The start of a new year brings with it a feeling of renewal, a time when we all feel inspired to make positive life changes. Maybe you want to read a book a month, finally try indoor rock climbing, or perhaps you’re looking to do something bigger, something that benefits the greater good. If that’s the case, we suggest looking into sustainable living.

What is sustainability?

You’ve probably heard the buzz words — going green, being eco-friendly, combating climate change — but you might be wondering what sustainability really means. Put simply, it’s a way of living where you fulfill your basic needs without harming the earth’s environment or depleting its resources. This means creating less waste and pollution with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life on Earth.

A child looking through a magnifying glass in a forest

Why is sustainable living important?

Our environment can’t rejuvenate and renew itself indefinitely. By using up its resources now, future generations are left in potential peril. To protect humankind as well as the species who inhabit our planet, we need to protect the earth by making ethical choices. Making environmentally sustainable decisions now can help reduce long-term energy costs, improve air quality, reduce your carbon footprint, and have many other societal benefits for years to come.

How do you live sustainably in 2022?

New year, new environmentally friendly you. If you’re looking to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, we have suggestions for everyone — from “green” beginners to eco-pros. This is a pretty long list of actions that range from incredibly simple to complex and even expensive. We’re not suggesting that you incorporate all — it’s a difficult feat and can lead to burnout — just that you may want to try to work a few into your lifestyle.

The important thing is to make an effort, no matter how large or small. Everything you do, from the clothes you wear to the food you eat, has an impact on the planet, so every smart choice helps to make a difference.

A family unpacking groceries from reusable grocery bags

If you’re just getting started:

  • Swap plastic shopping bags for reusable grocery bags.
  • Use metal straws instead of plastic ones.
  • Plug large electronics into smart power strips.
  • Wash your dishes in a dishwasher instead of hand-washing them. You may be surprised to learn that dishwashers actually use less water than washing dishes in a sink.
  • Separate your recyclable materials from your other trash. Also, try to use everything as much as possible before making it waste. All it takes is a little imagination to turn a cardboard box into a kids’ make-believe race car, right?
  • Opt for e-statements, use an electronic reading device, and put a “No Junk Mail” sign on your mailbox to cut down on paper.
  • Instead of turning down the air conditioning or cranking up the heat, make clothing choices that will adjust your body temperature.
  • Open your blinds and let in natural light instead of turning on your overhead lights.
  • Unplug electronic devices when they’re not in use. You’d be surprised how much energy they can drain — even when they’re turned off.
  • Hang clothing on an outdoor clothesline instead of using a dryer.
  • Use a glass water bottle instead of single-use plastic ones.
A man riding to work on a bicycle

If you’re middle-of-the-road:

  • Get an energy audit: It’ll evaluate how much energy is being used in your home and assess the biggest contributors. Once you have those pinpointed, you’ll know areas where you can make improvements or changes that will have the biggest return on investment.
  • Eat less meat: Animal farming is a big contributor to pollution, which leads to climate change.
  • Switch out your old light bulbs for LED lights: And, while we’re talking about lights, make sure to turn them all off when you leave a room.
  • Purchase fair-trade products: These are products from companies that have gone through a rigorous certification process to ensure their products meet the highest ethical standards — good working conditions, improved livelihoods, and protection for the environment.
  • Make your own home cleaning products: You’d be surprised at how effective just a few basic household staples — like vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide — are at cleaning.
  • Look for oven and stove alternatives in your kitchen: You don’t have to stop using them entirely, but slow cookers, toaster ovens, pressure cookers, and air fryers can get many of the same jobs done with less energy usage.
  • Support sustainable products and fashion brands: These are businesses that have made a commitment to achieving carbon-neutrality in their industry.
  • Choose organic food products: It reduces pesticide use and promotes sustainable farming practices. If possible, buy your produce in bulk from a farmer’s market to go that extra mile.
  • Bike to work or take public transportation instead of driving: To cut down on driving even more, combine your errands to make fewer trips.
  • Use a programmable smart thermostat: It learns your behaviors (like when you sleep and leave the home) and adjusts your home’s temperature based on those actions.
Insider Tip: For more lifestyle and wellness tips — like how to live a minimalist lifestyle without getting rid of everything — visit the PODS blog.
A person collecting ripe tomatoes and other produce from a home garden

If you’re a seasoned pro ready to up your “going green” game:

  • Grow your own food: Cultivate a backyard organic fruit and vegetable garden. There are plenty of pesticide alternatives that will keep your plants chemical-free. For the richest gardening soil, try composting (recycling food scraps and organic waste into a fertilizer).
  • Consider an electric vehicle: If you’re in the market for a new car, an electric vehicle is much kinder to the environment than traditional gas- and diesel-guzzling alternatives.
  • Limit your air travel: Air pollution represents a significant percentage of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Use a hybrid car for a fun road trip, or carpool with multiple families to get to your final destination.
  • Upgrade your home by investing in ENERGY STAR-certified appliances: They’re tested and approved by the government to be more energy efficient.
  • Insulate your home: Your home primarily loses energy through the walls, windows, and doors. Install new attic or wall insulation, seal cracks with caulk, and put weatherstripping around doors and windows.
  • Put solar panels on the roof of your home: They create clean and renewable resources by converting light from the sun into electricity.
  • Volunteer with an environmentally conscious group or land conservancy: Put your time into your passion and help organizations that are committed to protecting our world.
A woman looking through a storefront window and deciding if a new purchase is necessary

Which is best to do to live more sustainably?

While there’s not a #1 thing to do when it comes to sustainable living, one of the most helpful actions is to buy only the things you know you’ll use. Before you make a purchase, ask yourself if it will fulfill a need and what will happen when you’re done with it.

Americans are infamous for our consumer culture. When we own too many things, we infrequently use our possessions, ultimately causing them to end up in the trash. And when the trash piles up, toxins are released into the air, creating pollution.

If there are certain items you need less often — like a carpet cleaner or clothing steamer — consider renting from a company or borrowing from friends instead of making a new purchase. Browse vintage stores and consignment shops for second-hand furniture and clothing instead of buying new. And don’t forget to donate your used goods, too.

Speaking of second-hand goods, it’s always a good idea to declutter your home and get rid of the things you no longer want or need. But try not to default to the trash can after you complete the purge

Wondering how to keep your possessions out of a landfill but also out of your home? A PODS portable storage container can help. Think about things in your home that your family and friends might be able to use. Maybe a large piece of furniture you’re moving on from, like an entertainment center, or even some like-new clothes you haven’t worn in a while. PODS can drop off a container right in your driveway; you just load it up and let PODS know when to pick it up. Have items in the “maybe” pile? Load them into the container, put ’em in storage for a while, and see what life is like without them. If you find yourself without want — donate away!

Insider Tip: PODS portable storage containers are perfect as sorting stations. Think of a container as a temporary additional room in your house used for decluttering. What’s better: Spreading your belongings out to easily go through them or feeling buried by clutter and getting overwhelmed?

How can we be more sustainable in the future?

If you’re fully committed to sustainable living and want to make a decision that has long-lasting benefits, consider looking into “eco houses.” This is a fairly broad term, but it refers to using green building materials and practices. Popular types of eco homes include:

Tiny Houses
Homes with approximately 200 to 400 square feet have been around for centuries but are gaining in popularity as a response to McMansions and the ebbing and flowing real estate bubbles. Because of their size, tiny homes use less energy by default, and some are made with local or reclaimed materials.

Prefabricated Homes
Built in a factory and assembled on-site, prefabricated (or prefab) homes are designed to cut down on waste.

Passive Houses
Using high standards for energy efficiency, passive homes use airtightness, insulation, and high-performance windows and doors to reduce negative environmental impact.

LEED-Certified Homes
An acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED homes are verified by a third-party system to be more energy efficient. Safe building materials are used to flow fresh air into the home, cutting down on toxins and pollutants.

Earthships
These houses aren’t just eco-friendly, they’re eco-BFFs. Made from both natural and upcycled materials, these homes are designed to interact with the sun and earth to naturally maintain a comfortable temperature in any climate.

Sustainable living doesn’t have to mean cutting out luxuries or making huge sacrifices. Simply being conscious of your consumption and making a commitment to make some changes is enough to help our planet. You just took the first step by reading this article. You’re already well on your way!


LB Gabriel is a freelance writer who lives with her husband, daughter, and Golden Retriever in Memphis, TN. A frequent PODS blog contributor, she’s a sucker for any tip she can find on downsizing, cutting clutter, or minimalist living. When she’s not on a deadline, you can find her on a tennis court or golf course.

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