Tips to live sustainably
At Conservation International, we're working hard to protect nature — but we can’t do it alone. While we need drastic and immediate action by governments and industries on a global scale, individual action is essential — and it adds up to major impacts for the planet.
Here are some green-living tips to get you started.
Minimize greenhouse gas emissions and shrink your carbon footprint.
Retire your dryer
Consider using a drying rack whenever possible instead of always throwing your clothes in the dryer. You'll save money, reduce your carbon footprint (up to 1.1 tonnes yearly if you ditch your dryer permanently) and prolong the life of your clothes.
Switch to better bulbs
Ninety percent of the electricity used by incandescent light bulbs is given off as heat, which is wasted energy and money. Here's a bright(er) idea: Switch to LEDs, CFLs or halogen bulbs instead. They use as little as 20% of the electricity — reducing your energy bill and your carbon footprint.
Refresh your air filters
Clean — by vacuuming or rinsing with water — or replace your HVAC filters every three months. Your heater or air conditioning will blow more efficiently and draw less power.
Dial down your heat or A/C when you're away
Adjusting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees (higher during the summer, lower during the winter) for eight hours each day will yield up to a 10% savings on your annual energy bill and help shrink your carbon footprint. Go a step further by adding insulated window curtains to block drafts in the winter and sunlight in the summer.
Switch to rechargeable batteries
Are you still using old-fashioned, single-use, alkaline batteries in devices like your TV's remote control? Try rechargeable batteries instead. You'll save money over time and help cut down on the billions of dollars worth of batteries sold each year in the United States, most of which never see a recycling facility. And for dead batteries collecting dust in your drawer: Drop them off at a local recycling that accepts them (be sure to check regulations and restrictions first). Just don’t toss them in the trash!
Make standard shipping your new standard
When you’re shopping online, combine your orders into a single shipment by clicking the “fewest packages/deliveries possible” option. While you’re at it elect the slowest shipping option (instead of one-day).
Dine in instead of eating out
Most of the energy used by the average restaurant goes toward things like sanitation, refrigeration and lighting, while only 35% goes toward preparing your meal. Cut some fat from your carbon footprint — and save a bit of money — by eating at home instead.
Steer clear of steer
Go meat-free — especially avoiding beef — at least one day each week. Beef is not great for the planet: Production of one quarter-pound burger requires 460 gallons of water and emits 0.126 pounds of methane — a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Globally, 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock, two thirds of which come from cattle.
Keep your friends close, your farmers closer
Buy locally produced food whenever possible. The farther away your food was grown or raised, the more greenhouse gases were likely emitted in shipping it to your grocery store. Many farmers have started participating in “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) programs that deliver produce — including discounted “ugly” fruits and vegetables — directly to your door.
Grow it yourself
Get your hands dirty and try growing some of your own herbs, fruits and vegetables. The more you can avoid the grocery store, the more you'll help reduce emissions related to shipping and refrigerating all of that food. And if you don’t have a backyard, don’t fret: Many food items, from scallions to celery to herbs, can be grown on your windowsill.
Pull the plug on your devices
Thanks to standby mode, electronic devices consume power even when they are turned off. Almost 10% of your energy bill goes toward this "phantom power" consumption. Save money — and reduce your carbon footprint — by unplugging your devices at the end of the day or when they’re not in use.
Opt for refurbished electronics
If you're in the market for a new phone or computer, consider picking up a refurbished unit. You'll spare at least one device from languishing in a landfill while reducing the environmental impact posed by manufacturing and shipping a new unit from overseas. If it’s damaged beyond repair, a little research should point you to the right place to properly recycle.
Put your phone purchase on hold
The manufacture of one new smartphone — including mining rare earth elements and shipping the completed unit to stores — eats up as much energy as a decade's worth of typical phone use. Make a smarter call: Keep your current phone for three to four years. It's simply greener than buying a new one. And when it’s time to hang up, check the manufacturer’s recycling program.
Get a solar charger for your phone
A typical phone charger uses only about half a watt of power — and with more than four billion smartphones in the world, that's over two billion watts of electricity that could be saved if everyone switched to solar chargers, which simply need to be placed near a sunny spot in your home.
Chill on Netflix
If worldwide streaming video was a country, its emissions in 2018 would have rivaled Spain — and that may double in the next six years. Even streaming one hour of video on your phone each week uses about as much electricity as two refrigerators. Save some watts by scheduling weekly (screen-free) downtime.
Compost your food scraps
Trashed food ends up in a landfill, where it rots and emits methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes more to global warming than CO2. Toss your leftovers in a compost bin instead. They'll emit no methane, and you'll reduce the energy needed to haul your garbage to the dump. And if you're a gardener, adding compost to your soil will enrich it while increasing moisture retention, reducing the amount of watering you'll need to do.
Rig your roof with solar panels
Drawing power from the sun is completely emission-free — unlike more traditional sources like coal and gas. In fact, you can cut up to four tons of carbon emissions annually just by installing a solar panel system in your home. Plus, you can save money on your energy bill (and you might be eligible for tax credits).
Calculate your carbon footprint
Confused about where to start if you want to help the planet? Start by taking inventory of your current level of carbon emissions, known as your carbon footprint: Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Clean out your inbox
All emails — even the ones parked in your inbox — consume power thanks to the network of data centers around the world that store and manage delivery of our communications. An average year of email could have the impact of driving 200 miles. Simply deleting old messages will save power and shrink your carbon footprint. While you're at it, unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters, delete unnecessary attachments and remove social media notifications.
To the stairs
When you reach the office, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead. You'll save the energy required to run the elevator and help reduce your building's carbon footprint.
Bike to work
Consider biking to work at least one day each week. You'll eliminate that day's commute-related CO2 emissions (assuming you don't walk to work) and cut your emissions for the week by a minimum of 20%.
Take public transit to work
Instead of driving to work each day, try taking public transportation (or even carpooling) at least one day each week. You'll help reduce the number of cars on the road and shrink the carbon footprint of your commute.
Keep an eye on your PSI
If you're a driver, make sure that your tires are sufficiently inflated. Low tire pressure means more fuel is required to move your car, which will increase the size of your carbon footprint.
Scooters are polluters too
With no tailpipe emissions, e-scooters may seem like a green way to get around, but there's a hidden cost to the planet: The fuel-inefficient vans and trucks that charge and distribute scooters give them a hefty carbon footprint, more than double that of the city bus. Instead, look for scooters with docking stations — solar-powered is best. Or explore a new locale on a bicycle — or your own two feet — instead.
Offset your flight
Airline jets emit more CO2 per kilometer than cars or trains, and the aviation industry accounts for 2% of global emissions. The next time you fly, neutralize or offset these emissions by buying carbon credits that are used to protect natural areas that store CO2 and keep it out of our atmosphere. If you are flying United, you can offset your flight here.
Sometimes it's better to keep your feet on the ground. That's because at 285 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer per passenger, air travel is more energy intensive than traveling by road (158 grams) or rail (14 grams). If you can, drive or take the train instead. And if you have to fly, fly direct. No layovers.
Avoid peak park season
When visiting a national park or similar natural attraction, avoid the most crowded months. Too many visitors at once can overtax local ecosystems — picture heavy-footed hikers at a popular national park vista or a beach full of sunscreen-smothered swimmers. Instead, schedule your trip for an off-peak time of the year.
Downsize your travel wardrobe
The heavier your bags, the more energy the plane needs to lift all of that luggage. Here's one easy way to reduce the carbon footprint of your flight: Pack a lighter checked bag or only carry on. Only 16% of vacationers use all of the stuff they pack anyway. While on your trip, take note of what you didn’t use and jot down a few ideas for how you could save suitcase space on your next trip.
Reduce plastic waste and support the health of fragile ecosystems.
Ditch plastic trash bags
Opt for paper bags or simply go bagless — wash out your trash and recycling bins instead. Those plastic garbage bags take a hefty 10 years to decompose (minimum), damaging ecosystems and harming animals in the meantime.
Make your own cleanser
You can create a variety of powerful, homemade cleansers using basic pantry staples, such as baking soda, vinegar or even toothpaste. Make your own glass cleaner, grease buster, detergent booster and more. New direct-to-consumer companies will send you glass containers and refills in the mail; to cut down on shipping weight, some companies even send tablets you dissolve in water. No matter the route, you'll reduce your plastic consumption and help keep nasty chemicals out of the environment.
Slow down your fashion
Avoid synthetic and plastic-based fabrics like polyester, nylon and spandex as they take decades to decompose. Opt instead for natural materials like wool, linen, silk and cotton.
Bag your polyesters
When washing clothes made from synthetic fabrics, e.g., polyester or nylon, use a washing bag — like a Guppyfriend bag — to catch microplastic fibers that would typically go down the drain and end up in our waterways. According to one 2016 study, as many as 700,000 fibers could be released per wash.
Tweak your tea
Did you know that many teabags are made with plastic? Reduce your plastic consumption by switching to a brand that doesn't use synthetic materials. Or turn over a new leaf and start drinking loose-leaf tea instead. Buying in bulk could even help you save money.
Bring your own bag
The next time you head to the grocery store, bring your own reusable shopping bag. Try to keep one in your car trunk or the bottom of your backpack? Forgot? Yep, that happens to the best of us. Many grocery stores allow you to bring plastic bags back so they can be reused.
Scoop with paper instead
Clean up after your pooch with a newspaper, magazine or even regular toilet paper. Avoid using a plastic bag and help keep plastic out of the waste stream.
Cosmetics so safe, they'll make you blush
Switch to make-up that's vegan, animal-cruelty-free and — most importantly — features recyclable or refillable packaging. The cosmetics industry produces billions of packages each year, and most are not recyclable.
Move away from microbeads
Stop using body scrubs, face washes and toothpastes laced with microbeads. These tiny, plastic balls are so small they sail straight through filtration systems and end up in our oceans and fresh waterways — 8 trillion every day, according to scientists.
Turn your bathroom into an eco-room
Try to make your bathroom a plastic-free zone. Buy bar soap and shampoo; get a bamboo toothbrush (some have replaceable heads); and switch to toothpaste tablets instead of tough-to-recycle tubes. Remember: It may only stay in your home for a few weeks, but it will linger in landfills or oceans for generations.
Wash your hands of wet wipes
These convenient cleaning aids conceal a dirty secret: Most are made with plastics, which don't biodegrade but break down into microplastics that infiltrate our food chain.
Support your local recycler
As much of U.S. plastic waste is shipped overseas for recycling — adding to its carbon footprint — you're better off opting for products in glass, metal or paper packaging, all of which are more likely to be recycled locally. Just in case, check with local officials to make sure that nothing in your recycling bin is headed abroad.
Wipe out plastic wrappers
Look for toilet paper and other paper items wrapped in paper packaging, not plastic. It's a simple way to cut down on the millions of tons of plastic waste that ends up in U.S. landfills each year.
Step up to the bar
Instead of liquid soap in a plastic bottle, try a cleaner alternative: package-free bar soap. You'll help cut back on the billions of body wash bottles used each year — including their unrecyclable pump dispensers. There are a few “direct to consumer” brands that sell glass bottles and biodegradable vials of concentrated soap — just add water!
Dismiss the disposable cups
Instead, use permanent mugs and glasses when making coffee, tea or visiting the office water cooler. You'll reduce the amount of waste your office generates and set an easy-to-follow example for your co-workers.
Sip smarter with a reusable coffee cup
More than 50 billion coffee cups are trashed each year, and, thanks to their polyethylene linings, most are unrecyclable. The next time you head to the coffee shop, bring a reusable cup. Do you order via an app? We hear you, saving time is great — but consider the cost to the planet.
Banish bottled water
Producing just one plastic bottle of water — including transporting and refrigerating it — requires 2,000 times as much energy as producing the same amount of tap water. It also creates massive amounts of plastic waste. Save money and keep plastic out of landfills and oceans by carrying a reusable bottle instead.
Avoid single-use items
Especially things wrapped in (or made of) plastic: coffee pods, to-go utensils, disposable razors, etc. The items and their packaging end up in landfills and in the ocean, threatening marine life. Reduce the amount of trash you produce by buying items in bulk (bring your own containers!) or find reusable alternatives, which can be more cost-effective in the long-term.
When traveling, bring your own reusable water bottle and shopping bag, and stay away from travel sizes of your favorite products and complimentary shampoo bottles found in hotels. Instead, decant your own toiletries into reusable travel-sized containers or, better yet, bring shampoo and soap bars.
Pack your own snacks
Save on paper and plastic when you fly by declining in-flight snacks. Instead, make it a habit to fly with your own munchies and a reusable cloth napkin.
Teachers: Green your classroom
Turn your learning space into a green space by studiously avoiding synthetic crafting and decorative materials like glitter, Styrofoam and thermocol. These polystyrene derivatives do not decompose and represent a genuine pollution threat. Instead, choose eco-friendly materials like recycled construction paper, acid-free glue sticks and refillable dry-erase markers.
Cut back on paper use and help keep the world's forests standing.
Swap your paper towels for washable cloths
Instead of single-use, disposable paper towels and napkins, try making your own reusable, washable cloths. Buy fabric in bulk and cut it into squares, or repurpose some of your old t-shirts or towels. You'll save trees and help reduce the billions of pounds of non-recyclable paper that ends up in our landfills annually. If you need to use paper towels to clean up a non-toxic mess, many compost programs accept them.
Keep a hanky handy
Avoid using disposable napkins and tissues — pack a washable napkin or handkerchief instead. You'll reduce your paper consumption (not to mention your single-use waste production) and shrink your carbon footprint as a result.
When printing documents, opt for double-sided instead of single. It's an easy way to halve your paper consumption. At work, ask IT to make that the default option and ask your office manager to stock the printer with recycled, FSC-certified paper.
Spearhead an office recycling program
Talk to your office manager about setting up a paper recycling program. You'll help your office reduce its carbon footprint — the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets each year, with 45% of all printed pages going unrecycled. It may be as easy as where the bins are located: In the case of one company, centralizing office trash bins reduced overall waste by 18% and increased both composting by 300% and recycling by 20%.
Digitize your communications
Use an e-signature company like Docusign or scan and email documents, to avoid unnecessary printing. Submitting expenses? See if your program accepts screenshots or an app where you can upload images from your phone.
Get eco-friendly business cards
About 80% of business cards are thrown away within a week of being handed out — so why not opt for a more sustainable, eco-friendlier material than traditional paper? Think recycled paper; tree-free, pulp-based paper; or even banana paper. It's an easy way to promote your company's green values. Or go digital: Use the QR code in your LinkedIn app or Bluetooth (“AirDrop” on iOS devices) to connect with someone nearby.
Relaunch your lunch
The next time you pack your school lunch, opt for a reusable bag rather than paper. And instead of a plastic sandwich bag, try wax paper or a reusable sandwich bag. You'll save some trees and reduce your plastic waste.
Turn down the tap and help preserve finite water resources.
Wash your clothes in cold water
About 90% of the energy used by your washing machine simply goes toward heating the water. Save that energy — and around $40 each year — by washing full loads in cold water instead.
Join the no-mow movement
Convert at least a portion of your lawn to no-mow: Let your grass grow naturally, replace your turf with native flora or carve out a space for edible plants. (If your thumb is particularly green, look into xeriscaping.) You'll help cut the 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas and 70 million pounds of pesticides that U.S. lawns soak up each year.
Repurpose your water
After boiling pasta, let the water cool and use it to water your plants or garden. As you wait for your shower to heat up, capture that cold water in a bucket. And if you're feeling ambitious, look into installing a grey water system to collect laundry water and reuse it for, say, flushing your toilet.
Showering beats soaking
A five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water, whereas a bath can use up to 70 gallons of water. Even a 10-minute shower uses less water than a typical bath. Each time you opt for a shower over a bath, you'll save water and the energy required to heat those extra gallons of tub water. Install a waterproof timer on your shower wall to challenge yourself to take shorter showers.
Say 'no' to over-laundering
The next time you stay at a hotel, ask staff to refrain from washing your towels and sheets after every use. You'll reduce water consumption — hotels account for 15% of all U.S. water usage — and you'll conserve the energy needed to heat the water.
Wipe out waste and reduce your impact on the environment.
Reduce your rubbish
Not all trash belongs in the trash can. Check with your local government (city or county) or use a website like RecycleNation to find out where you can properly dispose of environment-wrecking refuse like batteries, electronics and medicine. Or hook up with a recycling platform like Terracycle. Either way, you'll help keep harmful chemicals out of landfills and our water supply.
Skip the Styrofoam
Take a cue from the Big Apple and cut Styrofoam out of your life. Styrofoam, or foamed polystyrene, is rarely recyclable and does not biodegrade. When ordering takeout, take note of which restaurants use Styrofoam. Encourage them to find biodegradable solutions or choose another restaurant and tell them this was an important part of your decision.
Borrowing beats buying
For items you’ll use once or infrequently — luggage for a business trip, say, or a sleeping bag for a camping trip — borrow from a friend instead of buying one brand new. The less you buy new, the less waste you'll create and the more you'll reduce your carbon footprint.
Work from home one day each week
It's an easy way to spare the air: You'll reduce the emissions of your weekly commute by 20% right off the bat. If all employees with telework-compatible jobs worked from home half the time, we could cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million metric tons — as impactful as permanently taking nearly 10 million cars off the road.
Stay away from sketchy souvenirs
When traveling abroad, avoid souvenirs made from endangered species — think ivory, tortoiseshell, reptile skins, furs or corals. Part of protecting the environment means protecting its biodiversity, and these aren't the kind of keepsakes you want to keep.
Screen your sunscreen
Shop for sunscreen that's free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, two reef-killing chemicals that make up part of the 6,000 tons of sunscreen that damage coral reefs each year. Instead look for mineral sunscreen featuring titanium oxide or zinc oxide, and the words “reef safe” on the label.