Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Life, According to Sustainability Experts

If you think one person can't make a difference in the fight against climate change, you'd be wrong. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that some progress has been made in tackling humanity's impact on the planet, but more needs to be done. Here are some small, sustainable changes you can make for a more eco-friendly life:

  • Save energy
  • Cut back on meat
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Switch to renewable energy
  • Save water
  • Drive less
  • Dress sustainably
  • Buy fair trade and eco-friendly

Save Energy

Electricity production is the second-largest creator of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but saving energy is surprisingly easy. Just switch off appliances when you aren't using them, keep an eye on your thermostat and remember to turn off the lights.

Lauren Keeler, a sustainability expert and assistant professor at Arizona State University, told Newsweek that dryers and AC/heating units were particularly energy intensive. Using these appliances less often or switching to more energy-efficient models can have a sizable impact on your carbon footprint.

"Line-drying clothes and setting your HVAC unit to a higher temperature in the summer and a lower temperature in the winter are good ways to reduce energy consumption," she said.

Investing in energy-efficient appliances can also save you money in the long run—between $300 and $500 a year, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

Woman unpacking sustainable grocery delivery
A woman unpacking sustainable grocery delivery to put in the fridge. Think about how far your produce has traveled to get to you and plan meals so food isn't wasted. monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Cut Back on Meat

You don't have to go vegan, but do consider eating less meat. Animal-based foods, particularly beef, produce twice the amount of greenhouse gas as plant-based foods, research has found, and the farming of livestock is responsible for 57 percent of food production emissions. Try having a few meat-free days a week or experimenting with meat substitutes.

Janelle Heslop, senior manager of strategic planning and operations at Amgen, told Newsweek: "Consumers should consider these as alternatives to their meat purchase rather than cutting out meat completely."

Reducing food waste is good for your budget as well as the planet, Keeler said. "The average American throws away 430 pounds of food each year. Think of all the water and nutrients that go into growing food, then 40 percent is just wasted."

To cut down on food waste, don't overbuy when grocery shopping, batch cook or plan your meals in advance, and try new recipes to use up leftover ingredients.

Reuse and Recycle

Reusable items such as packaging can take less energy to manufacture than single-use options. They also help to reduce solid waste, lower emissions and reduce water consumption in everyday life.

Keeler said: "We have a culture of constant consumption. As a consumer, your best bet is to consume less, buy less stuff."

Recycling also lowers pollution levels and stops plastic ending up in the oceans. Along with recycling packaging, glass and clothing, you can recycle your gadgets, wood and even bricks and rubble.

Switch to Renewable Energy

As with energy-efficient appliances, switching to renewable energy can reduce your bills and save you cash in the long term.

Ihab Elzeyadi, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon and an expert in building sustainable environments, told Newsweek that renewable energy is becoming more attainable for the general public.

"The prices of renewable [systems] are dropping but the price of energy is rising," he said. "We're getting to the point where renewables will pay for themselves in less time."

However, Elzeyadi recommended making small, smart changes to your lifestyle first. "You'll need renewables less if you curb your energy consumption to start with."

Save Water

From turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth to spending less time in the shower, conserving water is a great habit to adopt. Other easy water-saving tips include not running the dishwasher unless it is full, reusing water when cooking as often as possible, and not washing your hair every day.

Heslop also recommended ditching plastic water bottles for reusable ones: "Use tap where you can. Many cities have tap water quality and taste that is higher than bottled water."

Dress Sustainably

Beauty is pain—for the planet. Microplastics are everywhere, with fibers from synthetic clothing a huge contributor to the problem.

"Garment manufacturing is energy [intensive] and wrought with bad labor practices," said Keeler. "The good news is, vintage is in."

To join the battle against plastic pollution, ditch fast fashion and buy from brands making an effort to be more sustainable. You can also shop vintage or buy second-hand clothes, whether from physical stores or apps such as Depop and thredUp.

Instead of throwing damaged or stained items in the trash, take them to a tailor or dry cleaner. They can help to fix your tarnished item, or repurpose it into something new. If you have items of clothing that are in good condition but that you don't wear, donate them to a second-hand store or sell them online for extra cash.

Drive Less

Personal cars and trucks are responsible for almost one-fifth of emissions in the U.S. but transportation is an unavoidable part of life for many of us. If you'd like to make your commute more eco-friendly and reduce your carbon footprint, take the bus, train or carpool to work. Walk or cycle when possible—it's good for your health too.

"Cars are an amenity that people aren't willing to live without, but you can be smarter about," said Elzeyadi. "Adjust your driving habits, adjust your commute."

If it's not possible for you to drive less but you still want to reduce your carbon footprint, Heslop recommends buying an electric car—budget permitting.

"In the next decade, they will be approaching cost parity," she said. It is a "great investment to get in now."

Buy Fair Trade and Eco-Friendly

Products with a certified Fair Trade logo have met the project's standards on sustainable production, as well as workers' rights and community development. Look out for the symbol when shopping online or in stores. Buying locally is also more sustainable, as your product will not have traveled as far to get to you. Not to mention, you'll be supporting a small business.

"Consider how to be a more informed consumer," said Heslop. "Whether it's buying fair trade products or [sustainably] sourced seafood, there are always options."