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People take many steps to make their lifestyles more environmentally friendly, such as walking more or recycling household waste. Individuals sometimes make buying decisions that match their values, like buying organic food or beer made by union workers. This post offers 10 tips that readers can follow at home to make their lifestyles more sustainable both ecologically and socially.

The slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” encapsulates some of the practices described here. However, there is more to sustainability than conserving resources. Working to preserve communities, support local economies, and provide employment opportunities for local residents

Avoid Disposable Items:

Use cloth shopping bags instead of getting plastic or paper bags at the store. Use washable cloth wipes for cleaning and drying, in place of paper towels. The average American household produces a staggering amount of trash every year. Recycling programs, where they exist, often only capture a minority of recyclable goods that people toss out. By choosing dish rags over paper towels and reusable water bottles over disposable water bottles, you reduce your production of trash by several pounds per week.

Make Your Household Chemicals:

Making natural cleaners and pesticides isn’t that complicated. Using natural and biodegradable chemicals whenever possible is better for the environment. Making cleaners, polishes, bug spray, and weed killer at home also saves money. Good Housekeeping and HGTV have guides to homemade cleaners on their Web sites. Treehugger and other environmentally-themed Web sites offer recipes for natural, homemade pesticides. There are plenty of ways to save money and reduce your environmental footprint by making things at home. To make an even bigger impact, change the way your family eats.

Eat Low on the Food Change:

Environmentalists say that one of the best things you can do for the planet is to stop consuming animal products. That means no honey or milk either. Ideally, you would not buy leather goods either. Practically speaking, it is enough to go meatless much of the time, at least several meals a week. Try soy-based and almond-based alternatives to milk. Whatever food you buy, try to buy local and organic food. While the health and environmental benefits of buying organic are somewhat in dispute, the value of buying locally or regionally is not.

Transition to Renewable Energy:

Look for opportunities to buy renewable energy for your home and your vehicles. Electric cars probably aren’t being recharged from a renewable energy source, yet, but that might change. Today, plugging an electric car into a public charging station means getting electricity from coal or natural gas in many cases. At home, you are buying power from coal, gas, and nuclear power stations. If you want to make a dramatic statement, then you can install solar panels on the roof and generate some of your own electricity.

Go Car-Free:

You don’t have to stop driving, but that would be ideal. Almost everyone can cut back on the amount they drive, either by combining errands or walking and biking more. Take advantage of mass transit whenever possible. Buy the smallest, most efficient car that meets your household’s transportation needs, then use it only when driving is necessary. If you live in a city, chances are that many amenities are within walking distance. If you are moving, look for a location with a high Walk Score. The Walk Score is an index that indicates how many common destinations, like shops and schools, are within walking distance of residents. Many apartment and real estate listings now give the location’s Walk Score because savvy renters and buyers are often looking for a walkable neighborhood.

Eat Locally:

The normal American diet uses enormous amounts of energy, water, and synthetic chemicals. Some of that energy is wasted moving food from where it is grown to where it is sold. The best way to avoid contributing to that issue is to shop for locally grown foods. Finding food grown in your region can be a real challenge, unless you live in farm country.

There is still hope though. Farmers’ markets are in most towns and cities now. Those markets are the ideal place to get produce and sometimes other local products like jelly, eggs, or honey. Community supported agriculture (CSA) is also an option in some metro areas. The idea of a CSA is simple enough; subscribers pay for a share of a farms products and get bags or baskets of assorted produce.

Live Smaller:

Buy a home that is big enough to meet your family’s needs, but no bigger. Living with one other person in a 3,000-square-foot home is not particularly “green” even if you have family staying there often. A one-bedroom condo with a den or study probably has plenty of space for that pair, at a lower cost of ownership. An 800-square-foot condo takes far less energy to heat and cool. The condo is also likely to be near shopping and mass transit as well. If you live in a traditional suburban home, you are probably living in a car-dependent area.  

Make Your Own Cosmetics:

You can also make your own cosmetics, shampoo, and deodorant. Again, this is not too difficult and has multiple benefits. Many cosmetic companies still test their products on animals; by making your own, you can avoid contributing to that practice. Many of the chemicals used in deodorants, cosmetics, and shampoos raise health concerns. You also avoid those issues while saving some money.

Buy Used:

It is easy to find a wide variety of used furniture, clothing, tools, and more. Goodwill and the Salvation Army have thousands of stores across the United States. Many cities are home to thrift shops and consignment shops that are locally owned and operated. Habitat for Humanity, the famous home builder for the poor, operates several stores that sell gently used household items like doors, faucets, and windows. If you have a home improvement in mind, look for one those stores.

Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

Buying less reduces your family’s ecological footprint. Reusing and recycling help too. However, none of those steps consider the social consequences of buying various products. Look for products that promise they are Fair Trade certified. Those companies make it clear that their workers earn fair wages and enjoy decent working conditions. Many fair trade crafts and fair trade chocolates use products from worker-owned companies or collectives.

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