By making small changes in our lives, we can reduce the consumption of vital resources and products that harm the environment. Living sustainably can help improve overall wellness, decrease financial expenditures and facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between ourselves and the natural environment. With that in mind, resources and items that must be used should be renewed, reused or recycled. Follow these tips to begin leading a more sustainable life!
Choose sustainably produced commodities.
When purchasing items keep a lookout for:
- Toxin-free cleaning supplies
- Natural fiber such as hemp or bamboo
- Fair Trade Certified
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Green Seal Certified
- Compact Fluorescent (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED) light bulbs
- ENERGY STAR appliances
- EPEAT-certified electronics
Conserve energy at home, work and school.
- Avoid phantom electricity drains: Unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them.
- Use natural lighting: Utilize natural sunlight for interior illumination by allowing the sun’s rays to pass through windows.
- Shut your computer down or put it to sleep: By using power management features you can save up to $75 every year on your electric bills and conserve energy.
- Use a “smart” power strip: It shuts down the electricity flow to electronics on standby mode.
- For more usefull tips, see this Homeowners Guide to Sustainability
- Turn off the tap: While brushing your teeth or shaving, don’t let the water run.
- Run your dishwasher when it’s full: Maximize the use of the energy and water with a full load of dishes.
- Keep showers short: About 75% of the water used in most homes can be traced to the bathroom. A two minute reduction in your daily shower time can save more than ten gallons of water.
- Only wash full loads of laundry: Make sure you are washing full loads of laundry in cold water only. Most of the energy goes into heating up the water to wash your clothes.
- Recycle: Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. The City of Houston operates 6 neighborhood recycling centers. The city accepts paper, plastics #1-5 and 7, aluminum, cardboard, and glass. All products should be rinsed and drained before recycling. Broken electronics and other unique items can be taken to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center or CompuCycle.
- What Can Be Recycled? An A-Z List - Instructions for recycling over 200 items
- Print double-sided or don’t print at all: Printing-double sided will reduce the amount of paper ending up in landfills. You can reduce printing by storing files electronically and going paperless when possible.
- Shop at and donate to second-hand stores: You can find unused and used clothes at low price to you and the environment. If you have quality clothing that you aren’t using anymore, be sure to give it to a friend or donate it to a thrift store.
- Choose reusable over disposable items: Bring reusable containers and bags when packing lunches, traveling and shopping. Choose silverware over plastic utensils.
- Compost: According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away. Most food scraps can be composted instead. Compost is organic material that can be added to soil or used as a soil substitute to help plants grow. Compost is better than traditional soil because of its beneficial microbes and lack of toxins.
- Composting requires three basic ingredients:
- Browns: This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
- Greens: Grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
- Water: Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development.
Utilize alternative transportation
According to the Department of Energy, highway vehicles release about 1.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year, which contributes to climate change. By utilizing alternatives, you can help reduce your carbon footprint.
- Carpooling: Carpooling allows for fewer cars in traffic, use of the HOV lanes, less wear and tear on infrastructure and less fuel consumption.
- METRO: The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) serves a vast area of the Houston and Harris County region. METRO operates over 60 bus routes, transit centers, Park & Rides, a vanpool program and METRORail. Order a Q-Card online through your PeopleSoft account or visit the METRO Ride Store. At a 50% discount, you could get to school and back on less than $1.00.
- Biking: A bike produces zero pollution and is a great way to commute around the city. There is no parking pass required. If you plan on riding your bicycle to or around campus, register your bike with UHPD. They will take your bike’s serial number, make, model and other information that will make it easier to link to you if the bicycle is stolen. If you don’t own a bike, consider using a bike-share program like Houston B-Cycle.
- Zipcar: For as little as $8.50 an hour, you can reserve a Zipcar online for up to four days. Zipcar has several pick-up locations around Houston and UH.
- Shop at farmers markets: By shopping at farmers markets, you are directly supporting local agriculture. Food sold at farmers markets have travelled shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that reduce pollution and waste. Urban Harvest, and other organizations host recurring farmers markets in the city.
- Read labels: Foods that contain many ingredients usually include preservatives and additives, which can be harmful to your body and the environment. Be sure to read nutrition labels before making purchases in order to make the best choice for you.
- Grow your food: Even in very small spaces, you can make room for container gardens. This ensures that you know the direct source of your produce. Growing produce at home also limits packaging that often ends up at landfills.