I am a husband, a business owner, and a consumer. It is rare for me to do something as drastic as changing my entire life to be more environmentally friendly without understanding the real benefits behind such a life change.
Before I decided to truly commit to an eco-friendly life, I needed to calculate what it was going to cost me. Personal shame aside, at this point I did not yet fully grasp the effects my wasteful actions were having on the environment, so during these calculations, I was still in ignorant mode.
With all of that being said, I was incredibly surprised to realize how much I could gain financially, as well as benefiting my families long term health as I calculated these benefits of sustainable living.
Anyone who is at the point where I was, which was doing my best to learn why I should lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle and how exactly I could begin living such a lifestyle can relate that the process is overwhelming. Blogs and guides at the time seem to have two extreme sides, one is the tree hugging hippy who is pushing green living alongside their essential oils and meat eater shaming, and the other is the housewives guide to raising a family with homemade non-toxic cleaning recipes alongside clickbait articles mulberries curing cancer. These are definitely not my style. While I can find commonalities in everyone’s end goal of wanting less harm done to the environment, the guides became rather difficult for me to follow.
Below, I’ve listed my notes and findings during my endless hours and months researching how I will personally benefit by living a more sustainable lifestyle. Explained in my findings, I share each point as for how one could eventually gravitate towards that direction. I say this because it is neither financially viable nor sensible to dive headfirst into a completely green lifestyle. You have to take baby steps. I’ve been fully committed for over a year and I am still taking baby steps.
If you dive headfirst, you’ll burn yourself out, spend a ton of money, give away a lot of your possessions only to eventually start accumulating again. Take it slow, trust me.
Saving Money by Going Green
The majority of my money saving findings began with the simplicity of reducing. While none of the tips will immediately show up as thousands of dollars a month in savings, I was pleasantly surprised with what could be accomplished when I began my calculations.
I believe the easiest place to begin in your quest for an eco bound lifestyle while saving is to identify your means of transportation and begin discovering the alternative options.
First and foremost, your car is going to be the most obvious, yet impactful solution towards reducing your carbon footprint. If you live in a city, your means of alternative forms of transportation is much higher than if you live in an area reliant on personal cars. If you’re not familiar with all the forms of public transportation, do some research in your area to see what options are available. Even if you could replace one trip a week where you take public transportation instead of your car, you’ll be on the right track. The cost is lower and you’ll end up putting fewer miles on your vehicle, which means fewer maintenance costs.
I was absolutely amazed to see in places like the Bay Area, rideshare apps like Uber are known as walking for lazy people. I am talking about people opting to pay surge pricing to get an Uber when BART will take them there faster and more efficiently. If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, by changing your opinion on public transportation, you are looking at an instant money saver and a happier environment!
With the movement to do your best with relying on public transportation, the most difficult thing to overcome will be the first and last mile. These are the areas you have to get to in order to board public transportation. Fortunately, we are now in the era of sharable first and last mile bicycles and scooters. The electric scooters like Bird or Lime may look ridiculous, but they are inexpensive and help make public transportation commutes a viable option since their main goal is helping you overcome your first and last mile.
If your cities and towns don’t offer viable means of public transportation, here are some alternative options to get you on a more green path.
- Buy a bike – not only is this fantastic exercise, but it is a lot cheaper than driving. The maintenance is lower, parking is usually free, and as you get in better shape, you save money on health care.
- Buy an electric skateboard or scooter – Oftentimes these can be foldable and portable with batteries strong enough to travel a couple miles each way.
- Buy a motorcycle or moped – Though they traditionally burn fossil fuels, motorcycles and mopeds are much more efficient than cars. They present a safety concern that should be weighed in before purchasing, but the carbon footprint they create is a fraction of a car or truck. There are also a lot of viable battery powered options that, depending on your local laws could be the best decision of them all.
- Walk – I frequently walk to work, which is about a mile away from my apartment, and love it. The fresh air and mindless act make my commute relaxing and incredibly enjoyable, weather permitting.
Home Appliance Energy Consumption
There is an activity that most will do at some point in their quest to go green. That activity is to connect all electronic devices into a plug-in energy meter to find out how much power your products are using. This product is a small meter that can tell you exactly how much power all of your electronic devices are using. The benefit of this activity will help you understand how much energy the products in your home uses, thus helping you become more conscious of what stays plugged in. You’ll end up realizing just how much you’re spending and how much you could save on your energy bill.
After you see the true annual cost of each of your appliances, it will inevitably lead to identifying alternative practices and products to limit your at home energy consumption.
Here are some solutions you may stumble into as you realize how much money you can save with the energy you don’t need to use.
- Hang dry your clothes – Dryers are not a necessity, they are an expensive energy consuming alternative to hanging dry your clothing. I’ve lived in humid climates for over six years and never used a dryer. Skip the dryer and if you can dry your clothes outside, hang them outdoors, or get a foldable drying rack and leave your clothes by a window.
The benefits here are that your clothes last a lot longer since they don’t go through dryer abuse, and you’re not paying to do what the air can do for you.
- Smart thermostat – This is a relatively new solution to monitoring your air conditioning and heating use. With some smart thermostats, you can control them from your phone, and create advanced settings to only turn the air on if the temperate hits a certain degree. What this will do is prevent your air conditioner and heater from running when it isn’t necessary to run.
- LED lightbulbs – These types of lightbulbs use low power and they last for a ridiculous amount of time. That means you pay less when they’re on and you don’t need to constantly replace them.
- Turn off and unplug your electronics when not in use (laptops, chargers, desktop computers, guest room tvs and cable boxes)
- Solar powered outdoor lighting – A great entryway to get into solar power is to purchase standalone outdoor lights that can light your driveway, entryway, and provide motion spotlights. Most outdoor lights have a solar-powered alternative, meaning you no longer have to worry if you left the lights on, or forget to turn them off.
Understanding Minimalism & Learning to Appreciate It
I think minimalism is awesome, and the people who are able to live a truly minimalist lifestyle impress me. However, I can confidently say, my house is not going to have just one coffee mug, my possessions will never fit into a carryon sized bag, and I’m never living in a ‘tiny house’.
Having said all of that, I continue to learn about minimalism and continue to appreciate it more and more. Minimalism has taught me a lot and through learning of its benefits, I have stopped accumulating stuff and no longer have a sentimental relationship with products I never touch or use. With this approach, I have naturally scaled down my possessions to something that I feel is manageable and something I am happy with. On top of that, this understanding is what has prevented me from making purchases of products I knew I did not need.
Here is a list of some products I did not purchase in the last year because of minimalism, even though I really wanted to:
- Xbox One
- Hario V60
- Samsung Gear Smartwatch
- Wireless Earbuds
- Nespresso Coffee Maker
All of the products I listed above are great examples of products I really don’t need, and pre-minimalist understanding, these would have been impulse purchases. But now, I realized, the Xbox One doesn’t make sense since I am not a huge fan of gaming, and when I want to play games, my laptop is enough. I have a blender and muslin cloth, so no need for a juicer, and I have an Aeropress, which I love, so no need for more coffee equipment. And, the corded headphone that came with my phone do just fine.
I’ve come to realize, most items I crave fade away after a couple months of not getting them.
Eco-Friendly Homemade Alternatives
The hippy bloggers are right, there are a ton of homemade alternatives to cleaning products that are cheaper and healthier for you. Through my work, I have been to hundreds of factories all over China, and one thing I can say for sure is the way certain chemicals are made are detrimental to our environment. As I began researching just how bad at home cleaners are for both your health and the environment, I quickly realized how easy it is to make simple cleaners at home using ingredients such as vinegar, salt, lemon juice, and baking soda.
These items are easy to make and can be done with products you likely already have in your home. When you make the decision to give some of them a try you will quickly realize how much a waste of money all-purpose cleaners are. Personally, I am a far way off from buying into the homemade toothpaste and deodorant campaign, but I will update you if I give it a go, and I’ll be sure to get feedback from my dentist, as well as let you know if I’m no longer invited to events with friends and family. – Nevertheless, those options exist too.
Buying Second Hand
Furniture, outerwear, suits, dresses, shoes, sunglasses, and some appliances are all some of the many viable products that can be purchased secondhand. The consumerist love American’s have does not help the environment, it does give options to environmentally conscious people like you and me through the practice of purchasing products used. It is crazy to me how much people buy and get rid of. Because of this, when you’re in the market for a new piece of art, furniture, mode of transportation, or even clothing, looking at secondhand markets online and locally can be done before purchasing new.
Facebook groups, craigslist, eBay, thrift stores, and upcycle.org have perfectly good products that need a home. You do have to sift through junk, and you do need to brush off the pointless social stigma that tells us buying used is a shameful act, but the reality is, you’re doing everyone a favor by doing so, including your wallet.
Using Less Disposable Sanitary Products
Napkins, paper towels, toilet paper have not been around since the dawn of time. While our civilization is much more sanitary than previous ones, it is worth mentioning paper towels were invented by accident, we use cloth napkins in nice restaurants and we’re perfectly happy to see them, and there are alternatives to environmentally unfriendly toilet paper.
My wife is vehemently against paper towels, and I thought it was ridiculous until I began understanding most cultures (She was born in Burma) don’t use them, and nobody truly needs them. As I began reading about how toilet paper and tissues were made, I learned that the chemicals used to get them that sanitary shade of white is not doing our bodies or the environment any favors. Through this research, my wife and I have begun purchasing less disposable products and have calculated just how much we were spending and how much we could spend as we continue to minimize these products.
We use a lot of dish towels around the kitchen, we clean with rags, and all of our toilets have a bum gun, which minimizes our toilet paper use.
Converting to Rechargeable Batteries
This was an easy eco move for us, and only requires willingness and acceptance in paying slightly more than what you are used to paying for batteries. TV remotes, smoke detectors, wall clocks, flashlights, wireless keyboards, and bathroom scales all require batteries. We’ve gotten so used to running out to a local convenience store to pick up a pack of batteries, or stealing batteries from a less used product anytime something runs out of juice.
There was a point in time when I decided we were going to stop purchasing disposable batteries and only buy rechargeable ones. I walked around my home and wrote down every product that required batteries, then I went online, purchased rechargeable replacements, put them in a drawer, and waited for my devices to slowly run out of juice from the disposable batteries.
In my financial planning, I don’t have replacement batteries as a category, but I do know I don’t need to buy them again, which probably adds up to $30 of savings annually. Sure this is great, but I did this because batteries are terrible for the environment and it was easy to make the move.
Push Lawnmowers and Grass Lawn Alternatives
I live in an apartment so this is not something I needed to calculate for myself, but I did do the research to understand the impact and costs when we purchase a house with land. Grass and gas lawnmowers are the opposite of environmentally friendly. Most grass that homeowners love are not native species to their environment, it requires toxic chemicals sprayed on it to keep other plants from growing, and the amount of water needed from watering is beyond wasteful.
There are grass lawn alternatives, but not always obtainable to homeowners or renters living where a homeowners association exists. Push, solar, and battery-powered lawnmowers are options which could be considered if you have no choice but to maintain a green grass lawn.
Car Maintenance Leads to Fuel Efficiency and Savings
Since owning a vehicle is a necessity for a lot of Americans, learning how to ensure your vehicle is as fuel efficient as possible is a step in the right direction when it comes being environmentally conscious. Below is a list of tips you can focus on to get your vehicle to be more fuel efficient.
- Set calendar reminders on your phone to rotate your tires and check your tire pressure.
- Don’t idle your car. An idling car can consume half a gallon to a gallon of fuel every hour. When you know the car is going to be stopped for a prolonged period of time, turn it off.
- Fill your tank in the morning, you’ll get more fuel for your dollar since the gas is often colder in the morning, thus more dense, which means a gallon of gas is greater.
- When you fill your tank, make sure the gas cap is completely sealed. If you have an older car, replace the rubber ring on your gas cap, because if oxygen gets into your engine it will need to burn more fuel.
- Don’t drive like a race car driver, be easy on the pedal. Slowly gaining speed and slowing reducing speed uses less energy, thus increases efficiency.
- Follow your vehicles recommended gasoline type.
- Follow your vehicles recommended motor oil type.
STOP Buying Bottled Water
The amount of plastic that is wasted due to bottled water consumption is incredible. Minimizing and eventually completely stopping purchasing plastic bottles is a very simple way to become greener.
I have to admit, it is not always easy, especially when you live in a hot climate. I was able to cut my bottled water consumption down dramatically by purchasing these awesome metal reusable water bottles and putting them in my home, office, and computer bag.
Occasionally I will be outside without one of my bottles when I need water. First, I’ll look for a water fountain, then look to purchase a drink in a glass bottle, then a water cooler with paper cups, and then if I really can’t find anything, I’ll opt for a plastic bottle.
In my opinion, it is very difficult to completely stop purchasing bottled water if you travel a lot since not all countries have tap water that is safe to drink. But, by buying reusable bottles and consciously avoiding purchasing water every moment you feel thirsty, you can greatly reduce your plastic waste.
This is also a very easy place to see savings. When you buy water, you’re paying one dollar, if not more for a bottle, you’re immediately going to throw away.
Get a Library Card, The Benefits are Huge
As you reduce your consumer footprint, you’ll learn the incredible benefits of local library cards. The environmental benefits of sharing resources at a library is what got me looking into library cards. What I quickly learned is how beneficial a library card is, and allows you to save a lot of money on books, movies, computer programs, and news.
It looks like libraries across America are expanding and attempting to become a community center in a lot of towns. Libraries are adding cafe’s, entire sections for niche reading such as comic books, games, audiobooks, and more movies. They often have hobby clubs, events, lectures, toddler play areas, conference rooms, study rooms, mobile hotspots for free internet you can take home with you, musical instruments, the list goes on!
On top of this, if you have a tablet, e-reader, or like reading from your phone, you can get access to OverDrive to rent ebooks, audiobooks, and videos from your device without going to the library.
Buying it For Life
I do try my best not to purchase new products unless I absolutely need them, but, when I know I need to purchase something new, my life became so much more enjoyable when I decided to live by the mantra, ‘buy it for life.’ Having lived so many years in Asia (both in Thailand and China) it was always so simple to pick up a cheap (less than $10) pair of shoes at a market, buy a no name, cheap hair dryer for my wife, or purchase cheap suitcases for travel, simply because the region is a bargain shopper paradise! But all of this stuff we’ve picked up over the years wears out so quickly, forcing us to buy it again a month later.
Not only does this practice create more waste, but you actually end up spending more money on junk than if you were to purchase one good quality product that would last decades.
For items like boots, jackets, gloves, suitcases, backpacks, tools, and kitchen appliances, if you do your research, you can find excellent quality products that will last your lifetime and then some, meaning you won’t have to keep buying things and disposing of junk. A really good pair of boots and a wool overcoat are perfect examples of products I have that need routine care but will last my lifetime.
Move to Online Banking
A lot of banks charge you for branch services and monthly statements mailed to your home. Having lived and managed a US-based business abroad, I for one can tell you it is possible to bank entirely online. The green benefits are pretty clear, for one, you won’t need to drive to a bank to get something done, second, they won’t be sending you junk mail and statements that you already have access to online and end up in the shredder, or worse.
If you’re not banking entirely online, have a look at your last statement to see what bank fees you’re getting charged, and if those could go away if you gave up statements or in person services.
Improving Your Health By Going Green
Cooking From Scratch
I am incredibly lucky because my wife absolutely loves cooking. She has also grown up on Burmese and Thai food, which is difficult to get outside of the region, so she is forced to make everything on her own. Fortunately, this is cheaper than buying ready-made packets of sauces that taste a lot worse than the fresh stuff and fresh food doesn’t include any preservatives or other junk.
I have to admit, I am not the best cook, but I am quite the helper for my wonderful wife. With just a few sauces, many of which homemade, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and rice go a very long way in the kitchen. Plus, these fresh foods are cheap all over the world. While I do live a pretty active lifestyle, one thing I never worry about is overeating simply because the food is fresh, clean and does not contain all of the junk found in ready-made alternatives.
Beyond the incredible taste, what I love about cooking from scratch is that it reduces waste. We’re not throwing away empty food containers, plastic wrappers, and boxes whenever we cook. Our produce is purchased locally, we use reusable produce bags and we cook what we are going to eat. Cleanup is simple, it is rare for us to fill up a garbage bag after a day, and we enjoy eating in at more a lot more than at restaurants.
Purchase Organic, from Local Farms
My parents, who live in Pennsylvania introduced this one to me. Every year they purchase a share at a local farm, where they are allowed to go to every week to pickup their share of the fruits and vegetables. This practice is called an agricultural co-operative or co-op for short, and is an absolutely incredible way to support a local farm and get your fruits and vegetables locally.
I reviewed the rates at the farm my parents subscribe to, and the prices are slightly cheaper than what you’d be able to get at the grocery store, so while this is not in the money saving section, it is an incredible eco-friendly exercise that deserves a ton of attention.
The simple reasons as to why co-ops are good for the environment is because the resources required to get food to your table are a lot less than what is normally required when purchasing commercially, at grocery stores.
Learn to Cook What is in Season
We live in a world where we are able to get any fruit or any vegetable year round. But do you know what the cost is? Preserving methods, flash freezing, and massive amounts of transporting allow you to have your produce year round. But this practice uses a lot of unnecessary resources just so you can have strawberries year round.
I learned the importance of this when living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The markets where I would purchase my fruits and vegetables were all local farms, and they only stocked what was in season. My parents, on the other hand, learned this as well when they purchased their share at the co-op since their farm was in New Jersey.
All of us ended up learning of the importance of cooking based on the season, and we soon realized how we were no longer reliant on specific fruits and vegetables year round.
Other Benefits Beyond Savings
It became clear to me early on the benefits beyond saving money were going to be the most impactful, but during my early stages going green, I wanted to understand more about the direct benefits to my family and myself, rather than the environment. My motives were clear as to why I wanted to go green, but it still required further understanding before I was genuinely ready to make the move.
Become a More Informed Buyer
As you learn to understand how misleading greenwashing activities can be, you’ll learn to avoid silly things like biodegradable paper towels and even buying clubs. These practices can be just as helpful as understanding which companies are truly focusing on producing products without negatively affecting the environment.
You can become a lot more conscious with your decisions and be able to understand products you could otherwise live without, as well as brands you may want to support.
Learn About Cool Environmental Projects
There are a lot of local groups and organizations all striving for the same thing. Through my research, I learned about a lot of cool groups that are all over the world, one, in particular, is the people behind the Buy Nothing Project. This project is simply a bunch of local Facebook groups where people around the community share things with one another. For example, one person can share the harvest from their plum trees, where a nurse may offer her time to look after an elderly person for a day.
The idea is to bring a community together and offer good, without asking for anything in return.
Uncover the Benefits of Working from Home
I am an advocate of working from home for quite a few reasons, and I was a fan of this well before I cared about how my actions affected the environment. With all of the being said, the benefits working from home has on the environment are tenfold, and I am excited for others to learn about them as well. While not all occupations can cater to bringing your computer home and forwarding your calls to your cellphone, a lot of them can, even when bosses are not yet ready to admit it.
The largest benefit of working from home is the reduction of carbon emissions and the burning of fossil fuels, as you’ll no longer partake in a daily commute to the office. Beyond vehicle usage, the next to using less plastic and creating less waste. Those who work from home have the luxury of cooking at home, drinking coffee from their mug, not a disposable cup, and not constantly consuming single serve products and disposing of their wrappers.
Companies who begin offering remote work or telecommuting options identify their office does not need the same amount of resources it did when all personnel were in the same building, which becomes added savings.
We have just covered quite a lot of benefits of sustainable living. If you’ve made it this far then it is safe to say this is something you are genuinely interested in. For that, I congratulate you! But take a deep breath, and recognize that any lifestyle change takes time and patience.
I want you to stick with this and become a part of this Ecobound community. To start, sign up below to email updates, where I will be offering free guides on environmentally friendly living and products.
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If you’re interested in more reading, I suggest this article going over whether or not one person can actually make a difference.