Are you one to make New Year’s resolutions? Better health, more wealth—a more planet-friendly lifestyle? For many, the new year brings an opportunity to renew commitments to living more sustainably for the sake of people and planet.
In fact, according to GlobeScan’s Healthy & Sustainable Living study, the public cares more than ever about a range of environmental issues including water pollution, natural resource depletion, climate change, air pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
To help along the way we’re sharing 22 simple tips to live a more sustainable lifestyle in 2022.
Here we’ve provided small, actionable ideas that can make a big impact. Whether it’s reducing your consumption of red meat, making eco-friendly swaps, or using your hard-earned dollars to reward companies that have made clear commitments to sustainability, we hope you’ll find one, or a few ideas, that you can incorporate in the coming year.
Read on to learn more about the simple and effective ways that you can eat, drink, shop, and travel more sustainability in 2022—and beyond.
How to eat more sustainably
1. Be more mindful about how your seafood is caught
In early 2020, 58% of North American seafood consumers agreed that, in order to protect the ocean, seafood must come from only sustainable sources. To identify ocean-friendly seafood, one place to start is by looking at the labels in stores, on packs, and on restaurant menus. Be wary, though—not all sustainability claims are created equal.
Make sure that you’re looking for logos from credible third-party certification programs like the Marine Stewardship Council or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. When you see these labels in-store, you can trust that the seafood product you are purchasing comes from a certified sustainable fishery or certified responsible farm and directly supports a healthier ocean.
Learn more about how the MSC blue fish label is making waves in the seafood and commercial fishing industries.
2. Drink tap water/Avoid single-use water bottles
When you choose to drink tap water, you are not only avoiding the plastic waste caused by single-use bottles. You also conserve the energy that would be used to produce plastic, fill the bottles, and transport them. You can also improve the quality of your tap water by investing in a filtration system (find the right water filter for your needs using this guide.)
For extra brownie points, repurpose a glass milk or smoothie bottle or invest in a stylish, eco-friendly reusable water bottle for on-the-go sustainability. Not a fan of plain water? Dress up your drink with lemon, cucumber, mint, or even ginger!
3. Reduce your consumption of meat
Factory farmed animal protein has a higher carbon footprint than many other food options; is responsible for the pollution of groundwater, air, and soil; and consumes an extraordinary amount of energy and water. While some people may take this as a sign to remove animal-based products from their diet entirely, it is unrealistic to expect that all North Americans have the ability—or the desire—to do so.
If you’re considering plant-based meat substitutes keep in mind that some may end up being more harmful to the environment than you might think. With that all being said, the data supports at least a reduction of land-based meat consumption.
The average American consumes around 274 pounds of meat per year, and Canadians approximately 148 pounds. For Americans, this represents more than twice the recommended daily intake of total protein, so reducing meat consumption is a first step.
Secondly, swapping in sustainably sourced seafood options for one or two meals a week can further reduce your carbon footprint. Fishing for wild seafood has a significantly lower environmental impact than the production of other land-based animal proteins.
4. Choose conscious consumption of other animal-based products
In addition to meat, land animals provide a variety of delicious and nutritious food products including milk, butter, cheese, and eggs. It is important to also consider the impact of these dietary choices and to consume them more consciously. There are many ways to increase the flavor of a meal without having a large environmental impact.
For example, according to a study conducted by Oceana, the carbon emissions from the production of cheese are almost twice as high as wild seafood. Again, our suggestion is not to completely abstain from eating these items; rather, we encourage you to think about ways to reduce the overall carbon footprint of your diet through conscious consumption.
Unless drastic changes are made, our global food system will continue to be responsible for at least a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Source of the graphic: Oceana, Emily Petsko: "Wild seafood has a lower carbon footprint than red meat, cheese, and chicken, according to the latest data"
5. Cook more at home to reduce food waste
During the pandemic, a record number of families began cooking at home more frequently. There are several health benefits to cooking your own meals, but did you know it can also be the eco-friendlier choice? When you cook your own meals, not only can you choose where and how your ingredients were sourced but you can also control things like packaging, plastic waste, and overall reduction of the over 168 million tons of food waste produced in North America annually.
You might even invest in an at-home composting system or choose to use your discarded veggie ends to make a nice broth. When cooking at home, the opportunities for eco-friendly innovation are endless!
Are you a seafood lover looking for some new sustainable recipes to try at home? We’ve got you covered.
How to shop more sustainably
6. Bring reusable bags to the store/reduce the amount of plastic while shopping
Worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, with only a small fraction being recycled and the majority ending up in the landfill or our ocean. A simple way to avoid contributing to this number is to bring your own bags to the store.
If you’re someone who likes keeping your produce together, you can use reusable canvas or mesh produce bags, like these options from Net Zero Company. However, don’t make the mistake of purchasing an unnecessary amount of canvas bags, as they too have their own carbon footprint.
Your best bet is to invest in a couple of high-quality bags that will meet your average needs, and choose paper instead of plastic bags if you ever need additional bags.
7. Look for and purchase certified sustainable products
Whether you’re looking to consume more sustainably or support fair labor practices, there are several certification programs and associated ecolabels out there to help you identify products that match your ethos, like Fairtrade Certified or Non-GMO Project Verified.
As we said earlier, not all claims are created equal.
If you are uncertain about the validity or accuracy of a sustainability claim or logo, take a few minutes to do a little research. Is the label created and self-awarded by the brand itself? Is it from a rigorous independent certification program that can back up the claim?
Navigating the ecolabel space can at times be tricky and confusing, but with a little patience and time, you can get better at weeding out the questionable claims!
8. Buy less, consume less, throw away less
Whether it’s food, drinks, clothing, or other items, we could all stand to slow down our purchasing habits. While shopping, ask yourself “Is this necessary? Does this have a unique purpose in my life? Can I see myself actually using this item?” Incredibly, stopping to ask yourself these simple questions before making a purchase can have a huge impact on the pure amount of stuff that you collect.
Are you a recovering shopaholic looking to live an eco-friendlier life? Consider the items that can be mended, repurposed, or recycled that you would otherwise just throw away. When you’re considering throwing out an item, remember that you’re also throwing away the energy and resources that went into making it originally.
9. Shop seasonally and regionally, when possible
Recent data suggests that incorporating seasonal foods into your diet can support your health and the health of the planet. This may refer to global seasonality—where food is produced in-season but consumed elsewhere in the world—or local seasonality—where the food is harvested and consumed in the same location during the natural growing season.
Not all foods are available regionally, so the decision between “locally” and “globally” seasonal food may be dictated by where you live and your access to seasonal options.
In short, when looking to shop “seasonally”, consider when and where your food is being harvested and how it ends up in your local grocery store.
10. Make the switch to eco-friendly personal hygiene and beauty products
Whether it’s excess packaging, unsustainably sourced products, or even a questionable ingredient list, there are several land mines to avoid while shopping for personal care products.
When looking for these products, prioritize ones that have been sourced responsibly and ethically, use sustainable or eco-friendly packaging, and avoid any harsh or damaging ingredients or microplastics.
Bonus tip: if an active ingredient is being advertised, make sure it is within the first 3-5 ingredients on the list. Anything below that will not have enough concentration to be effective.
11. Focus on “slow” fashion options
Clothes should last longer than a season and should absolutely cost more than a candy bar. The desire for new, trendy, and seasonal clothing items can be directly attributed to the growing fast fashion industry, which has both severe environmental and ethical implications.
Luckily, there are emerging “slow” fashion designers and conscious clothing companies that are actively tackling this trend; by prioritizing sustainably sourced fabrics and ethically produced garments that support living wages, these options directly challenge the status quo and provide a more people and planet-friendly option.
12. Prioritize alternative methods of consumption
In a Capitalistic society, it can be easy to forget the different methods of exchange that exist in communities all around the world. Don’t be afraid to explore alternative options including thrifting, swapping, or bartering. In fact, there are several Facebook groups dedicated to “Buy Nothing” communities in which people can offer and receive items at no cost while also reducing their overall waste. There is also no shortage of Instagram-based sellers covering a wide array of pre-loved items.
As the holiday season approaches, consider gift-giving options: perhaps an experience, something homemade, or a repurposed item that you know they would love!
How to travel more sustainably
13. Use more public transportation
It’s no big secret that public transportation and other car alternatives help to reduce overall energy consumption and damaging carbon emissions. Get familiar with your local metro, subway, bus, or train system. As technology advances, more single-rider alternatives including bike and electric scooter rentals are becoming available in major cities across North America.
Can’t escape the car? Try finding coworkers with whom you can carpool to reduce your overall environmental impact. Finally, don’t forget the simple and powerful (and healthy, to boot!) act of incorporating more walking into your commute, if possible.
14. Reduce the amount you fly
Although the energy efficiency of airplanes is getting better, the amount of global air traffic is increasing annually. Regulation of airplane emissions is not standardized globally or even from airline to airline. When possible, replace short-haul flights with train or bus trips. Ask yourself, can this business trip just be a virtual meeting?
If you are required to fly for your job, family, or a trip you can’t miss, consider exploring carbon offsetting programs to help neutralize your carbon footprint.
How to live more sustainably
15. Don’t forget about your digital carbon footprint.
While many people have migrated over to digital-only bills and other forms of communication, it’s important to remember that there is a carbon footprint of digital items, too. Cooling server farms, powering devices, and producing new technology all require energy inputs and have a carbon output.
Various studies estimate that global digital carbon emissions make up between 2.3-3.7 percent of all global emissions.
What does this mean? Should you cancel all your subscriptions and go off the grid? Some simple steps to take include regularly emptying your inbox, reducing your cloud usage as much as possible, and reducing the amount of video streaming, and opting for non-HD options when you do.
Make sure you’re properly disposing of your unusable electronics and small appliances.
16. Grow your own vegetables and fruits
More people than ever have begun dabbling in home gardening, in large part because of the increased interest in small-scale farming! With a little creativity, many can find adequate space and sunlight to start a simple garden of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers.
When embarking on a home gardening project, keep seasonality and regionality in mind. A crop that needs a hot, dry environment may not naturally do well in the Northeast. Find a local farmer’s co-op or home improvement store, as they may carry locally relevant seed varieties, as well as the tools necessary to build that mini garden!
17. Swap out your single-use items at home
We produce waste daily—it is something we cannot escape. However, we can decide how much unnecessary and single-use waste we produce while out and, more importantly, within our own four walls!
Some simple swaps include using reusable containers instead of aluminum foil, plastic zipper bags or cling wrap when packing leftovers. Silicone baking mats are also a great alternative to parchment paper. Purchase a set of absorbent kitchen cleaning towels and sponges to replace paper towels while cleaning.
Think of creative ways to repurpose single-use items to extend their life in your home. For example, if you have little ones, try using the tubes from paper products to create fun DIY crafts.
18. Bring a reusable mug!
Coffee cups are usually made of a cardboard-plastic mixture for insulation purposes, which is great for keeping your drink warm but less great for the environment. Because the material is a composite, many coffee cups cannot be recycled and end up in a landfill. In addition, many people do not think to separate the plastic lid from the cup when throwing them away.
If you’re someone who knows they’ll likely drink coffee while out, invest in a reusable thermos.
Many coffee shops are now incentivizing shoppers to bring their own cup for a discount, so don’t be afraid to ask your local barista if that’s something they offer.
19. Invest in reusable straws or drink directly from the glass
Not everyone can use metal, cardboard, or paper straws due to accessibility needs. However, if you are fully able-bodied, consider investing in a reusable straw set—explore this list of the best reusable straws to get started.
However, keep in mind that any plastic straw alternatives—including cardboard, glass, or metal straws—also require energy to produce. If you can, drink directly from the cup.
As we mentioned earlier, we all inevitably produce waste. It is a part of modern living, and you should practice kindness and compassion with yourself for the waste you cannot avoid. However, a little creativity goes a long way in reducing your waste, and we challenge you to explore alternate uses for products that have served their primary purpose. An old mug that you can’t use for beverages anymore could make a cute planter for succulents; a pair of old jeans can be reimagined into a simple rucksack.
Host an upcycling event for your friends and family: have everyone bring items that they wish to upcycle and crowdsource any tools or resources needed for the event. Could be a fun holiday activity to do while the family is in town!
21. Smoke fewer cigarettes
If you ever listened to any PSA about smoking, you’ll know that the carcinogen-filled products are not good for human health. However, they also have a negative impact on planetary health. When a cigarette is finished, the stub contains trace amounts of nicotine, tar, and other toxic ingredients.
Sadly, cigarette butts are actually the most commonly polluted plastic, with over 4.5 trillion butts polluting our global environment. These butts have a long afterlife, with decomposition taking nearly 10-15 years.
If you are working on quitting or are unable to stop your cigarette usage, consider investing in a portable ashtray keychain to collect your butts until you can safely and properly dispose of them.
22. Just get started
Even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference. Whether you can incorporate two or 20 of these sustainability tips into your life in 2022, you’ll be doing your part to make the world a better place. Looking for additional ways to promote sustainability in your community and life? Become a sustainability advocate!
Ask your local grocer for more of the items you want but cannot find (e.g. certified sustainable seafood options, fair trade spices, zero waste products). There is proof that marketers and business professionals are watching consumer behaviors and responding accordingly. By starting these conversations and preferentially spending on products and companies that are committed to sustainability, ethics, and planetary well-being, you are kickstarting the change you wish to see.
Don’t be discouraged if the change is not immediate; systemic changes take time and some effort from everyone, but if healthy bodies and a healthy planet are the outcomes, it’s well worth it.