What You Can Do
Everyone has a role to play in meeting the challenges of the world's most pressing environmental problems, including climate change, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Even our everyday choices and purchases—things we might not give a second thought to—affect the environment and biodiversity. For example, the production and transport involved in a cup of coffee impacts myriad species, from invertebrates to birds to fish. At the CBC, we like to use a systems thinking lens to engage with this complexity — by zooming out and broadening your perspective, you'll quickly notice the interconnectedness of many of these pressing issues facing our planet.
While there are many steps you can take as a consumer to live more sustainably, your engagement as a citizen is equally as important. Contact your local officials and government representatives about issues that are important to you. If possible, volunteer your time with local environmental groups.
It’s not necessary to turn your life upside down to make a difference. If we all commit to just one or two lifestyle choices that are more sustainable, over time this will have a cumulative and positive impact on the Earth. The time to act is now. Not next year... this week!
Simple tips and resources to live a more sustainable lifestyle:
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducts research and provides resources on how to conduct climate change communication more effectively.
Green power is supplied in whole or in part from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, geothermal, and hydropower, all of which come with fewer negative environmental impacts. For more information visit the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and ask your power company about purchasing green power!
Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up just two degrees in summer adds up to real energy savings over time. If possible, install a programmable thermostat and turn it down at night and when the home is empty.
Trees and shrubs are not only beautiful, they can also provide shade and help you save energy. Native species are often best, requiring minimal maintenance and enhancing wildlife habitats. Native Plant Finder can help you find the best choices for your area.
Since about 90% of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water, you can drastically cut energy by using cooler water. ENERGY STAR washers use 50% less energy than standard washers, and about half the water! Also consider lines outside or racks indoors for drying.
Chargers for your cell phone, tablet, digital camera, and computer can all use significant amounts of power even when they’re not charging the devices. Use power strips to switch off televisions, home theater equipment, and stereos when you’re not using them, as these products waste energy even when you think they are turned “off.” Consider investing in a solar-powered charger for your electronic digital devices.
LED (Light Emitting Diode) light bulbs are extremely energy efficient—90% less energy than traditional bulbs! Look for LED bulbs with the Energy Star certification (tested and accredited for quality and efficiency standards).
We are all part of larger food systems, and our choices on our plates and at the ballot shape this system—from farm to fork.
If possible, visit farmers' markets and stock up on food in-season or join a community-supported agriculture group. Supporting local agriculture helps conserve farmland, bolsters the economy, provides fresh food to people, and reduces the pollution and energy use related to transporting food over great distances.
Increased use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irrigation, and fossil fuels have caused pollution of our waterways and degradation of habitat. Studies have shown that agricultural chemicals can be replaced by alternatives that are friendlier to biodiversity and better for our health.
Choosing organically grown food supports the demand for such food and will help lessen the impacts of synthetic chemicals on the environment.
Livestock production is one of the major causes of the world's most pressing environmental problems, including climate change, land degradation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Reducing our meat consumption and making wise choices can encourage more sustainable livestock management.
All seafood is not the same! Many fish and shellfish species have been severely overharvested, and some fish farming practices are polluting or unsustainable. To make informed choices, consult one of these sustainable seafood guides: Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, Oceana's Sustainable Seafood Guide.
Biologists report finding many fewer bird species in newer, sunny coffee fields than in the traditional shaded farms they replaced. Coffee grown in the shade also requires few or no chemical inputs—the leaf litter replenishes the soil nutrients and birds discourage pests.
Fresh water is a precious, limited resource. Conserving water not only helps to preserve this essential natural resource, but also helps save money and reduce the energy used to purify, heat, and distribute water. There are many, easy ways to conserve our water resources into the future.
Plastic water bottles are one of the most common single-use plastic items. However, these plastic bottles have a dark side: energy consumption, waste disposal, health and safety concerns, contribution to global climate change, and other environmental impacts. Switching to a reusable bottle and refilling it at the tap is an easy, and cost-saving, solution to reduce your environmental footprint.
There are a myriad of ways you can conserve water in your own home. These include: taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth or shave, and only run the washer with a full load. In addition, a few simple changes in your home make a big difference. By switching to low flow shower heads and low flow toilets, you can cut down on some of the biggest household uses of water. What's your water footprint?
In the United States, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases. A single passenger vehicle emits on average 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Ride-sharing offers an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and save money.
Consider purchasing a vehicle that uses less fuel or that functions electrically, and regularly maintain the operation of your vehicle. Checking various components and engine levels helps the vehicle to function efficiently and to use less fuel overall.
Take the bus—or even better—bike or walk when you can! During its lifetime, on the road, each car produces another 1.3 billion cubic yards of polluted air and scatters an additional 40 pounds of worn tire particles, brake debris and worn road surface into the atmosphere. Bicycling and walking significantly reduces transportation emissions while also reducing traffic congestion and the need for petroleum—it is also good for your health!
Try to avoid air travel when possible (can you take the train where you're going?). If you need to fly, choose airlines with more efficient aircrafts with higher occupancy capacity. Most airlines offer carbon offset programs to reduce your carbon footprint associated with air travel.
One of the best ways to make an impact is to use your consumer power as an informed shopper. Eco-labels can help you determine which products are environmentally sustainable. Here are some reliable and respected labels to look for.
Greening your household products can help you to get rid of toxic chemicals from your home and reduce the harmful effects to the environment that bleach and other conventional household products cause.
Even in the age of COVID-19, studies show that for most uses, antibacterial soaps aren't any better than ordinary soap at preventing common illnesses. There is also growing concern among scientists that the chemicals commonly used in antibacterial soaps — triclosan and triclocarban — pose serious health and environmental concerns, especially because they persist in the environment and can contaminate our lakes, rivers, and water sources.
Opt for repairing rather than replacing or repurpose an old item. Borrow or share things you don't need day-to-day with friends and family, or join Nextdoor.com to connect with people in your neighborhood. Give away what you no longer need, websites such as DonateNYC can help you donate. Recycle stuff that can't be used anymore. Not sure what is recyclable? Check out this recycling guide.
Plastic bags are everywhere—they get caught in trees and they clog our waterways. Paper bags come with a significant environmental impact as well, made out of tree pulp and utilizing energy to produce. Best is to bring a cloth bag instead of plastic or paper...or choose no bag!
Start your day by breaking free of the disposable habit. Using a refillable mug reduces waste and energy consumption—even recycled paper cups need energy and resources for their production. Many coffee shops and employee cafeterias offer discounts for those that refill their mugs.
Much of the food and other organic materials that we throw away can be turned into compost, which you can use on houseplants or on plants outside. Check out resources such as the Composting Guide for Beginners to learn more.
There are many ways to cut back paper usage, including opting for online billing for your utilities, switching to digital subscriptions of newspapers and magazines, and if you have to print—set your printer default to double-sided.
Investing in rechargeable batteries cuts costs and reduces waste—including lead and other metals utilized in their production. If you have single-use batteries, remember to dispose of them safely once they are depleted. However, if a rechargeable battery is used only a few times and then discarded, its environmental impact is worse than a disposable battery.. so choose wisely!
Landscaping with native plants requires minimal maintenance and enhances wildlife habitat. Use a Native Plant Finder or contact your local botanical garden, arboretum, or native plant nursery for information about what grows best in your area and the habitat requirements of different plant species.
Controlling non-native predators such as domestic cats is an important part of maintaining or creating native habitat. Free-roaming domestic cats are responsible for killing more than 2 billion birds each year in the US. Many groups stress that keeping your cat inside makes for a healthier and happier feline as well.
Life on Earth has evolved over millennia in response to predictable day-night cycles. Artificial night lighting interferes with these adaptations and can affect animal navigation, reproduction, and courtship, as well as plant germination and flowering. Conserve energy and protect plants and animals from the disorienting (and often harmful) effects of light pollution.
They are not proven effective against pests and end up killing beneficial insects. The most important thing you can do to prevent mosquitos in your yard is to find and eliminate all sources of standing water.