Call it eco-anxiety. Between melting glaciers, the USA exiting the Paris climate agreement, dwindling coral reefs and increasingly forceful hurricanes, being an environmental steward can feel pretty stressful. Pioneering research from the American Psychological Association (APA) and the organizations Climate for Health and EcoAmerica confirms that while acute climate change disasters, such as a hurricane hitting your community, can certainly cause feelings of depression, the “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness or exhaustion,” the authors report. “Some people are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.”
But there’s hope. The APA study found that making better lifestyle choices every day mitigates eco-anxiety because you can actively be part of the climate solution. The lesson: You have the power to make a difference in climate change through small, not-a-big-deal actions from sunup to sundown. Here’s how.
While getting squeaky clean, you could be wasting gallons of water in your morning rinse. Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the average shower is eight minutes long, many folks turn on the tap a few minutes before stepping in to allow their water to get hot—understandable during chilly months. But according to research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, most people start their shower at least a minute after the water has reached appropriate bathing temperature. This wastes around 2 to 5 gallons per shower, up to 1,825 gallons per person per year if you’re taking one shower per day.
If your shower water takes some time to heat up, monitor the temperature closely instead of doing other morning activities such as drinking coffee or brushing your teeth; chances are you can step in sooner than you realize. Also consider swapping out your standard showerhead for a WaterSense label—an EPA certification backed by a third-party certification. In order to be marked as WaterSense, showerheads must prove they use no more than 2 gallons of water per minute (gpm)—standard showerheads use about 20 percent more gpms. Don’t want to switch out your fancy rainfall-style showerhead? Try shortening the duration of your shower. Cut showers by one minute, and you can save 550 gallons of water per year.
Cheap, stylish clothing is tempting to buy—especially if you want to try out a new fashion trend that you’re not sure you’ll love (ahem … crop tops). But so-called “fast fashion”—characterized by inexpensive, often poor-quality items made in questionable conditions—carries a massive carbon load. “The purchase and use of clothing contributes about 3 percent of global production CO2 emissions or over 850 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 a year,” says a 2016 Greenpeace report. Add together high-energy needs, the proliferation of plastic-based materials like polyester, cotton grown with synthetic fertilizers and irresponsible elimination of toxic fabric dyes, and your cheap clothing purchases equal a bad environmental choice.
The solution? “The simplest step we can take is to wear our clothes for longer,” suggests Greenpeace. “Just increasing the lifespan of our clothes reduces all of their environmental impacts. … Doubling the useful life of clothing from one year to two years reduces harmful emissions over the year by 24 percent.”
For a fun, sustainable wardrobe refresh, organize a clothing swap. Invite friends and family members to bring over clothing (and books and kitchen tools, for that matter) they no longer wear and exchange items without payment; donate any leftover clothes to Goodwill or another charity. If you must purchase new clothing, seek items that contain a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, which verifies it contains at least 70 percent organic fiber and ensures that manufacturing processes don’t involve toxic heavy metals or chemicals. (You may have to contact the company directly to confirm this criteria.) Also consider buying products with the Fair Trade Certified apparel seal, which includes social, economic and environmental standards.
At the Office
Conserving energy at your office can be tricky because much depends on your building’s construction and insulation. But simple swaps in your workstation can shrink your carbon footprint.
For optimal efficiency, configure your computer to automatically enter sleep mode five to ten minutes after it is not in use (controls are usually found in the “preferences” tab). Sleep modes drastically decrease energy use. For example, placing a newer-model Apple desktop computer in sleep mode cuts power consumption almost in half. Also adjust your screen settings to a dimmer display. According to Energy Star, an EPA program, activating such power management tools can save $10 to $100 per computer in your office annually.
To power your cellphone, lamp and other electronics throughout the day, Energy Star also recommends using a power strip with an On/Off button or a “smart” function that turns on when it detects motion. Once your devices are powered to 100 percent, unplug your charger; it sucks energy from the wall even if your electronic is not actively charging. If you use an office lamp, swap out the incandescent lightbulb for an Energy Star–rated compact fluorescent bulb, which uses about 75 percent less energy and lasts longer. Finally, environmental awareness is contagious. Spearhead a “green team” in your office to educate your colleagues about environmental best practices—your company will likely welcome the eco-improvements.
Pack a sack lunch rather than purchasing a takeout salad or sandwich, which usually comes in one-time-use plastic clamshell packaging. Think toting a lunch box is boring? Scores of attractive, chic lunch-box kits are available in natural products stores, and many are made with indestructible stainless steel, glass or medical-grade silicone—inert substances with no risk of chemical leaching.
Additionally, if you use a straw when drinking, bring your own. According to the advocacy group Straw Free, 500 million—yes, million!—straws are thrown away every day in the United States alone, making plastic straws, incredibly, one of the top ten pieces of garbage polluting the ocean. Use a more sustainable compostable, bamboo, glass or stainless-steel straw.
Happy Hour AKA Best Time of the Day
Are after-work drinks a conscious part of your environmentally friendly day? They can be if you wisely choose your libation. Drinking wine made with organic grapes is a good way to support more-sustainable growing practices in the United States. But as increasingly more U.S. wineries are seeking the Demeter USA Certified Biodynamic seal (including the 1,033-acre King Estate in Oregon), try looking for biodynamic options.
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of growing that treats the entire farm as one organism. Neither synthetic nor USDA Organic–approved fertilizers are used—instead, bio-dynamic farmers integrate livestock, biodiversity and crop rotation into their farm to encourage soil fertility. Many believe that widespread adoption of biodynamic agriculture can capture more carbon from the atmosphere than conventional or organic farming. Cheers!
There’s a reason increasingly more environmentalists are lauding the new, delicious plant-based foods on store shelves: According to Project Drawdown, business-as-usual carbon and methane emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent if everyone adopted a vegan diet and by 63 percent for a vegetarian diet (which allows eggs and dairy products).
“The clearest way one can make a food choice that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be cutting out or cutting back on animal products,” agrees University of Colorado’s Peter Newton.
The problem with regularly eating meat such as beef isn’t just that cattle emit large amounts of methane gas. The problem is also due to what your meat eats, which in the United States is typically grain. According to a 2017 study published in Nature Plants, more than 40 percent of the greenhouse gases associated with grain production came from ammonium nitrate fertilizers—more so than transportation of the grain or the processing. And although grass-fed beef is generally better for the cattle and better for you (some studies show grass-fed meat contains higher levels of good fats), Newton cautions that buying grass-fed beef isn’t automatically better for the environment. “From an emissions point of view, pasture-raised beef requires much more land,” he says. “In many parts of the world, this means clearing natural vegetation to create pastureland. In the Brazilian Amazon, where I conduct most of my research, the creation of cattle pasture is the leading cause of deforestation.” The point: Even consciously raised animal products have a larger emissions load. Eat them sparingly.
Plant-based eating is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint three times per day. Beans, chickpeas and lentils rank among the least-carbon-intensive protein sources, closely followed by rice, soy, nuts and eggs. Thankfully, plant-based eating can be delicious, too. Need some vegetarian meal inspiration? Here’s a good place to start.
Prep your house for easy energy cutbacks at night. Before heading to bed, dial back your thermostat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, setting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees cooler than its normal temperature for eight hours per day could slash 10 percent off your annual energy bill and use less resources. Plus, ample research suggests you will sleep better in a cool room. Sleep scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, for example, found that insomniacs who slept with a cooling cap slept almost as well as people who had no difficulty falling and staying asleep. Reducing fossil fuels and improved snoozing? Now that’s a sweet dream.
Modified with permission from Delicious Living in the New Hope Blogger program.