Concerned about the environment but feeling overwhelmed by all the issues out there? Feeling discouraged about how you as an individual can really make a difference? Not to worry. Here, we’ve compiled a short list of easy and practical ways that you can help the environment.
The great thing about these tips is that in most cases you really won’t have to change your lifestyle radically to have an impact on the environment. One thing we do encourage is more reliance on human power in your daily life. We hope that some of these tips will help us move one person at a time towards a society that is more responsible and less reliant on convenience.
For example, things like walking to the grocery store and using a reel mower will reduce air pollution and energy use, while also reducing the time you spend at the gym! Additionally, if you get your kids to follow your example by using human power more, you can do your part to help reduce child obesity and diabetes!
Please note that this is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, we’re looking for help in expanding these tips with things that have worked for you that don’t appear on the list!
Have you made a simple change in your life that you feel has helped the environment? Do you know of other ways that an average person can move towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle? Have you used cool, eco-friendly products you’d like to recommend? Let us know! See the bottom of the page for the comment option. No spammy links please, they will be removed!
In this list are things you can implement both indoors and outdoors to help save the environment. And don’t forget, you can add to the list! Just submit a comment at the end of this page! It’s that easy to share your environmental tips with the rest of the world. Try it out!
1. Prevent energy leaks at home.
Check this out: Did you know that heating and cooling can make up to 50 percent of your energy bill each month? If you heat and cool your home more efficiently by fixing leaks, you’ll save money and reduce your impact on the environment.
Plugging up those energy leaks is simple. Insulating your home will keep your house warmer in the winter and help to cool things off in the summer. Sealing all your ducts can help as well. This Energy Star website will help with simple techniques for sealing your ducts.
Weatherizing your home is also critical. Want to learn how to weatherize to prevent energy leaks? Read more at this U.S. Department of Energy website!
2. Lower your home thermostats!
That’s right, thermostats, plural! Most people have their heater, hot water heater, and refrigerator thermostats set at unnecessary temperatures.
Try this out for a few months: Set your heater at 68 degrees F or lower in the winter and 78 degrees F or higher in the summer. Programmable home thermostats are an even better way to heat and cool your home responsibly.
Next, adjust the temperature on your hot water heater to 140-degrees F or lower if possible. Most people keep the temperature on the hot water heater much higher than they really need. Try it out!
And finally, make sure to use the energy-saving settings on your refrigerator. Better yet, try switching to a more modern, energy saving frig. Look for new refrigerators with the Energy Star label.
What’s with all this Energy Star Business? Check out the U.S. government’s Energy Star program homepage to find out more about how you could be saving money on energy costs and help the environment at the same time. It’s win-win, baby!
3. Switch as many bulbs as possible in your home to compact fluorescent bulbs.
Good news! Compact fluorescent bulbs are really going mainstream nowadays, which means they’re cheaper and easier to find than ever. That’s great, because the California Energy Commission reports that lighting can make up to 25 percent of the average home’s electricity consumption. When you switch your incandescent light bulbs to ultra efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, you’ll be making a big difference in your energy use.
A while ago, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration stated that when the average cost of a fluorescent bulb was around $11.00, your energy savings would be around $20.00 for each bulb over a three year period. Now that Walmart and other stores are selling these bulbs at about 2 bucks each, think of the savings you’ll have from switching! Additionally, compact fluorescent bulbs generally last up to seven years each.
4. Use a low-flow shower head.
You may associate a low-flow showerhead with one that reduces your shower to a frustrating trickle. Thankfully, technologies have improved so that you can enjoy a high pressure shower while saving water at the same time!
Another benefit is that with a low-flow showerhead, you will not only save water, you’ll also save energy! Why? The California Efficiency Partnership says that about 73 percent of the water you use in your shower is hot water, and you use a lot of energy to heat that water for you shower. They go on to say that the use of low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators can reduce your water heating costs by around to 50 percent! Lars, a writer for this blog, manages this website, which has great information about low-flow showerheads and other ways to save water in the bathroom.
Return your organic waste where it belongs: the soil! Rather than sending banana peels, grass clipping, etc. to the municipal dump, start a compost pile instead. The Environmental Defense Fund says that around 18 percent of the waste an average family in the U.S. produces comes from the yard and garden. If you recycle your yard and garden waste, you’ll reduce the amount of energy used to send this waste to the dump. Add your organic kitchen scraps to your yard waste and you’re significantly decreasing your waste.
Compost also makes your plants stronger and healthier, reducing the need for fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Don’t forget that many cities have municipal composting programs for your yard waste. Need more info about the benefits of compost, how to compost, and what to compost? Check out our guide to garden compost for lots of tips.
6. Use drip irrigation systems in your garden.
Drip irrigation systems, also known as micro-irrigation systems, are designed to deliver water directly to your plants, with minimal waste. According to Colorado State University, drip irrigation systems are around 90 percent efficient, whereas traditional sprinkle systems are only around 50-70 percent efficient. The Colorado State University Extension Service has a great website on the benefits of setting up a drip irrigation system in your garden.
7. Plant trees in your yard and community.
Everyone knows that planting trees can help the environment. Trees sequester (trap) CO2 emissions, minimizing the effects of global warming. They also have many other beneficial effects. Trees cool your home, reducing the energy used for cooling. Trees improve mental health. Trees increase property values. Trees reduce urban runoff and capture dust particles from the air. Trees reduce noise pollution. The list goes on and on!
Need more reasons to plant trees? The U.S. Forest Service has a great page about the benefits of trees. The trees to plant are those native to your area. Why plant native trees? Because native trees use less water, support native wildlife, and are better adapted to your area. You can plant native trees in your yard or if you don’t have a yard, contribute to community tree planting efforts. The Arbor Day Foundation has some great community tree planting programs you can check out.
8. Go “mostly organic” in your lawn and garden.
Using organic gardening products and techniques is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. You don’t necessarily have to go 100 percent organic either. Try out a few organic pesticides or fertilizers and see what works for you! By going mostly organic in your garden, you’ll help to stimulate beneficial soil organisms, reduce harmful wastewater runoff, and create a healthier place for your pets and children to play.
We have written a website called Mostly Organic Gardening where you can find lots of organic gardening tips.
9. Use a reel or electric lawn mower.
If you have a small yard, consider using a manual push reel mower. Why? Here’s a testimonial from Lars Hundley, one of the writers for this blog:
“People who use gas mowers put up with ear-splitting noise, headache- and nausea-inducing fumes and mechanical problems,” says Mr. Hundley, Chief Gardening Evangelist at Clean Air Gardening. He prefers the serenity and simplicity of old-fashioned reel mowers. “There is a real element of pleasure to using a manual mower,” he says.
Today’s reel mowers are a far cry from the one your grandfather used. “Reel mowers are light, quiet, and virtually maintenance-free,” notes Hundley. The mowers are environmentally friendly, and also better for your grass. “Rotary mowers tear the grass — reel mowers cut grass like scissors, leaving a fine spray of clippings as mulch for your yard,” he explains. They do take some effort, but they aren’t any harder to push than an 80-pound gas mower that isn’t self-propelled.
Reel mowers aren’t necessarily practical for really big lawns, so think about switching that gas mower to a clean, non-polluting electric mower.
Want more information about reel mowers? Here’s is a fun article by the Christian Science Monitor all about the benefits of reel mowers.
10. Replace your single-paned windows with double-pane windows.
This can be an expensive home renovation, but it will make all the difference in the world in terms of saving you energy during the cold winter months. The American Council for Energy Efficiency has a website on selecting the best energy efficient windows for your home. In addition to double panes, energy efficient features to look for on windows include tinted glass coatings, low-emissivity (low-e) coatings, and multiple layers of glazing.
11. Turn off lights and electronic devices when you’re not using them.
We all know it’s important to turn off the lights when you leave a room to save energy. How about turning off your T.V., radio, computer, etc.? We’re not talking about simply turning the off switch. Many electrical appliances continue to use a small amount of energy when turned “off.” This energy will add up over time.
So, we recommend connecting several appliances to one of those surge suppressing power outlet strips that has an on/off switch. When you leave for work in the morning, flip the switch and your devices will be completely turned off. Try that for a few months and see how much energy you save!
12. Fix water leaks in the bathroom, kitchen, landscaping, etc.
You know those tiny leaks you’ve been meaning to fix inside your house and in your landscaping? Guess what? That water loss adds up over time and can cost you big money. Not to mention all that wasted water! Protect our freshwater resources and save money by fixing those leaks!
13. Consider switching to a low-flow toilet.
According to the U.S. Government’s Environmental Protection Agency, about 41% of our indoor water use in the home goes toward flushing the toilet and 33% goes to bathing! Modern low-flush toilets are designed to use water efficiently. Here’s a website that has lots of information on reducing water use with a low-flush toilet and other simples changes in the home.
Want to get extra fancy? Well, the EPA has a new WaterSense label for toilets that use even less water than a standard low-flow toilet. These models are based on extensive studies of fluid dynamics over the last several years, so they work, and they work well.
If you don’t switch to a low-flush toilet, you can also use low-tech methods like putting a brick or a small milk jug in the tank to reduce water use. You can also take this sage advice, “If you pee, leave it be, if you strain, pull the chain!”
14. Use ceiling fans to cool off in the summer.
If you use ceiling fans during hot summer days, you can create a cooling effect similar to “wind child.” A few ceiling or regular fans strategically placed in your home can reduce the amount of time you spend with the air conditioning on. There are even Energy Star certified ceiling fans out there that use even less energy than typical ceiling fans!
15. Use solar energy to dry your clothes!
Here’s something you can do that is easy, practical, and won’t cost a penny to implement. In fact, it will save you money! No matter where you live, the sun has to come out eventually. When it does, hang your clothes out to dry. If you live where I do, in the Desert Southwest, the sun is almost always shinning. Except at night. Haha….
So, take advantage of this natural energy to dry your clothes! It may take you 10 extra minutes out of your day to hang up your clothes, but that’s a small price to pay in the long run.
Of course, there are days where drying outdoors on the line is not practical. That’s fine. Use your drier! Don’t feel guilty! However, you should read some of the suggestions on the Energy Star website about washing and drying clothes to make more efficient use out of your drier.
16. Invest in solar energy.
There are many ways to invest in solar energy. Unfortunately, some solar energy products for the home can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and have a payback period of a decade or longer.
However, there are lots of inexpensive solar gadgets out there you can try out. For example, solar-powered landscaping lights can help you reduce how much energy you get from the “grid.” How about solar cell phone chargers?
If you can afford it and you’re going to be living in the same spot for many years to get the payback, outfit your home with a few solar panels. Additionally, there are many forms of passive solar energy out there as well that can help you take advantage of the sun. See this U.S. Department of Energy website for more information about solar energy.
17. Rethink transportation.
This tip encompasses several different ideas. It involves a lot of thinking, some basic planning, and finally putting your plans into action. Yes, hybrids are great. Yes, biofuels are cool. Yes, using public transportation is important. Yes, you should get out and walk and use your bicycle more often.
However, don’t feel bad that you don’t make enough money to buy a fancy hybrid. Don’t feel bad that public transportation sucks in your city (as it does it mine!). Don’t feel bad that you had to take a job with an hour commute to make ends meet!
Just sit and think about a few practical and environmentally friendly ways you can get from one place to another. Can you car pool to work? Can you take a bus when you go to the movie theater? Can you walk or bike to the corner store? Brainstorm and put at least a few of these ideas into action. Even if you don’t buy a hybrid car, walking instead of driving to the grocery store is a great way to help the environment!
18. Use small, efficient devices to cook food.
You love to cook and you’ve got a big fat oven that you use to cook everything. Cool. But consider that toaster ovens, pressure cookers, crock pots, microwaves, and electric grills are efficient and won’t heat up your kitchen in the summer. Less heat, less energy to cool your home. On that note, bake lots of cookies and casseroles in your big fat oven in the winter! See this interesting website from the City of College Station about food cooking costs to help you decide what devices are best for you.
19. Use some Xeriscaping principles in the garden.
You may have heard about Xeriscaping from your friends who live in arid regions of the U.S. However, Xeriscaping is not just for those who live among cactus and sage brush. Xeriscaping simply means that you use water wisely in your garden and landscaping. Some concepts of Xeriscaping are: using efficient irrigation systems, using low-water use plants, reducing turfgrass, and creating thoughtful water-wise garden designs. Texas A&M has a great site about basic Xeriscaping principles.
20. Use some native plants in the garden.
Why grow native plants in your garden and landscaping? First off, native plants are better adapted to your area. This means that they require less maintenance and less water. They are also more resistant to pests and diseases. That translates to water savings and reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers. Additionally, native plants attract native wildlife and native beneficial insects. You don’t have to plant 100 percent natives to make a difference, consider just planting a few.
When you grow native plants, you help blend your landscaping with the native landscapes you find outside of your town or city.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has an excellent program that encourages the use of native plants for home landscaping called Greenacres.
Ecobackyard is a blog about making urban landscapes look more like natural landscapes using native plants and other techniques. Kent Swanson who writes for the Practical Environmentalist also writes for Ecobackyard.com.
21. Get involved locally!
Sometimes I just have to turn off the T.V. and forget about all the bad news concerning the Earth’s environment I see on a daily basis. It can be too much for one person to handle. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by issues like dying coral reefs, species extinction, etc., I try and look towards what’s happening in my community.
For example, I recently started volunteering at a local organic farm. This is a small operation run by some very devoted people. Agricultural land in my city is unfortunately being quickly eaten up by housing developments. There are all kinds of issues at stake here: losing aquifer recharge zones, additional urban runoff from new developments, gentrification, etc.
So, by helping this group of farmers a few hours a week, I feel like I’m making a difference in my little corner of the world. And I also get a big bag of organic veggies for my efforts! Look for small ways to help the environment in your community!
So, there’s your list of easy and practical ways that you can help the environment.
But wait. There are obviously more than 21 ways to make a difference, right? Of course there are. That’s where you come in!
We want your ideas, your creativity, and your ingenuity. Share with us what you’re doing to help create a more sustainable future!