As individuals, there are a lot of things that we can do to change the way we live and have a better impact on the environment. By adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle and taking on some of the habits of green living, you can start to lessen your environmental impact and, in the long run, you may actually end up saving money for yourself. Try out some of this general green living advice, short-term changes that you can make, long-term eco-friendly investments, and explore how you can make an impact on the environment as an individual.
Some lifestyle changes are things that you can start doing right now and incorporate into your behavior going forward. These changes will probably require some effort from you, either to change your behavior or to avoid behavior that you’ve grown used to.
People become vegetarians for a lot of reasons, but one thing that many of us don’t consider is the environmental impact of eating meat. Time Magazine has reported that “[a] 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that livestock were responsible for about 18% of human-caused greenhouse gases.” The raising of livestock contributes to environmental damage in two ways: by converting forests into pastures for grazing, and by the methane gas that is released by these animals — primarily cows — and their manure.
By eating less meat, switching to mainly poultry or pork, or taking on a completely meatless diet, you can lessen the impact that the meat industry has on the environment. In addition to being eco-friendly, cutting meat out of your diet is also a good way to eat healthy for less money.
Before the invention of the electric dryer, people would often just hang their clothes out to dry after doing laundry. By adopting this older practice with your own clothes, you can both save money on your electric bill and help the environment. This is because the dryer is one of the most inefficient household appliances that there is, using 6 percent of your home’s energy.
For many of us, it’s easy to leave a television, computer, or even light on after we’ve left a room. However, for just a little extra effort, you can save a lot on your electricity bill and help the environment. Turn off devices that you’re not using, unplug your phone once it’s finished charging, and maybe even go so far as to unplug devices that go into sleep mode when they’re not in use. Sleep mode still consumes electricity.
These days, a lot of media can be consumed without using paper at all. Popular forms of print media like newspapers and magazines are often available in electronic form. You can also switch over to paperless billing, so that you get your bills over email instead of conventional mail. Going paperless helps the environment by slowing the rate of deforestation, so that efforts to replant trees in our forests can keep up.
We’ve talked about forgoing the dryer when you do laundry, but using your washing machine is still fair game. However, you can decrease energy consumption by washing clothes in cold water. This saves you from heating water, which consumes additional electricity.
Speaking of hot water, the temperature on your water heater may be higher than it needs to be. Think about how often you’re turning your shower or faucet up to the maximum heat. If the answer is never or that it’s too hot, then you would probably be comfortable with a lower heat on your water heater. By lowering the heat overall, less energy will be consumed to heat the water up.
In addition to turning down the heat on your water heater, you can also save electricity by taking cooler and shorter showers. Lowering the temperature of your showers means that less water needs to be heated, as does taking a shorter shower. A shorter show can also help you consume less water.
Here are some changes that may require you to buy new products or take on additional expenses, but which can also have a dramatic impact on your environmental footprint and form the foundation of many eco-friendly lifestyles.
According to the EPA, 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to transportation. This doesn’t just include emissions produced by cars, but that’s a big part of it. By switching up your traveling habits, you can have an immediate effect on the environment. Some means of travel like walking or biking are completely carbon neutral, and they’ll also give you a good workout. However, for longer trips in difficult weather conditions, carpooling or taking public transportation is a good way to lessen your environmental impact by spreading it out amongst a number of people.
Using alternative transportation could require an upfront cost, such as purchasing a bicycle or buying a bus pass, but it will have an immediate impact on your environmental footprint and will probably help you save money in the long run by cutting down on the money you spend on gasoline.
Single-use items are a huge contributor to trash worldwide. Even things that can be recycled require energy to do so, and they can sometimes find their way into the trash where they can’t be recycled at all.
Instead of buying the same reusable items over and over again — things like plastic water bottles, plastic sandwich bags, and even diapers — try find reusable alternatives. There will be an initial cost of buying the new item, but you should find yourself saving a lot of money by cutting down on the recurring purchases that you make.
Composting is where you turn food waste into healthy, usable soil instead of tossing it in the garbage. Composting can help you lower the amount of trash coming from your household by up to 30 percent. You can start composting by getting loose soil that’s enticing for worms. Add certain kinds of food waste (no meat or bones and absolutely nothing that might have pesticide residue on it) to your soil and, over time, the worms will break down the waste, adding nutrients to the soil and keeping these items out of your trash can.
Lots of household cleaners actually have a negative environmental impact. According to the EPA, household chemicals can get rinsed down drains and go on to enter the water supply, where they affect fish and other wildlife.
Instead of buying harsh household cleaners, you can actually do a lot of cleaning with green solutions made from things that you can find in your very own home, including lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda. These chemicals include the same acids and bases commonly found in household cleaners, albeit in much more eco-friendly forms.
Some more major lifestyle or household changes can have an enormous effect on your environmental footprint over the course of many years. These changes often require a large initial investment, but that investment can pay off in the long run, both for the environment and for your pocketbook. For these long-term changes, be sure to time your purchases well so that you don’t get yourself into financial trouble while trying to be more eco-friendly.
Many of the lights in your house probably use a tungsten filament, which becomes incredibly hot and emits heat as an electrical current runs through it. Tungsten light bulbs are cheap to manufacture, but they aren’t very efficient and they don’t last for very long, relative to other kinds of light bulbs.
An analysis by Green is Better showed that, while LED light bulbs cost more upfront, they can help you save a lot of money in the long run. The total operation cost for a conventional light bulb over 23 years was $201, compared to just $38 for an LED light bulb.
Household appliances such as low-flow faucets and showerheads or other energy-efficient appliances can help you reduce your consumption over time. The initial cost of a new appliance such as an energy-efficient dishwasher can be fairly steep, but the environmental impact over many years is huge. Just make sure that you’re getting appliances that are Energy Star certified. Energy Star is a government standard that new appliances must meet in order to be considered eco-friendly.
Installing solar panels can be a huge home renovation project. You’ll have to buy the panels first and then, depending on the scope of your installation, you may need to call in professional help to get them working properly. However, there are ways to mitigate the upfront cost. You can take 30 percent of the cost of solar installation out of your federal taxes as a tax credit. Over time, your solar panels may start to pay for themselves. Not only will you be helping the environment by generating your own clean energy, but if you have a surplus, some regions will let you sell that energy back to the power company.
Collecting your own rainwater can help you become independent from the water grid. You can collect rainwater using barrels, tarps, or special tubs that collect runoff from your roof. There is some upfront cost, but you can expect to save money in the long run if you use a lot of water for irrigation. This is especially important in areas where irrigation water and drinking water are on the same system.
As we’ve seen here, lots of eco-friendly lifestyle changes can actually help you save money in the long run. However, there are good reasons to start living green besides the savings. By lessening your impact on the environment, you can ensure that future generations have clean air and water, lush forests to enjoy, and a healthy planet to live on for millenia to come.
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