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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. However, 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!


Calculate your carbon footprint! 

The Ecological Footprint measures human demand on nature. A good start for living a more sustainable lifestyle is to calculate your footprint and understand where your impacts come from.


Freshwater is a precious, finite resource. Conserving water not only helps to preserve this irreplaceable 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.
Bottled water may be a healthy and increasingly common alternative to soft drinks, but the plastic bottle has a hidden dark side: energy consumption, waste disposal, and other environmental concerns. Easy solution: if you want to carry water with you, why not get a reusable bottle and refill it at the tap?


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.
Image of tomatoes and green vegetables with text saying "Choose organic food"
Increased use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irrigation, and fossil fuels have caused pollution of our waterways and degradation of habit. Studies have shown that agricultural chemicals can be replaced by alternatives that are friendlier to biodiversity. 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. Check out Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide to find nearby sources of sustainable meat, poultry, and dairy (US and Canada).
Graphic that reads, choose seafood wisely.
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: Blue Ocean InstituteMonterey Bay AquariumEnvironmental Defense.
Close-up of coffee plant with text "Choose shade-grown coffee"
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.


Text: "Choose green energy" with image of wind harvesting windmill in the background.
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!
Sign with the advice for saving energy "Adjust two degrees"
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.
use vegetation
Trees, shrubs, and plants are not only beautiful, they can also provide shade and help you save energy. Native species are often best, requires minimal maintenance and enhances wildlife habitats. Native Plant Finder can help you find the best choices for your area. 
Close the curtains
Close your curtains during the summer months of the year. This practice allows you to cool the rooms of your house without using air conditioning or fans reduce energy consumption.
A logo of a star shape and the word energy, and the text: "Look for Energy Star."
When it comes time to replace household appliances, choose items with the Energy Star label — they meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy
Wash and dry efficiently
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.
A three-prong plug and emptywall socket, labelled "Unplug!"
Chargers for your cell phone, iPod, 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.
The new compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are widely available, fit most standard fixtures, and use a fraction of the electricity that incandescent lamps use (and last seven to ten times longer). Visit Earth911.com to see why we should always recycle CFLs.

Getting around

Look into carpooling
While 86% of Americans get to work by car, nearly 76% drive solo. Commuting offers an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and save money (how much is your commute?). Websites such as eRideShare or ShareTheRide help you to search for other people commuting near your home and work.
Drive smart
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.
Skip the car
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! 
Travel consciously
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. 


Look for eco-labels
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 of the most reliable and respected labels to look for!
Green your household products
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. 
eco-friendly products
A variety of products (toothpaste, shampoo, body lotion etc.) contain not only harmful chemicals, but also palm oil. Due to a rapid increase in demand, clearing land for palm oil plantations has become one of the world's leading drivers of deforestation - releasing carbon into the atmosphere and destroying habitats. Consider switching to eco-friendly products for your daily beauty routine! Also consider eco-friendly fashion lines and eco-friendly home decor.
The words "Plains soap works!" is superimposed over hands holding a bar of soap beneath a faucet of running water.
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.

Waste reduction

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 recycle chart.
A tote bag next to text that reads, "Paper or plastic? Neither!"
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!
Text reads, "Refill your mug" over a photo of an American Museum of Natural History branded mug.
Start your day by breaking free of the disposable habit. Using a refillable mug reduces waste and energy consumption — even recycled paper cups utilize energy and resources to produce. Many coffee shops and employee cafeterias offer discounts for those that refill their mugs.
Two hands holding mulch with the words "Start composting indoors or out" superimposed in white font.
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. 
cut back on paper
There are many ways to cut back paper usage, including opting for e-tickets, submitting your taxes electronically, and reading news and magazines online. 
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.


Landscaping with native plants requires minimal maintenance and enhances wildlife habitat. Use 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 perhaps hundreds of millions of birds each year. Many groups stress that keeping your cat inside makes for a healthier and happier feline as well.
Life on Earth has evolved over the 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.


A festive and magical time for children and adults alike, the holidays can also be stressful, involving excessive spending on presents, decorations, and parties, resulting in greater resource use and waste. For tips on sustainable holiday activities, visit our Green Holidays page.