your garden and no longer use a tap.

41. Try a local farmers market or street market for fruit and vegetables.  These almost always have less packaging (particularly if you take bags with you) and it is also likely that the distance from where they were grown to your plate will be far less.  In many areas it is now possible to get locally sourced food boxes delivered to your house.  Find one near you http://www.farma.org.uk/members-map/

sustainable grow your own

42. Use organic manure / compost as fertiliser.  Try to avoid chemicals and synthetic fertilisers where possible.  The aim of any of these additions to the soil is to put back nutrients taken out by the growing and harvesting of crops.  They'll make our soil more fertile and improve the yields made back.  Being tied up in organic matter means the nutrients are less likely to get leeched out of the ground by heavy rainfall etc.

43. Buy canvas bags for shopping.  Try to avoid using plastic ones - particularly single use plastic ones.  Recent studies have show "bags for life" are being sold in volumes that suggest they are not being used for more than a shop or two - if you do buy one, make sure you keep it and re-use it - over and over again.  Most will last many dozens of trips to the supermarket.  Or - as we say - just buy canvas bags, which should last years and years....

44. Buy recycled paper for use in printers

45. Work from home when feasible.  This avoids commuting time, costs and pollution.

46. Don't litter.  Whether at home, out locally, on holiday or anywhere!  It is pollution and if someone doesn't tidy it up it makes the environment worse for everyone.

47. Share lifts.  If you are going to a meeting, a football match, on holiday etc etc, why take two or three cars if several people can share the cost and you can reduce the carbon footprint.

48. If you have pets, apply all of the above to them! 

49. If you rarely do something borrow rather than buy.  For example, you might try camping or skiing once in a blue moon - why not borrow what you need rather than buying a set of kit a friend already has.

50. Ensure your tyres are kept pumped up.  This makes your car run more efficiently.

51. Don't only use hotel towels once.  We've all seen the signs, if you want your towel replacing put it on the floor - otherwise hang it up.  No-one changes their towels every day at home - you don't need to in a hotel either.

52. Have a smaller family.  This is very controversial, and hence last on our list - but at least part of the problem with sustainability is over population.  This means both children and pets.  As far as we are concerned family is the most important thing - so we are not saying "don't have kids" - just think about whether having 10 children, or a menagerie of 50 cats is really a great thing to do!

Images kindly provided by William Warby and Chris Lim under wikimedia commons. Files licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-share alike 2.0 Generic Licence