How to Reduce Ecological Footprints

How to Reduce Ecological FootprintsCalculating your ecological footprint can be downright horrifying. Our modern lifestyles are so far from sustainable that it's easy to get discouraged and think one person can't make a difference--but that's only true if everyone thinks (and acts) that way. There are many easy things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet, and some of them will even save you money. Here's a start, and resources to learn more.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Take a walk. Personal transportation is a major source of energy use in America. Cut it by walking, cycling or using public transportation whenever possible. If you do use a car, combine errands into one trip to maximize efficiency. Keep the engine tuned, the air filter clean and the tires properly inflated. Drive a fuel-efficient low-horsepower car or hybrid. Carpool.
Step 2
Be stingy with energy. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels to trim your home energy bills. Here are a few simple, inexpensive ways: replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, turn lights out when not in use (better: install "vacancy detectors" that do this automatically), install dimmer switches, use smart power strips, unplug appliances when not in use, turn computers off instead of letting them "sleep," make sure your home (windows and doors too) is adequately insulated, set your thermostat at least three degrees lower (in winter) or higher (in summer) than usual, use ceiling fans in summer, close air vents in unused rooms, use energy-efficient appliances, air-dry clothes instead of using a dryer and use the microwave instead of a conventional oven.
Step 3
Stem the flow. Reduce indoor water use by running washing machines and dishwashers only when full, installing low-flow shower heads and low-flow or dual-flush toilets (consider flushing only when necessary) and turning off water while brushing teeth. Front-loading washers use less water than top-loading models. Tankless water heaters and on-demand units reduce waste too. Ways to cut outdoor water use include sweeping driveways, walks and decks instead of hosing off with water, installing a rain sensor and intelligent controller on your irrigation system, switching to drip irrigation and using native, drought-tolerant plants in your landscaping. Taking your car to a car wash, where water is recycled, is less wasteful than washing it at home.
Step 4
Shop less--and smarter. Everything you buy has impact on the environment: materials, water and energy used to produce it, packaging, and transportation should all be considered. Voting with your dollars provides important feedback to manufacturers and can help create change. Opt for locally produced goods, things made from recycled materials or used items---thrift shops, flea markets and websites like Craigslist are great sources. Buy reusable items instead of disposable ones (napkins, handkerchiefs, dishtowels, sponges, etc.). Look for minimal packaging--or none at all--and bring your own bags with you when you shop. Use a refillable stainless steel water bottle (and fill it with tap water: free) instead of buying pricey bottled water. See if broken items can be repaired instead of buying new ones to replace them. When buying appliances, look for energy-star rated models.
Step 5
Go on a diet. A vegan or primarily plant-based diet not only has significant health benefits for you, it's better for the planet too. You don't have to swear off meat entirely--even cutting out meat a few times a week can make a big difference. Raising livestock often involves significant animal cruelty. Ranching requires large amounts of land, which fuels deforestation. Antibiotics and hormones given to livestock end up in the meat we eat and can cause health problems. The meat industry is also a major source of carbon emissions and other pollution. Fish is a healthier alternative, but many species are overfished: be informed and avoid eating threatened species. Organic fruits and vegetables are more healthful for you and the planet--pesticides and synthetic fertilizers used on conventional crops pollute the air, water and land and cause human health problems. Finally, how far your food travels to reach you is important--buy locally grown or produced whenever possible. Farmers' markets are a fun and informative source for amazing local foods.
Step 6
Curb your trash. The average American generates nearly five pounds of waste each and every day. You can slash this by recycling; check with your local waste management company to see which items can be recycled and how to dispose of things like batteries, used electronics and solvents safely. Most food waste, which now ends up in landfills, can be composted, turning it into fantastic food for your garden.
Step 7
Toss the toxics. Check ingredient lists on foods, household products and personal care items, and don't buy anything with toxic additives or chemicals. Contact your pharmacy to find out how to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs instead of flushing them down the toilet.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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