Finding our way back to the 3 principles of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
A new year feels like the perfect opportunity to make some changes - shake off the old, bad habits, pick up some new, better ones and generally re-engage with our goals. This can be so overwhelming when you're looking to make changes across the board; in your personal life, your relationships and your career. Adding concerns about your environmental impact to all of this can feels like a step too far - especially when there are so many ideas and areas to think about.
Don't worry, I've got you! Whether you're following the Gregorian solar or a lunisolar calendar and have already celebrated your new year, or whether it's still on the way, I thought I'd take a moment to help you to cut through the noise, strip things back to basics and narrow it down to 3 simple lifestyle rules.
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If you look up 'top tips to live more sustainably' in your search engine you'll find anything from 'Top 10 ways' up to '100+ ways', and while there will be some crossover and agreement, that's still a whole lot of info to absorb in one sitting, far less incorporate into your everyday life in one year!
Add to that all of the conflicting advice out there, plus the fact that there are always new environmental products, technologies and processes coming out and being refined, and it can become impossible to know where to start (or how much it will cost you).
Below I've stripped it back to the 3 basic principles - they're nothing new, but they're a great place to start.
Rule 1 - Reduce
Unsurprisingly, the best way to use fewer materials, less energy and create less waste is to just buy less stuff. As the late great Vivienne Westwood said - "Buy less, choose well and make it last."
Whether it's simpler things like remembering your shopping bags so you don't have to buy new ones, or more involved ones like fixing something that's broken instead of binning it and buying another, just reducing the amount we acquire on a daily basis is the key. Not taking that second salad bag that's in the buy-one-get-one-free sale because you know you won't use it in time. Keeping your current phone rather than upgrading because it still works just fine. Not printing out everything when a digital copy is just as good.
Nowadays there's a huge industry of rental products too - from clothing and accessories, to tech, to cars. Rather than owning something outright you can hire or rent it, giving you more freedom on what you choose next time - and when you upgrade.
"Buy less, choose well and make it last."
Reducing consumption is a lifestyle habit, and one that can be easily acquired if, every time you go to use or pay for something, you ask yourself if you really need it. Yes, there's a little bit of self denial required, but it does make the things you do buy that much more special. And think of all the money you'd save!
Rule 2 - Reuse
One of the results of buying fewer things is that you end up using the things you already have more. Fashions come and go, and then they come back again, so you do have the chance to keep and resurrect items you thought were lost to fashion purgatory. You can mend them if they get damaged (or get something to do it for you), you can dye them if you're bored of the colour, have them adjusted to match current trends...and that's just what you can do with the contents of your wardrobe.
"We can't achieve zero waste without reuse." MaryEllen Etienne, CEO of Reuse Institute
Old furniture can be given a new lease of life with some elbow grease and a lick of paint, or broken down and built into something new. Second uses can be found for wrapping paper, boxes, jars, scraps of wood, metal, fabric...one man's trash is another man's treasure as they say - you just need to see it through that other man's eyes.
It can become a fun game when you get the hang of it - seeing how many different ways you can use something before you bin it - or ideally where possible sell, donate or recycle it.
Rule 3 - Recycle
While it still gets a bad rap, recycling has improved significantly over the years, and we'd expect it to keep progressing as new technologies and techniques are developed. While it would be ideal if nothing was packaged in plastics, it's great to see that poly bags and films like those on bread and fruit can now be recycled at big supermarkets.
"There is no such thing as 'away'. When we throw anything away it has to go somewhere." Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA
Once we've Reduced and Reused as much as we can, then sold or donated the remaining items that still have potential value or use, it's the only thing left for us to do as responsible consumers. It has become a habit for many households by now, with our numerous bins for separating.
Hopefully over time we'll find that our general waste bin becomes all but obsolete, as each household becomes its own mini circular economy through Reducing, Reusing and Recycling.
Too vague to apply to real life?
It's true that the 3 'R's of sustainability are more general rules to live by - leaving significant room for interpretation - rather than specific actions. If you're looking for some more direct changes, the biggest impact you can have is changing where you invest your money.
Check the environmental ethos of your financial services providers in these 3 key areas, and move to better ones if you can:
Insurance - enterprises like Naturesave
Did you know your pension is likely invested in fossil fuels, arms, tobacco, fast fashion and/or factory farms? There are now some great alternatives - have a browse online and see what works best for you.
"Making your pension sustainable is many times more effective at cutting your carbon than giving up flying and becoming a vegan combined!" Make My Money Matter
FLC at home
There's a careful balance to be struck between reducing the amount you buy, and depriving yourself of some of the simple pleasures that make life manageable. I do tend to err a bit towards the latter so I need to make sure I don't overdo the 'Reduce' in our household, though I think we've got into a good routine in terms of reusing and recycling.
The big move for us will be the financial changes above - we've got so institutionalised to stick with the big, high street names that make us feel safe that going off-piste is scary, but I think we're going to go for it in 2023 - I'll let you know how we get on!
What about you?
So, how are you getting on with integrating Reduce, Reuse & Recycle into your daily lives? Do you have any tips that you'd like to share? Any recommendations on the best banks, insurance or pensions? Comment below, or send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could feature in our next issue!
Thanks for reading :)
Founder, Falling Leaf Clothing