I was twelve years old in 1975 when the British sitcom The Good Life hit our screens. Tom and Barbara, the main characters, gave up the rat race to turn their suburban home into a small holding. They wanted an alternative lifestyle, to be self-sufficient, make their own clothes, raise chickens and brew beer. It was a glorious blueprint for a sustainable future. But, though the nation loved them, they laughed at their innocence. Collectively we followed in the footsteps of their moneyed neighbours, Margot and Jerry, instead. Forty years on I’m wondering how different the world would be if we’d chosen the greener living model.
What is greener living?
For me greener living simply means choosing to live consciously. It is about being mindful of everything we do and the impact it has on the planet and other people. The best example I can think of is that of a gardener who plants a tree knowing that they will not live long enough to see it mature. They invest time and energy to nurture life in the hope of a future where it will flourish. It is the absolute opposite of ‘what’s in it for me’.
There’s so much anxiety about what ordinary folk can do to mitigate the climate crisis and it’s easy to freeze or do nothing. I’ve decided to make small changes and it’s already given me a sense of purpose and wellbeing.
This is about ‘greener living’ not clean living because there is no point in setting ridiculous goals. It has to be a blueprint for life, not just a fad. What’s more, to be achievable, it has to be affordable for everyone. Interestingly, on a global scale, the people with the smallest carbon footprint are also the poorest. We in the west are the ones who need to change.
10 eco-friendly changes that anyone can make
1. WEAR NATURAL FIBRES
I’ve already written a post about the micro fibres that are polluting our seas – tiny particles of plastic that are shed from our synthetic clothes during laundry. Polyester is a polymer – or in other words plastic. The solution is to buy clothing made from natural fibres like wool and cotton and fewer clothes of better quality that will last longer. I love clothes but cheap fashion is not sustainable and this great article in The Guardian explains why.
2. LEARN TO COOK
Our food costs the earth – literally. Intensive farming methods and the meat, fish and dairy industries use enormous natural resources that are not sustainable. We need to drastically cut down the amount of food we waste. Cooking from scratch and even better growing some of your own produce will help you grasp the true price of what’s on your plate.
Be aware of the hidden ingredients in processed foods and what they mean for the environment. Palm oil, for instance, is the cause of mass deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. The WWF explain what we need to know about palm oil and how greener living means avoiding the uncertified stuff.
Eating well, eating more fibre, organic fruits and veg can help with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, allergies and even depression. Helping the planet means we look after ourselves at the same time.
3. TRAVEL WISELY
I’ve already written about how much we fly and promised not to fly myself this year. The same goes for running a car – do you really need one at all? I use a car club for the odd occasion I need one. Most of the time I use public transport the bus, train, cycle or walk. If public transport isn’t an option consider setting up a car share rota with colleagues.
4. AVOID POLLUTING WATER
Stop rinsing harmful chemicals down the drain. Swap to natural versions of products like shampoo, household cleaners, bleach, laundry detergents, skincare and sunscreen. Clean using old fashioned white vinegar, lemons and bicarb instead.
5. TRY NOT TO KILL
I happily admit to wanting to make anyone who uses weedkillers drink the stuff. Weeds are wildflowers and loved by bees and insects – when you destroy them with pesticides you kill everything else with it. Same goes for fly spray. If you have to be rid of them just dig out your weeds and swat your flies.
6. BE ENERGY EFFICIENT
Renewables now account for 20% of the UK’s electricity supply. When your contract is up switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier. Greener living means fitting a smart meter and swapping to energy efficient appliances and LED light bulbs. Switch off anything on standby and insulate your home to save on bills and improve your carbon footprint.
If you can’t compost yourself at least put all of your food waste in that little bin the council provides. Why? Because when food ends up in landfill if gives off methane and carbon dioxide.
8. GREEN UP YOUR GARDEN
40% of the world’s insects are in decline. The threat of mass extinction is largely down to loss of natural habitat. We can mitigate some of the threat by making every front and back garden, balcony and windowbox a refuge for wildlife. Grow plants known to attract pollinators, feed birds, create a wildlife pond, install a bug hotel. Let the grass grow long or better still sow a wild meadow. If you’ve paved over – shame on you. For heaven’s sake dig some of it up and smell the earth.
9. DON’T WASTE WATER
In the UK we are lucky enough to get safe, delicious drinking water straight from the tap. However, clean water costs a lot of energy, which means when we use less also we reduce our carbon emissions. Switch to shorter showers and fewer baths, use eco laundry cycles and get a modern low-flush cistern for your toilet.
UK household recycling is provided by local councils so what can be recycled will depend on where you live. The Recycle Now website is a great tool to find out about the services in your area. Glass, paper, cardboard, and tin are widely recycled. The recycling of plastics and cartons is a thorny issue which I tackle in a separate paragraph below.
When it comes to recycling many of us assume that a product is converted back to a material and used again. For instance, that when paper is pulped it resurfaces as a newspaper. This is not always the case and much of our recycling, especially plastic, ends up being incinerated and converted into electricity. It might not be what you thought was happening but at least it’s better than landfill, or worse still, dumped in another country.
Watch the excellent BBC series War on Plastic – it will leave you with no doubt that we’re drowning in a sea of plastic. As a packaging designer I’m conscious that I’ve contributed to the problem. Real change needs a ‘big solution’ that halts the escalation of plastic production on a global scale. In the meantime these are the tips I’ve learned so far:
- Carry a reusable coffee cup (don’t leave it at home).
- Don’t buy bottled water – use tap or filtered water and carry a refillable bottle.
- Carry reusable bags instead of using a new one each time.
- Use washing powder that comes in a cardboard box.
- Find a refill store. Take your own containers to buy rice, cereals, nuts, pulses and all manner of stuff by the scoopful. Refill liquid detergents and household cleaning products.
- Choose recycled toilet paper and kitchen roll or buy from Who Gives a Crap.
- Buy cheese and meats at the counter and take your own containers.
- Get your bread from a bakery and use a paper bag.
- Purchase fruit and veg at the market or greengrocer and put them straight in your bag.
- Get milk delivered in glass bottles which are collected and reused.
- Use soap and a shampoo bar instead of liquids in bottles.
- Stop using wipes as many contain plastic, Friends of the Earth say that non are flushable even the ones which say they are.
- Use biodegradable poo bags made from plant starch (this is not a perfect solution however, as they need light to degrade quickly – but they will eventually break down unlike normal plastic poo bags).
- Choose bamboo versions of toothbrushes, cotton buds and toothpicks – they are biodegradable.
- Use washable nappies instead of disposables.
- Protest about unnecessary plastic packaging whenever you see it.
If this post inspires a few of you to make just one or two changes towards greener living it will be worthwhile. Here’s celebrating The Good Life.
Plastics image: © Daniel Müller/Greenpeace