The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Living

Before we delve into the changes necessary for an eco-friendlier lifestyle, we need to define what exactly is meant by ‘sustainable living’.

How do you define a sustainable practice from a non-sustainable practice?

A quick Google search will offer up Wikipedia’s definition of sustainable living: ‘Sustainable living describes a lifestyle that attempts to reduce and individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources, and one’s personal resources.’

We agree with this to an extent but believe that sustainable living is more than reducing the use of resources. Sustainable practices are those which can theoretically continue for an infinite amount of time by having a positive impact on our environment and contribute to the curbing of the climate crisis.

For example, the burning of fossil fuels for energy is not sustainable as they are a finite resource which will one day run out. Moreover, they produce greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming, a phenomenon which will eventually wipe out much of our Earth if left to run its current trajectory.

On the other hand, renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydro energy leverage the Earth’s natural resources which continue to be replenished. Some more examples of truly sustainable practices include:

  • Clothing brands taking back used clothes to remake them into new stock.
  • Carrying around a reusable water-bottle or coffee cup.
  • Farms that utilise crop rotation and diversification to ensure that soils have time to regenerate and biodiversity can thrive.
  • Beer production capturing CO2 from the fermentation process and using it downstream to carbonate beers.
  • Composting organic waste and using it to fertilise your plants.

Whilst recycling is often viewed as an eco-friendly practice, it is not truly sustainable. It is definitely better than throwing waste to landfill but some items cannot be infinitely recycled, and plastic is one of them.

It also takes large amount of energy to recycle which is why it is best to first try and reuse items before recycling them.

In the following guide we will recommend some changes for a more sustainable home and lifestyle. Not all changes will be ‘truly sustainable’ as due to the world we live in there’s some things we cannot help, such as travelling to work or buying food from the supermarket. However, we have aimed to recommend the most eco-friendly, but realistic practices to reduce your carbon footprint.

Staying Environmentally Friendly When Travelling

A huge part of our everyday lives, maybe excluding the year of 2020, is focused around travel. Whether that be for work, to visit family or for holidays. However, travel is also the largest contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to 34% of our total emissions. This does include domestic flights but no international ones. So, what can we do to reduce these?

The ideal way to reduce your travel’s carbon footprint is to swap driving for walking or cycling as much as possible.

If you do need a car, consider using a car sharing service rather than purchasing your own. Car sharing can both reduce your carbon footprint and be more cost-effective. You can read more about how exactly car sharing reduces your environmental footprint here.

Moreover, you could consider using a taxi service and then public transport. Similarly to car sharing, taxis can be better for the environment than personally-owned cars and there are more and more green taxi services on offer, read about them here.

Where this is not possible, we recommend going electric. The number of electric cars available has increased impressively in recent years, meaning there are many to choose from both first and second hand. You can read more about electric cars here.

An electric car

Beyond electric cars is the option for electric scooters. With an average cost of 1p per mile of electricity, these can be an eco- and wallet-friendly way to travel around. Especially if you live in a city where you can benefit from skipping traffic and easy parking.

When it comes to travel for holidays, trains and driving are more environmentally friendly ways to travel to your destination than flying. Alternatively, take a shorter flight and road-trip the rest of your journey – reducing your carbon emissions and enjoying beautiful views!

If you are flying consider taking fewer, longer holidays and opting for economy class as the carbon emissions are spread across more people, reducing your carbon footprint. Some airlines allow you to offset your emissions and some actually foot the cost of the offset themselves. See our recommendations of more environmentally friendly airlines here.

A Sustainable Diet

As you can see from the below chart, a plant-based diet contains food products with much lower carbon emissions than one which includes meat. Therefore, we suggest trying plant-based meals anywhere between one day a week to the whole week!

As University of Oxford researcher Joseph Poore puts it, following a vegan diet is “the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.”

Yet, we understand everyone going cold turkey so to speak is not really realistic. So, when you do eat meat, try to make it eco-friendlier by:

  1. Choosing smaller offenders such as poultry.
  2. Buy pasture-raised meat, as these animals spend their time eating vegetation and unconfined in a process that mimics more closely what happens in nature.
  3. Buy British meat. Not only does this reduce travel emissions to get the food to your plate but British meat is some of the most sustainable in the world.

When it comes to eating fish more sustainably, try the following:

  1. Buy in season and as locally sourced as possible. Your fishmonger should be able to advise you on this, or you can use this chart.
  2. Use The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide to make more sustainable choices.
  3. Opt for line-caught fish which don’t have the bycatch or stock-depletion problems associated with trawling with massive nets.

Some of our favourite ways to reduce your meat and fish intake include:·

  • Set meat-free meals or days. Try only having meat on weekends or having it in your dinners but not breakfast or lunch.
  • Use it as a flavouring rather than the main event. For example, adding small chunks of chicken to a big salad or using a bit of bacon to flavour a soup/pasta.
  • Mix meat and non-meat options. For example, when you make your next chilli use half the usual amount of beef and half lentils.

However, meat is not the only food with high emissions. Chocolate and coffee, which are very present in nearly everyone’s diets, can cause serious greenhouse gas emissions.

In this case, we recommend reducing intake and consciously choosing sustainable brands. Tony’s Chocolonely for example, who are making big moves towards social and environmental sustainability. And you can read about some of our favourite coffee brands here.

Buying Eco-Friendlier Food and Drink

When it comes to buying your food, as a general rule-of-thumb, first try local suppliers and farmers markets. These are better than supermarkets as the produce has lower travel emissions associated and often less packaging.

A food market

When you do go to a supermarket, look out for products with less packaging and try to avoid brands that are greenwashing.

There are a few apps which can help you purchase more sustainable meals. These range from apps where you can buy a restaurant’s leftovers at the end of the day for very cheap prices to apps that help you meal plan. Check out four of the best apps for fighting food waste here.

When it comes to fruit and veg, choose ones that are both local and locally in season. These have lower travel emissions and do not require polluting activities such as greenhouses.

Moreover, if you have the space to, grow your own fruit and veg! This will save money, allow you to make and use your own compost, and reduce pesticide use. Not to mention being a fun activity to keep your garden looking beautiful!

Despite all this, there are a couple of exceptions. For example, bananas are not local to the UK but can be grown seasonally elsewhere. 50 calories of a banana has a carbon footprint of 65g CO2e compared to 50 calories of a cheese burger which has 250g CO2e.

Another exception is canned or frozen foods which are not in season at the time of purchase, but were when they were grown, such as canned tomatoes or frozen peas!

One of the most important factors is to avoid air-freighted foods at all costs. To transport one ton of food for one mile is roughly 48g by boat but 1527g by plane.

When it comes to drink, in particular water, one of our golden rules is to always carry a reusable water bottle with you so you don’t need to add to the growing issue of single-use plastics.

Unfortunately, in the case of non-alcoholic beverages a lot of the big-names are doing little to help the climate crisis and often have questionable human rights in their supply chain. We would recommend more conscious companies such as Lemonaid Beverages, Karma Cola, Gusto Organic, Pip Organic and Belvoir.

As for hot drinks, tea and coffee can also have big environmental footprints associated, as well as poor conditions for workers, low pay and child labourers.

To choose more sustainable tea, there are some smaller brands doing some great work such as Hampstead Tea and Hambleden Herbs. If choosing teabags, try ones which are organic and don’t contain any plastic. Though Fairtrade has received some criticism, it is one of the more reliable certifications when it comes to tea.

Coffee has similar problems associated due to how it is grown. You can read more about the environmental footprint of coffee here.

Yet, one of the most impactful parts of your hot drink is the milk you choose to put in it. As you have seen from the graph above, cow’s milk has a huge carbon footprint. For this reason, we recommend also trying different plant-based milks to find your favourite. There are many available now ranging from nut milks such as almond and coconut, beans milks such as soya and pea or cereal-based milks such as oat and hemp.

Selection of plant based milks

Despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom! The good news is that when it comes to alcohol, there are lots of brands making great moves towards sustainability.

For beer, Brewdog are now carbon negative and have a wide range of delicious beers on offer. The company truly lead the way in green business with their sustainability reports. In their most recent one you’ll find their carbon reduction plan which involves using direct wind power, recovering CO2 from the fermentation process and electrifying their vehicle fleet.

Brands such as Toast Ale and Future Brew are using leftover bread to brew beer in the fight against food waste. Globally, a third of all food produced is lost or wasted, which contributes between 8 and 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

As for wine we recommend choosing organic, which means no use of harmful pesticides, fertilisers and no additives used. Wine Monkey is a site where you can purchase lesser-known craft wines that celebrate sustainability.

Alternatively, you can get biodynamic wine, such as Vintage Roots, which takes organic one step further via unique methods of treatment of the soil and crops.

Finally, for spirits there are also some great brands out there. Cooper King provide carbon negative gin, whilst Two Drifters have a carbon negative rum and Greensand Ridge, who won a spirits sustainability award, have partnered with Toast Ale to create a whiskey titled Inbread Moonshine. Who knew drinking could be so sustainable!

Powering Your Home Sustainably

When it comes to powering your home, you can opt for solar PV panels – provided you have the appropriate roof space and sunlight. You can read more about them here.

It is unlikely you will be able to generate all your homes’ power needs through solar PV alone.

You will most likely end up overproducing and selling back to the grid during the day, and needing grid supply in the evenings. Even with a battery storage capability, you will probably have to mix it with an energy tariff from the grid.

For this we recommend a renewables energy tariff.

Renewable energy sources

Having your own solar PV will result in cheaper energy in the long term, taking about 14 years to payback. However, if your home is not suitable for solar PV, we strongly recommend you choose a green/renewables energy tariff. You can read more about those and find our recommendations here.

Eco-Friendly Lighting for Your Home

If you are working on a new build or a big home renovation, we recommend putting as much natural light into your house as possible, because this will reduce the need to turn on the lights.

A great, inexpensive option for this is sun tunnels. These can be installed on a pitched or a flat roof to allow daylight to flood the rooms below.

A sun tunnel is essentially a reflective tube that channels the light from the sun into your home. They can be either rigid, meaning the tube travels directly from the roof to the ceiling in a direct line or flexible which allows you to negotiate around any obstructions.

Sun tunnels work perfectly when there is limited space for a roof light and they can be fairly easily retrofitted. When it comes to lightbulbs, some are more efficient than others. We recommend using LEDs. These are the most energy efficient and have a much longer lifecycle than other both compact fluorescent (CF) and incandescent.

Swapping CFL bulbs to LED lightbulbs

Decorating Your Home Sustainably

Whether you’ve moving into a new house or just redecorating, there are some eco-friendlier choices you can make when it comes to decorating your home. Even better, many of them are economical too!

One of our favourite options is to shop for second-hand furniture. There is loads available on Gumtree and Ebay, or apps like Shpock. You can find some great pieces for incredible prices.

Choosing pre-loved usually takes a bit of time so as long as you can afford to, be patient to find some furniture you’ll love and be able to give a second life to.

If you’re moving to a new home, have a look at the Gumtree in that area to see whether there are any items you like that you can reserve. Also, don’t forget to give any furniture you’re throwing out a second life by posting it on these sites.

Second hand furniture

Whilst thrifted furniture is the most sustainable option, if you cannot find what you need second-hand, choose the brand you buy your furniture from consciously.

There are many great companies providing beautiful, sustainable and upcycled furniture which is built to last.

We also love shopping through local businesses as you reduce transport emissions and support your local community.

If you are buying wooden furniture, make sure it is FSC certified.

When it comes to curtains, choose thermal ones. These will keep the heat in and the extra cost will be repaid through your heating bills in no time, as they can reduce window heat loss by up to 25% in the winter.

To get the best gains, ensure they are fitted properly. This means as close to the window frame as possible, sealing the top, sides and bottom and ensuring they drop to the windowsill or floor.

Re-painting your rooms can be an easy way to give your home a new lease of life, however some paints can be seriously damaging to you and the environment.

Choose paints with low-VOCs as these are both better for the environment and have little-to-no fumes when painting. Earthborn offer a great range of paints which contain extremely low traces of VOC and containing no acrylics or oils.

Beware of brands claiming to be VOC-free, natural or organic. Firstly, it is impossible for any point to have zero VOCs.

Secondly, the words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ originated in the food industry and are misleadingly used in the paint industry despite having no legal meaning.

Watch out for paint claiming to be natural as there is no such thing as a liquid natural pain in a tin. All paints need some synthetic chemicals (e.g. water-based paints require a preservative to keep them ‘fresh’).

Moreover, whilst consumers will consider organic to refer to environmentally friendly, ‘healthy’ products, organic simply means living or once-living matter. By this definition, the petrochemical industry is the world’s largest organic chemical industry, and despite being ‘organic’, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are carcinogenic and harmful to the environment.

Finally, be sure to add some greenery to your home! Despite the obvious fact that they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, plants are proven to have mood-boosting qualities, and they can improve your air quality.

Be wary however of where you get your plants from. Some companies over package using unsustainable materials and some source from far away countries increasing travel emissions. The Stem are an eco-friendly company who will deliver your plants straight to your door!

House plants

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products for Your Home

When it comes to cleaning products they can be harmful in two ways. The first is the packaging. Usually made out of plastic, and often non-recyclable due to mixed materials in the pumps, cleaning product packaging can be an issue.

A company called smol have done a great job of overcoming the packaging issue. If you order surface cleaner with smol, your first delivery will contain three bottles for life along with three cleaning tablets (multi-surface, bathroom, glass & mirror). You simply dissolve the tablet in warm water to create your surface spray!

Smol also offer laundry and dishwasher tablets as well as fabric conditioner. They have plastic-free laundry and dishwasher packs, their refillable fabric conditioner bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic and their boxes are FSC certified.

The second concern is that cleaning products, and the chemicals in them, are rinsed down drains and flushed down toilets where they can pollute rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways.

The chemicals in cleaning products (ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus) cause excessive nourishment of plant life in habitats native to aquatic animals. This results in dense vegetation that clogs waterways, crowding out animal lie and other marine plants.

Once the over-nourished plants die, they decay in mass, depleting the oxygen in the water and causing algae to grow. Algae blooms cause Eutrophication, a process whereby a water body becomes abundant in aquatic plants and low in oxygen content. This lowered oxygen from decaying plants and algae blooms will cause fish and other aquatic species to suffocate.

There are many DIY cleaning options that can save both packaging and harmful chemicals. For example, baking soda can be used to remove the odour from carpets, turned into a paste to clean your oven or mixed with vinegar to create a toilet bowl cleaner. Read more about natural cleaners and find some great recipes here.

Eco friendly cleaning products

If you are buying cleaning products from a supermarket watch out for greenwashing. Beware of vague claims such as ‘natural’, ‘pure’ and ‘eco-friendly’, try to go beyond the on-pack claims and see how the company back these up by doing a little research into their practices.

Another form of greenwashing which often accompanies virtue signalling buzzwords is making the packaging physically green. Some will go for slightly subtler ‘earthy’ tones, so watch out that you’re not buying unnecessary plastic packaging just because it is quite literally green.

We strongly recommend avoiding air freshers altogether. Many can contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment and people, even the organic ones (as we explain above in the decorating your home section, organic doesn’t necessarily mean good for your or the environment).

Air fresheners can also include a lot of packaging. Instead, try a natural air freshener such as boiling cinnamon or lemon, or any other plant you like.

Alternatively, opt for some eco-friendly candles. Traditional candles can be made from paraffin (petroleum waste) which is really bad for both the environment and us. Instead look for ones made from coconut wax, beeswax, soy wax or rapeseed wax.

Ones in glass containers are great as you can reuse the jar afterwards. You could also purchase a reusable holder and buy ones without packaging. Wearth London have a really nice range available.

Finally, avoid electrically powered cleaning devices where possible. Try to use the dustpan and brush rather than your vacuum cleaner to clean up spills and where possible hang clothes out to dry rather than putting them in the tumble dryer.

Making Your Household Waste more Environmentally Friendly

British households produce about 26 million tonnes of waste a year, that’s the same weight as about 260 large cruise ships. Of this, around 12 million tonnes are recycled whilst 14 million tonnes are sent to landfill.

When it comes to waste the most simple and yet effective rule to follow is reduce, reuse, recycle.

Start by choosing products with reduced packaging, buying only what your household needs and buying products with long life-spans.

Once you have reduced as much as you can try to reuse whatever you can. Whether it’s keeping your produce bags or upcycling food pots.

Finally turn to recycling and, where possible, composting. When choosing products with packaging, try to choose those which are recyclable. Most UK packaging now has on-pack recycling logos (OPRL) and you can read more about recycling and logos here.

Composting rather than putting organic waste in the landfill can be hugely beneficial to the environment. When put in landfill, organic matter decomposes anaerobically, producing methane. Instead, start composting to save the environment and provide yourself with a free fertiliser for your plants. Read more about composting here.

Compost bin

Eco-Friendly and Ethical Clothing

The fast-fashion industry is a major issue for the world’s climate and something we need to give up if we hope to curb the climate crisis.

Currently, the fashion industry is responsible for at least 4% of global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2018 – more than the carbon output of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

Currently, only 60% of garments are sold at full price due to intense overproduction and research shows the industry will fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s target for 2030.

Beyond the environmental issues, the fashion industry faces multiple social issues including extremely low wages, gender-based violence and unsafe working conditions.

However, there is hope for more sustainable clothes shopping.

Firstly, we recommend giving things a second life by checking out your local charity shops or Depop for some pre-loved clothes. This helps to keep clothes in circulation rather than landfill and avoids giving money to unsustainable and unethical brands.

Not everything can be bought second-hand, so look for clothing brands doing their bit to help the environment.

Greenwashing is common in the fashion industry, so watch out for big brands that may have a ‘sustainable’ collection but the company themselves still massively contribute to fast-fashion. There are some great clothing brands out there, see which ones we recommend here.

Beyond clothes, you can find our recommendations for sustainable jewellery here and eco-friendly shoes here.

Sustainable Stationary

Paper production requires vast amounts of energy and water, the process not only contributes to deforestation but also waste and air pollution.

40% of commercially grown trees go toward paper production and paper accounts for around ¼ of the total waste in landfills. Production of a single A4 piece requires 10 litres of water – and with a global annual production of 420,000,000 tons of paper every year (that corresponds to 2 pieces of paper for every person on the Earth every single hour, aka 20 litres of water per person on the planet every hour!) – that quickly adds up to an enormous total water consumption.

In fact, the pulp and paper industries are the single largest industrial consumers of water in Western societies. Additionally, despite the relative ease of recycling cardboard and paper, 55% of it is still coming from newly cut trees.

Click here to see our recommendations for stationary brands leaving a positive mark on our Earth.

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