10 Ways to Live More Sustainably

Adopting these simple daily habits can help save our planet.

Back in 1970, Earth Day (April 22) was created as a way to raise awareness about some of our most pressing environmental issues. Since then, people around the world have marked the annual observance by taking part in activities that help to protect the planet.

But there’s no reason to limit eco-friendly activities to just one day each year. In honour of Earth Day 2022, we’ve compiled a list of simple and effective things we can all do at home on a regular basis to help make a positive impact in the fight against climate change.

1. Unplug your devices when you’re not using them

On a convenience level, it’s so much easier to keep electronics and small appliances — like TVs, coffee makers, printers and cellphone chargers — plugged in at all times. But even when these plugged-in devices are switched off or in standby mode, they’re still sucking up energy, earning them the nickname “vampire appliances.”

Vampire energy accounts for up to 10 percent of the total electricity used in our homes and is responsible for 1 percent of our global carbon dioxide emissions. Just the simple act of unplugging your devices when they’re not being used can make a big difference to your carbon footprint — and your electricity bill.

2. Steer away from single-use plastics

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, we Canadians generate more than 3 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, but only 9 percent of that plastic is actually recycled. That means a whopping 91 percent of our plastic waste ends up in landfills and waterways, causing harm to wildlife and our ecosystems.

One of the best ways to help reduce the impacts of plastic pollution is to avoid disposable and single-use plastic products and opt for reusables whenever you can. Here are some easy first steps:

  • Pack a water bottle or reusable mug when you’re heading out of the house
  • Bring your own cloth bags to use when you’re shopping
  • Say no to plastic straws, cutlery and cups when you order takeout
  • Ditch the plastic wrap in your kitchen (keep food fresh using beeswax wrap or glass containers instead)

3. Try a cold-water wash

Did you know that up to 90 percent of the energy we use to wash our clothes is attributed to heating the water? Switching to cold-water washes will not only dramatically reduce the amount of energy you use on laundry days, it will also save you money in heating costs and help to increase the longevity of your clothes.

Of course, hot or warm water is still necessary for some types of laundry loads, such as towels and linens (warm water) and heavily soiled work clothes or cleaning rags (hot). But the rest of your items can be effectively cleaned in colder temps.

4. Change your lightbulbs

Switching all your lightbulbs to LEDs (short for “light emitting diodes”) is another easy way to make your home eco-friendlier. LED bulbs use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, which means installing them in your home will help to cut your household carbon emissions and reduce your energy costs.

Plus, LEDs last around 50 times longer than their incandescent counterparts. Translation: Once you’ve got all your LEDs in place, you’ll hardly ever need to change them.

5. Shop locally when you can

When it comes to living more sustainably, buying from local makers and growers does double duty: Not only are you helping to support your local economy, you’re also reducing the negative environmental impacts that come from transporting or shipping goods over long distances.

Both Calgary and Airdrie have a lot to offer in terms of locally produced goods. From year-round and seasonal farmer’s markets to bricks-and-mortar speciality stores, you can shop for locally grown food and beverages, locally made clothing and locally produced artisanal goods with relative ease — and feel extra good about your purchases in the process.

6. Avoid food waste

Every year, about one-third of all the food produced in the world is either lost, spoiled or thrown away. When food is wasted, so is all the water and energy it took to grow, harvest, package and transport it. Plus, wasted food that ends up in the landfill eventually produces methane gas, which is even more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

While the food service and retail industries are significant contributors to global food waste, personal households are responsible for the largest portion. These simple waste-reduction habits can make a big difference:

  • Try to meal plan before grocery shopping so you only buy what you need
  • Freeze any fresh items that you don’t plan on eating right away
  • Store veggies and fruits separately in your fridge
  • Find creative ways to repurpose your food scraps and leftovers (like adding wilting kale to your smoothie or tossing leftover pasta into a frittata)
  • Don’t forget to compost. Calgary and Airdrie both have effective composting programs, so be sure to use your green bin for whatever food scraps you can’t use

7. Adjust your thermostat

Almost half of the energy we use in our homes goes to heating and cooling. Lowering your thermostat by 2 degrees Celsius in the winter and raising it by 2 degrees Celsius in the summer can help to limit energy loss, leading to a smaller power bill and a notable reduction in your household’s carbon emissions.

If you start feeling a little too chilly in the colder months, try dressing in layers and donning cozy slippers to keep warm inside. And if the heat gets too oppressive inside during the summer, try placing a fan by an open window to cool the air.

8. Use your dishwasher

It may come as a surprise, but using a dishwasher (if it’s a newer, energy-efficient model) is actually more sustainable than washing your dishes in the kitchen sink. A fully loaded dishwasher consumes about half the energy and one-sixth the water when compared to washing the same number of dishes by hand.

But there are a few dishwasher caveats to follow in order to ensure you’re really maximizing energy savings and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions: Scrape, don’t rinse, your dishes before loading them; use the eco setting if it’s available; and make sure you only run your dishwasher when it’s completely full.

9. Get into upcycling

It can feel incredibly satisfying to repurpose an old item into something new. That’s what upcycling is all about: finding new and useful purposes for your unwanted things instead of throwing them away or recycling them.

Not only is upcycling a creative way to save money, it also helps reduce the excess waste that ends up in landfills. Plus, it lowers our consumption of the various raw materials required to create new products.

Looking for some easy, beginner-friendly upcycling activities to try? Consider sewing an old graphic t-shirt into a cool tote bag, transforming empty paint cans into outdoor planters, or turning old teacups into pretty candle holders.

10. Spend more time outside

Spending time in the great outdoors makes a big difference to your personal health and well-being. Studies have found that engaging in activities like nature walks, gardening and birdwatching can help lower your stress levels, boost your mood, build your immunity and even improve the quality of your sleep.

Another benefit of being outside? It can make us feel more connected to our natural surroundings. And this, in turn, will inspire us to do what we can to preserve and protect our natural spaces for future generations.