Going Green: 10 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment

Going Green: 10 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment

In a new V column, we explore issues of sustainability and the environment. To kick off the series, we put together a simple guide for reducing your contribution to climate change

In a new V column, we explore issues of sustainability and the environment. To kick off the series, we put together a simple guide for reducing your contribution to climate change

Text: William Defebaugh

Stop eating red meat

When people mention cutting back their carbon footprint, the first thing they often mention is eating only locally grown produce. While this would certainly have a strong impact on your carbon emissions, it's unfortunately not feasible for most—especially low-income households, for whom the cheapest grocery stores are the big chains that source their food from all around the globe.

One easy alternative that is actually more effective is to cut out red meat and dairy, the production of which is the leading source for carbon emissions in this country—even more than the transportation of fruits and vegetables. Don't believe us? According to a study at Carnegie Mellon, an average household that replaces 30 percent of its calories from red meat and dairy with other sources of protein (chicken, fish, eggs) will save more than a family that ate only local for an entire year. And if you're diet-conscious, good news: lean meats are less fatty anyway.

Travel consciously

We know, we know. Your family lives far away. You work too hard and deserve a vacation. You've recently gone through a divorce and need to eat, and spiritually find yourself, in various parts of the world. The reasons for travel are endless, but they're not an excuse to do so exorbitantly. To give it some perspective, just one trip across the country can account for your entire yearly carbon emissions budget (and no, driving across the country isn't much better).

So if you're going to take a trip, what can you do? For starters, don't fly first class. As luxurious as it may feel to sleep horizontally on a flight and get to pretend you're Jennifer Aniston for a day, you end up taking up twice the amount of space—effectively doubling your emission factor. Take a bus or a train whenever possible. Limit your flights to once a year. Explore local getaways when you really need to get out of town (if you live in New York City, upstate has some great options that are accessible by bus and train).

Photographed by Mario Testino

Use public transportation

Buses, subways, trains—any form of transportation is better for the environment than driving your own car. If you have a hybrid or an electric car, congratulations—the largest contributor to carbon emissions in this country is still electricity. I grew up outside Detroit, where we didn't have good public transportation options so I understand that it can be difficult to cut out driving (as the automobile capitol of America, the city wanted us to by cars to support the local economy), but there are ways you can cut down on it. Carpooling can help. Or, if you really want to reduce your emission factor, ride a bike. And if your family really needs a car, whatever you do, don't buy more than one. There's no excuse for not being able to share a ride with mom and dad.

Reduce, reduce, reduce!

By now, you're probably familiar with the phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle"—but what many don't realize is that the first "R" is by far and away the most important. As important as it is to reuse containers (more on this later), and to recycle, reducing your consumption habits is crucial. After all, recycling plants are still responsible for a significant amount of carbon emission— so it's much more effective to reduce the volume of waste (both recycled and non).

When it comes to food, just think about how many things spoil in your refrigerator every month, and then think about that happening in every household in America. A recent study found that almost half of food produced in this country goes to waste. It's not hard: just take a few moments every Sunday to plan out your meals for the week, and then shop accordingly.

This goes for non-food items, too. We know you want the latest iPhone, but is there really anything wrong with the one you've got? (Besides, you know Apple is just going to come out with another one in six months anyway, so you might as well wait until it's broken.) As a general rule, before you buy anything, ask yourself this simple question: do I really need this?

Stella McCartney Fall 2016 ad campaign

Shop responsibly

It's time to address the elephant in the room, and the question that's likely on your mind: V is a fashion magazine, and isn't fashion one of the largest culprits of carbon emissions, and partly responsible for our culture of waste and consumerism? All true. But that's all the more reason we need to be educating consumers about how to practice fashion responsibly, because it is possible. From high-end designers like Stella McCartney who refuse to work with leather or fur, to brands like Re/done that supply fresh takes on vintage materials, there are sustainable options within the industry.

The easiest way to reduce your fashion footprint, though, is to follow this simple rule: quality over quantity. As good as it feels to buy the latest on-trend item, it's a satisfaction (and likely, a trend) that will quickly fade. And sure, fast fashion companies like H&M and Zara are applauded for making fashion more affordable, but the pieces they produce are also more likely to fall apart in a few years, increasing your volume of material waste. It's much more sustainable to buy one garment that's a bit more expensive and high-end every few months than it is to buy a bunch of cheaper items every few weeks. And when you're tired of the old ones? Donate them to your local consignment or vintage store.

Stop using disposable containers!

It's 2016; you officially no longer have an excuse for using disposable containers. Most supermarkets sell reusable bags at the register (Whole Foods even offers a discount at checkout if you use one). Stop ordering Seamless (think about all of the bags, and those containers full of sauces you never even asked for! Not to mention the styrofoam containers, which D.C. recently banned). Bring your lunch to work in a reusable tupperware container. Carry around a canteen for water.

When it comes to coffee, take a thermos to your local shop and ask them to fill it up. This is much better than a home or office coffee machine, most of which rely on disposable pods that carry aluminum (Hamburg, Germany, recently became the first city to ban the use of coffee pods and disposable containers in government buildings). Besides, who wants to make their own coffee anyway?

Photographed by Tim Richardson

Save your energy

This one's easy: when you go to sleep or leave your house, turn out the lights and unplug your electronics! If your iPhone charger is plugged in to an outlet, it's using energy—even if your phone isn't connected. In the same vein, be sure that all of the lights in your home are energy-efficient with LED and CFL bulbs. These details may seem small, but they go along way.

Conserve water

It's an mindless act: you're brushing your teeth, or washing the dishes, and you leave the water going. The fact that it covers 70% of the earth tempts us into thinking that water is an endless resource, but the truth is, it's not. With the rate at which we're losing bodies of water to pollution and contamination, fresh water supplies are quickly dwindling (just look at California).

An easy way you can reduce your water use by taking shorter showers and buying newer faucet heads. A recent survey shows that older showers use an average of five gallons, while newer models use two. (The same survey estimated that the average American uses 80-100 gallons of water per day.)

Photographed by Anthony Cotsifas

Ban products that harm wildlife

A recent Marine Policy report estimated that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans—predominantly via finning, which involves cutting off the animal's extremities for soup, and then discarding its carcass back into the sea (where it then sinks to the bottom of the ocean only to be eaten alive by other fish). At the rate we're going, sharks—one of the world's oldest creatures—is heading dangerously toward extinction, and needlessly so.

Whether it's shark fin soup, leather boots, fur jackets, or makeup produced manufactured by companies that practice animal testing, make it clear that you don't support the practice of endangering wild species by not only banning the products in your own life, but taking the time to do research, and inform the people around you how the items they're consuming were really made.

Practice safe sex!

Just kidding—kind of. The root of most of the aforementioned problems is the growing threat of overpopulation. The number of people, and their needs for consumption, are skyrocketing every year—not to mention the fact that human life expectancy is also growing considerably. The current world population is roughly 7 billion, which is almost 1 billion more than it was this time last year (you can monitor it in real time here). The easiest way to combat this is by choosing to have less children (and yes, part of that means using contraception, and encouraging safe sex).

Credits: Cover photo by Kim Jones

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