Changes in temperature, sea level rise and the decline in biological diversity are just some of the countless direct or indirect consequences of climate change that we are increasingly experiencing firsthand. In this context, “sustainability” is a term we encounter everywhere. But what exactly does that mean? According to a 1987 definition by the World Commission on Environment and Development, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. So being sustainable means living without running out of natural resources for the future.
Sustainability: what can I achieve on my own?
The big question that arises with the issues of sustainability and renunciation is: what can I do alone? Because what a single person does or doesn’t do in everyday life can’t matter to the rest of the world, can it? The fact is that the actions of each of us add up and form a large whole. Because the main cause of climate change is CO₂ emissions, which we all influence through our CO₂ footprint. This is made up of factors such as electricity, heating, mobility, air travel, power and other consumption. Sustainability therefore means paying attention to the consequences in all areas of life: from weekly shopping to cooking to annual summer holidays.
But this also means that we quickly feel overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what I should do first when I come across profiles of sustainability professionals on various social channels, teeming with advice and advice. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything differently to live a more sustainable life. It is enough to change a few little things in everyday life that make a big difference if everyone does them. Why: Whether and to what extent we live sustainably determines how well we will live in the future.
Sustainability for beginners: my 5 tips
1. Switch to sustainable hygiene products
Using tampons during the cycle is quick, simple and cheap, at least that’s what I thought until I started looking for alternatives. Because if you take a closer look at the subject, you realize with horror how much waste actually causes tampons, sanitary pads and the like. On average, women use around 11,000 tampons in their life, which, like sanitary pads, take about 500 years to biodegrade. Fortunately, there are now many more environmentally friendly alternatives such as reusable tampons, menstrual cups, menstrual sponges, or period underwear. And we should also pay attention to sustainability when it comes to care products like shampoo, conditioner and shower gel – and not just for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our health. Because conventional products contain not only environmentally harmful ingredients such as microplastics, but also parabens, surfactants and emulsifiers, suspected of irritating our skin, causing allergies and even having a hormonal effect. A suitable alternative are, for example, organic products without harmful substances and produced in a sustainable way.
2. Avoid plastic packaging
Since high plastic consumption has a significant impact on the environment, we should all reduce our plastic consumption. But what’s the best way to do it? First of all, we should avoid unnecessary disposable products such as plastic plates and cutlery or straws. The same goes for single-use shopping bags, regardless of whether they are plastic or paper. Reusable shopping bags are a sustainable alternative and also make a big difference if you buy packaged or bulk fruit and vegetables. If you eat out during your lunch break, you produce a lot of waste – it’s best to cook for yourself and take your meals with you.
3. Eat less meat
More and more people are giving up on eating steaks, sausages and other meat products every day. And with good reason: because agriculture is the second largest cause of CO₂ emissions in Germany. This does not automatically mean that we must completely give up on eating meat, but each of us should consciously approach the subject. For example, adding more plant-based products to your diet and eating a piece of meat once a week instead of every day makes a significant difference.
4. Compensate for CO₂ during the journey
Whether it’s a weekend trip to London or a long-haul flight to the United States, for many people, regular travel is simply part of life. But this is not sustainable in environmental terms, as a lot of CO₂ is emitted, especially when traveling by plane. But most of us don’t want to give up our well deserved relaxing vacation for it. However, if you can’t reach your holiday destination in any other way, you have the option to offset the CO₂ emissions. This is done by calculating how high your CO₂ emissions are and purchasing offsetting certificates for them, which are used to bind the same amount of CO₂ in climate protection projects. Compensation providers are among others climatefair.de, atmosfair.de or myclimate.org.
5. Properly dispose of medical masks
Both medical masks and FFP2 masks are an important tool in the fight against the current global corona pandemic, but they also represent a serious problem for the environment: approximately 129 billion respiratory protective masks, some of which are made with polymers a oil-based, are disposed of around the world every month, a spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Agency announced. If these enter the oceans through the water, they can endanger the flora and fauna. We can’t do without masks – however, each of us can help reduce our environmental impact by paying attention to proper disposal! Contrary to popular belief, masks do not belong to paper waste, but to residual waste. Masks discarded in parks or on the street must be collected but not touched with bare hands.
Bottom line: every little change helps
I realize you may not be able to take every step of these overnight changes to heart, but if you start thinking about sustainability, you have taken the first step in the right direction. It also happens to me that I sometimes take a pack of organic peppers, even if these are packaged in plastic (after all, sometimes you have to decide here) or I buy a takeaway meal during my lunch break – but I do my best at something of the it usually only happens as an exception and not too often. Anyone who consciously pays attention to the use of plastics and keeps an eye on their CO2 emissions will gradually find it easier to lead a sustainable life.