5 Easy Ways to Be a Smarter and More Eco-Friendly Consumer
Yes, “eco-anxiety” is a real thing. From the UN's recent IPCC reports warning of the impending climate crisis marked by rising seawater and dwindling species, it can be hard to stay positive and feel that, as individuals, we can actually do something meaningful to effect change. Some of our apathy or concern stems from not knowing exactly what we can do, other than recycling, that will have a real impact, and if the actions we do take are making a difference.
While there is an immense amount of work that needs to be done (by both government and corporations), this Earth Day, it is our individual choices that matter most and can have the biggest positive impact, from what we eat to what we drive. Here are some actions you can take now to get you started (or continue further along) on your green journey.
1. Choose plant-based foods over animal-based foods
Experts agree that one of the best things you can do for the planet is to not eat animal products — and even reducing your meat consumption one day a week could have an impact. The reason being is that “factory farming,” is wreaking havoc on the environment. Modern industrialized farming is the most environmentally costly food production system. When you replace your beef patties with plant-based alternatives, or swap dairy milk for plant milk, you are voting with your dollars for a more environmentally sound and sustainable food system.
2. Eliminate single-use plastics, which end up in the oceans
It is estimated by the World Economic Forum that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) considers plastic marine debris and its ability to transport harmful substances as one of the main emerging issues affecting the environment. With more than 8 million tons of plastic ending up in the ocean each year — resulting from both ocean-based activity like commercial fishing, and land-based plastics entering as run-off, etc. — action is imperative.
While industry and government need to address the plastic crisis, you can still do your part as an individual and purge the plastic from your life. Here are easy things you can start doing now:
- Carry a reusable fork in your car or bag.
- Use reusable grocery bags and produce bags.
- Ditch straws (and carry a reusable straw).
- Reuse single-use plastic containers to get more life out of them.
- Save and reuse glass jars for storing food or household items (instead of buying new plastic containers).
3. Buy from eco-conscious brands, and learn which are better citizens
Research from IBM shows that 57 percent of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce negative environmental impacts. While it can be difficult to break through “greenwashing” — which is when companies market their products as sustainable or eco-friendly when in reality they’re not — there are many brands that put the environment first; it’s not an afterthought, but at the core of what they do.
Beauty brands that use glass instead of plastic for packaging. Packaged-food companies that eliminate the use of plastic or use biodegradable alternatives to plastic. Brands that are consciously sourcing ingredients. Companies that are giving back to environmental causes as part of their business model. These are just to name a few examples of choices eco-first brands are making.
There are also badges to look out for on products that show and verify the brand is eco-conscious. Climate Neutral for example helps brands measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. When they follow certain guidelines and protocols, they get the “Climate Neutral” stamp of approval. If you don’t see a third-party certification like Climate Neutral on the company’s product or website, look to see if they have a “sustainability section”— there is a good chance that if a brand is taking steps to off-set their footprint, and operating planet-first, they will tell you.
4. Opt for an electric car or bike, or start pedaling to get around
The world is increasingly shifting to electric modes of transportation as we attempt to move away from our reliance on environmentally hazardous fossil fuels (which power the majority of vehicles today). California has signed an executive order banning the sale of new fossil-fuel vehicles by 2035. Washington is working on banning the sale of new gasoline vehicles by 2030.
The world is shifting toward an electric future: The UK said by 2030 it won’t sell any new gas cars. There are also now more electric vehicles on the market than ever, and many vehicle makers have already committed to selling only electric cars — Volvo for example said by 2030 it will only produce electric vehicles, and Mercedes and BMW have announced their models will be fully or partially electric powered in the years ahead. Tesla's stock price is now worth more than the next six major car companies combined.
Even if you’re not in the market for an electric car, or you’re considering going car-free, you can start your journey away from fossil fuels with an electric bike which have been growing in popularity. Story Bikes for example makes high-quality, high-powered electric bikes that can serve as a car replacement for short trips. And as they say, “we make steep hills feel flat,” so you can travel with ease no matter what hilly terrain you might be on. Plus, their bikes are vegan since they use a leather alternative on their seats and handles.
5. Contact your elected representatives to support climate legislation
One of the most important things you can do according to climate experts is to contact your elected representatives. "The largest impact you can have as American citizens is to call [or write to] your member of Congress,” said Jerome Foster II, the executive director of 1 Million of Us and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, in a recent interview with GMA. “Everyone says this, but rarely anyone does it. When I interned with Congressman John Lewis, we only had like 30 to 35 calls that came in every single day, and he was one of the most famous Congress members. I’d have to tally up every time someone calls and says ‘five more calls about the environment!’ If five people call about one issue, that's going to be the thing that he says, ‘Oh, I have to focus on that, because that's what my constituents are saying.'"
Elected officials work for you; if you want something to get done that’s out of your control at an individual level, tell them. You can contact various elected officials at your city, state, or federal level. Tell them about the issue that you care about and want action. You can also reach out to a local environmental community group and ask for a recommendation on what elected officials to contact.
For more ways to be a sustainable consumer, check out these 11 eco-friendly brands to buy from.