Living More Consciously - Let’s Evaluate our Lifestyles and our Footprint by Leah Dillon
My first discovery about moving to a greener lifestyle was that the change is a gateway to more eco-friendly habits. Try it out for yourself! Start with one simple change in your life - such as buying less food to reduce food waste, shopping second-hand for your next outfit, or going paper-free for your bills. Observe how this simple change makes you feel - Empowered? More cognizant of your impact on Earth? Inspired to take on more green changes in your life?
I decided to adjust my lifestyle due to the catastrophic global effects of the climate crisis, especially on people living in poverty and fragile areas, who contribute the least to the warming of our planet yet are most at risk (1). My goal is to inspire everyone to make simple lifestyle changes that can have profound impacts on the health of our planet. We have the means to create a healthier, more equitable planet together. At this point in my journey, I have three goals: Reduce meat consumption, reduce waste, and utilize clean energy.
Goal 1: Reduce meat consumption. Even small amounts of meat and dairy consumption have a large environmental footprint, whereas beans, vegetables, and fruits have a much lower carbon footprint while still providing nutrition (2). Learning to cook a plant-based diet was challenging at first, but soon I found meat to be unappealing and unnecessary.
Goal 2: Reduce waste. First, I aim to reduce plastics in my life, such as through canvas grocery bags, bringing Tupperware to restaurants, and avoiding any plastic packaging. Plastic pollution and production are responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions due to open-air incineration and energy-intensive recycling. Without intervention, plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions may represent up to 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050 (3). Second, I focus on reducing my waste within the fashion industry in light of harrowing facts by the UN (2018): The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping. Textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of water globally, with 2,000 gallons of water used to make a typical pair of jeans. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is thrown in a landfill or burned. If all stays the same, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. Armed with these facts, I now shop significantly less and find enjoyment in the clothes I currently own. If I must shop, I enjoy the treasure hunt for quality items at affordable prices in second-hand stores or prioritize sustainable brands. Third, I reduced food waste significantly with two tactics: 1) shopping little and often and 2) composting all scraps. Shopping little and often involves going to the grocery store more often and buying smaller amounts. With this method, I have reduced my food waste and think more critically about my food consumption. One-third of all food produced in the world is wasted every year; if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the U.S. (4). Aside from buying and wasting less food, I compost all my food scraps. Composting organic food waste significantly reduces emissions from methane, a potent greenhouse gas (5). Composting is a fun activity involving watching the food break down and enjoying the worms who do all the work!
Goal 3: Utilize clean energy. The reliance on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels to power most human activity has caused the release of greenhouse gases at historically high levels (6). I switched my energy provider to 100% wind and solar energy, and I consciously reduce my energy use whenever possible.
Aside from reducing my carbon footprint, my green initiatives have benefits in other areas of my life. I eat healthier and feel more energized by consuming a plant-based diet, spend less money on food and energy, and create free, nutritious compost for my garden and houseplants. I feel more connected to the Earth and inspired to take on more goals for greener living, such as shopping locally, using less water, and simply being happy with what I have. Now that I know how simple these changes are, I want to inspire others to take the same plunge into a greener lifestyle.
By learning from one another about how our daily routines affect the Earth, we can learn to live in a greener fashion and encourage our communities to do the same.
Leah Dillon is the strategic communications assistant for Climate Resilient. Has a B.S. and M.S. in Psychology from Tulane University. She is passionate about climate change and wants to utilize her experience working in finance and private wealth to help fight climate change and work as an activist for our planet. My hobbies include yoga, hiking, reading historical fiction, and working with animals.
Global Commission on Adaptation. (2019, September). Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/32362/AdaptNow.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. (2019). 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Targets and Options for Reducing Lifestyle Carbon Footprints. https://www.iges.or.jp/en/publication_documents/pub/technicalreport/en/6719/15_Degree_Lifestyles_MainReport.pdf
World Trade Organization. (2020, June). Communication On Trade-In Plastics, Sustainability, And Development By The United Nations Conference On Trade And Development (Unctad). https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/wto_unctad_CTE2020_en.pdf
Heller, M. (2019). Waste Not, Want Not: Reducing Food Loss and Waste in North America through Life Cycle-Based Approaches. United Nations Environment Programme, North America Office. Washington, DC, USA.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, May). Reducing the Impact of Wasted Food by Feeding the Soil and Composting. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/reducing-impact-wasted-food-feeding-soil-and-composting
Nunez, C. (2019, January). Renewable Energy, Explained. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/energy/reference/renewable-energy/#close
UN Environment Programme. (2018, November). Putting the Brakes on Fast Fashion. https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion