The world has been debating climate change, a.k.a. global warming, for decades, but the science is pretty much settled. 99% of climate scientists agree it’s man-made and even the most polluting fossil fuel companies have shifted their stance. The latest IPCC report said in 2018 that we had 12 years to make society-wide changes to reduce our impact on the climate and our environment. We’re now in 2022, so if that was correct we now have roughly 8. Some scientists and commentators think we have even less time than that. The effects of climate change are already being felt across the world, with rampant wildfires in Australia, California, Turkey and even within the arctic circle. Highly unseasonal flooding in New York, London, Germany, and entire islands and villages being washed away in India, Iran, and many Pacific islands. Drought and desertification, habitat loss, mass extinction of plant and animal species. The effects of climate change are only predicted to worsen with time.
Why should we act?
I won’t go on, as the more you read the more overwhelming it feels. As an individual it’s hard to know whether anything you do will make a difference. The problem is to do with scale. There are billions of us on the planet so how much difference does it really make if you just take that one flight, or eat that burger, or drive the car to the corner shop. It’s miniscule compared to what the rest of the country is doing and change will only happen if it comes from the government, or the massive corporations that provide all our goods and services, right?
Well there’s some sense in the argument and it’s an easy thing to carry on as we are, but there is one major flaw. To get out of this mess, we need as many people helping as we can. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how significant your past or current impact is. We need you. Every change you make is important. If we all take the approach that we should just carry on and hope it gets sorted, then we’re stuffed. We’ve lost already.
We simply don’t have the choice any more. If we want to survive as a species, as a society. If we want our kids to have a future that is recognisable. If we don’t want billions of people, animals and plants to die. We have to act.
With that in mind, My partner and I have been actively trying to change our behaviour to reduce our impact over the last few years and this is a list of tips and advice that we’ve picked up along the way. Throughout the journey (and we’re nowhere near done yet), we’ve noticed big changes in our friends and family too. Changes we’ve made have rippled out to others, and we’ve picked up things from them. Everything you do can and does have a bigger impact than you think because you actively influence people around you. Every positive change you make has an effect, and the earlier you do it, the bigger it will be.
Without any more waffle, let’s get on with it.
What can you do to reduce your impact on the environment?
Don’t get overwhelmed.
Don’t make too many changes at once as they won’t stick. Much like that diet to help you lose some weight, if you want it to work long term, make small consistent changes and don’t stress about the rest. Make one positive change every now and then (we try to do something every week, but that’s quite a slog at times). That can be something as small as moving to one vegetarian / vegan meal a week, or changing your deodorant to reduce plastic packaging (we’ve moved to Wild, it’s amazing), or it can be a big ticket item like insulating your house. It doesn’t matter as long as you keep going and simply don’t get stressed about the rest. Make that one change stick and then move on to the next. Understanding our own behaviour is vital if we want to change the way we act, day in, day out. If it isn’t working for you, that’s fine. We tried toothpaste tablets, but they just didn’t clean as well, and were about 20 times more expensive so we’ve gone back to normal toothpaste for now, and we’ll tackle it again when we find a different brand to try. You can’t fix everything at once.
Divest your money.
The big banks still invest heavily in fossil fuels, so take your money elsewhere. Bank accounts, mortgages, savings, pensions. Then tell the banks why you did it. Talk to your employer, ask them to do the same. Take the money to banks that fund ethically and sustainably. Make Money Matter run a campaign to do exactly this and there are various ratings of who is best. I use Ethical Consumer. It’s behind a paywall but they are worth investing in as they have lots of great advice about pretty much everything we do. To summarise though, the TLDR is this: the good banks are Triodos, Starling, Monzo, Co-op, Nationwide, Cumberland.
Moving your money can be scary, but I’ve found it surprisingly easy. I went with Starling and they basically did all the work for me (and their app is brilliant!).
Reduce your energy usage.
If it isn’t done already, insulate your home. This can reduce your bills massively (for us it was about 1/3rd, and we’ve almost made the money back already in 2 years) and it has the added benefit of being good for the planet. Try to use eco insulation if you can afford it. Turn off appliances, don’t leave them on standby. That microwave can use more electricity in standby over its lifetime than it does when used for cooking. This is great at the moment with energy prices going sky high as it will reduce your bills. Get a SMART metre if you can as this will let you monitor your usage and turn off all the devices using vampire power! Use rainwater for watering, it’s free! Turn down your boiler temperature, hot water in your taps doesn’t need to be that hot (trust me). Octopus has a great guide on how to reduce your energy in so much depth, so have a read of that.
Switch to renewable energy.
Even though a renewable energy tariff still means you get electricity from the grid, switching to green energy encourages the uptake of renewable installations by energy companies. If you can afford to, then get your own local renewables such as solar panels installed on your roof, or invest in a co-op wind farm like Ripple that will cover your energy usage (I’ve done this as my roof isn’t suitable for solar. I’m part of their first wind farm and it’s SUPER EXCITING!).
Use your car less.
Switch to public transport, cycling or walking for journeys where that is possible. Yes, it’s probably less convenient currently but ICE cars are pretty bad news for greenhouse gases and they emit really harmful air pollution that is especially bad for children (and are actually worse inside your car). The less you use your cars, the easier it is for people to cycle (which as a cyclist who is just trying to get to work, is pretty terrifying at times). Absolutely stop sitting in your car with the engine on. Try to reduce the number of cars in your family. We went from 2 cars to 1, and we both cycle as much as we can for our commutes. My partner is more hardcore than I am as she cycles even on pretty horrible days, whereas I switch to the bus. The benefits of walking / cycling / running instead of driving are immense for your health and for the people around you, and you can always make it nicer by listening to some interesting podcasts while you do it.
Change your diet.
There’s no need to go full vegan, and don’t make any huge changes too quickly as it’s impossible to make that stick. If you eat meat 7 days a week, maybe start with a few veggie meals, then a few veggie days. Keep trying the alternatives. The more plants you eat, the more space there will be for wild plants and wildlife (77% of agricultural land is used to grow meat). Buy less food in plastic containers. Order from Oddbox or use your local greengrocer. Try to use in-season produce if you can but focus on what you eat more than where it’s from, and use this interactive chart to see the impact of your diet. Only buy what you plan to actually eat, so you don’t end up wasting food. We put so much effort into growing food, throwing it away without eating it is hugely damaging.
Talk about it.
Talk to your friends and family about why you want to do something. Tell your MP or your council that you want more to be done. Tell your kids’ school that you want to stop people driving to drop the kids off. Shout about the lack of green space and speak up for the wild space around us. Join groups and organisations that already stand up for the environment and sustainability. Our government and organisations will not do anything unless we make them. Shout on social media to your local supermarket to ask them to get rid of plastic packaging (with pictures, yes I’ve become that grumpy old man). Shout at the council to sort out our home recycling, it’s a mess and it’s different in every region. If you’ve tried cycling and it went badly, tell your council and MP why it was bad and ask them to improve it. The cycling infrastructure where I live is really poor and I genuinely have an incident almost every month where I need new underwear afterwards. We need infrastructure that prioritises pedestrians, public transport and cycling over cars. It’s been done in other countries and we can do it here too. It genuinely makes cities a much nicer place to be, and commuting a much less stressful event. We all complain about how bad traffic is, but only when we’re sitting in our car being part of the problem.
Make better buying decisions.
We’ve become a society that buys the cheapest item, and then buys a new one when it inevitably fails. It’s better for the environment if we buy a quality item once, made by a company that built it to be repairable or not break in the first place, and to top it off they might have looked after their staff, their suppliers and minimised their environmental impacts too. Many products have been designed to need replacing frequently or hide their impacts, and the biggest companies in the world do this. Waste is an enormous problem, and we need to try and move to a circular economy where we recycle or reuse the things we no longer need. You don’t need that weird powered clothes dryer or that cheap knock off HDMI cable that inevitably won’t work right, or just lasts a few months and then breaks. Stop buying cheap crap.
Unfortunately this means it’s best to do a bit of research when we buy new products, or it’s even better to buy second hand or try to repair the product you have. Here are some great resources to help, and some products I’ve found that are looking in the right direction.
B-Corp - If a company is a certified B-Corp company then it’s making a decent effort to be ethical, sustainable and they generally treat their staff and supply chain well. Try to buy food or products from brands that have this certification. Great examples are Brewdog, Allbirds, Graze, The Collective. The Independent have a great article on more UK based B-Corps.
Ethical Consumer - A great website that researches how ethical companies are, much in the same way that Which look at how products compare. We used these guys to buy a hoover when ours stopped working. Ended up with a Meile who have great sustainability scores along with making a great repairable hoover! Ethical Consumer cover pretty much anything you might want from Banks, to shopping, to holidays etc. They’re great.
Free cycle - Brilliant site that lets you offer things you no longer need. Don’t take your stuff to the tip. Quite often people will even take broken items as they can fix them. You can also pick up some great free items here.
IFixit - Tools to fix your tech. Spare parts for your tech. Brilliant guides to fix your tech. Reviews of how repairable products are. These guys are great. I am the proud owner of the Pro tech toolkit and so far I’ve repaired an old laptop and I’m working on the second.
The Restart Project - Want to have something repaired, or learn how to repair something? This is a great place to start.
Framework - These guys are pioneering more repairable, upgradeable and sustainable laptops. They cost a bit more, but they’re better for the planet than the competition.
Fairphone - The same thing but for phones. A repairable, longer lasting phone that’s still pretty great. They’re also a B-Corp. Yeah!
Olio - A great app that lets you share or pick up food that’s either going to be thrown away or that people just have too much of. Food waste is a HUGE problem and this is a great way to help sort that.
Who gives a crap - Toilet roll, made more sustainably from a company that is really trying to do their bit. They’re also a B-Corp. Yeah!
Wild - We’ve tried a fair few deodorants that are meant to be more eco friendly, and none of them can stand up to the amount I sweat (the less said about that the better). This one does, and I think it’s actually better than the normal spray on / roll on variants we all tend to buy. I can do some fairly heavy exercise, and my pits smell… well, now they don’t! It’s like magic. You get one plastic case, and then they send you the roll on deodorant in little compostable cardboard packs that you switch in and out of the case. There’s less plastic too. Win!
Thrift - an online charity shop! Buy clothes from them and they donate to charity (listed on the product). They have a ton of choice and it’s generally great quality. The only thing I’ve found is that you need to check for things like slim fit jeans, and it isn’t always listed and then you can end up with unwearable trousers.
Use less plastic.
Plastic is a HUGE problem. It doesn’t break down for hundreds to thousands of years, and when it does it forms poisonous micro plastics that we’re still learning the effects of. It’s also made by the fossil fuel industry from oil and its creation is hugely environmentally damaging. The solution isn’t simple and replacement products aren’t always as environmentally friendly as they might seem. We have been pushed towards recycling but that isn’t going to be the answer as a lot of virgin plastic is still being made to fuel that economy. For now try to cut down on your plastic consumption. If you can buy food that isn’t wrapped in plastic, go for it. If you can buy products that have reduced their packaging, go for it. You can find local refill shops which sell refills of washing up liquid / fabric softener / shampoos. Or even delivery companies that do the same like Milk and More or the Modern Milkman, who both do milk deliveries (including some genuinely nice oat milk) along with refillable shampoos and other products.
Get an electric vehicle (if you can).
I’m lucky enough to be able to afford an EV. It’s brilliant. Day to day it’s genuinely easier to use than an ICE vehicle. It’s snappier to drive (yes, my small red box can out accelerate your BMW). It doesn’t pollute as much. I charge it at home so I don’t have to go to the garage any more. It’s cheaper to service. It’s much cheaper to run (less than 2p a mile when charged from home). The range is the most common question I get but it’s rarely anything we need to think about, and with a little planning it doesn’t affect you at all (it does well over 200 miles even in the worst conditions).
While that’s great, it isn’t the solution to all our travel problems. Electric cars are very expensive, the charging network is still a work in progress and isn’t always reliable. It’s getting a lot better very quickly, but you can still have large waits if there’s only one charger and there’s a queue of people waiting to use it. A lot of people don’t have drives where they can install a home charger either which rules them out for a large percentage of the country.
If you have to buy a new car, you can afford an EV and you can fit a charger at home, then do it. You won’t regret it. If you want to know which one to get the check out Fully Charged. If you can keep your old car running and it isn’t horrifically polluting, then do that. EVs are better over their lifespan than ICE cars, and they will only become more so as we move to using a larger mix of renewables in our power grids. But the initial cost of building a new car is very polluting, and building the huge battery packs is currently costly.
EVs also offer all sorts of interesting benefits like vehicle-to-grid power to balance the grid and local car share schemes for housing estates, which will really help in the future. The batteries last a long time, while having end of life uses as power for buildings once they’re no longer usable in a car.
For now though, we need to use our cars less, and own fewer of them. We need to encourage our elected representatives to set up our society to allow us to do that. We need to electrify our public transport network, and our infrastructure (delivery vans etc). That is more critical than personal EVs currently.
Consider alternatives to flying.
Flying is the most polluting method of transport there is, but it’s quite a complex picture. If you can then go on holiday locally, or use a train to get to your destination - that’s the ideal way. The main issue with flying comes from frequent flyers for business and not individuals going on holiday once or twice a year so don’t beat yourself up, but if you have to fly then offset your travel. Just be careful with how you do that as some carbon offset plans are shown to have no actual effect as the trees would have been planted anyway. We’re plotting a European holiday this year via train and there are some great resources to help you do that. Seat 61 helps you plan your route, and there are various sleeper trains that mean you wake up where you want to be. You can reach some really surprising places.
Re-wild your garden.
Nature needs space to survive, and our gardens can be a great place for that. We’ve been turning our lawn into a little wildflower meadow, and we’ve built a pond in the middle. The only thing we bought for that was a pond liner and we managed to get some plants from a friend's pond which came with some lovely pond life. It’s been great so far, and we have a bench next to the pond to enjoy the wildlife it’s bringing. Rewilding Britain has some great tips on what you can do and why you should do it.
Reject fast fashion.
Fast fashion is another huge problem. There are many great resources out there to help, but in general we need to stop buying new gear if we can and if we do buy new clothes, then buy something of high quality with the intention of using it as long as possible. Buy clothes from your local charity shops, or from Thrift. Give your old clothes to charity shops or textile recycling if they’re past their best. Use Ethical Consumer to check out which brands and shops are sustainable.
Be aware of greenwashing.
Greenwashing is a term used to describe business practices that make products seem more sustainable than they are. Trying to convince you that by choosing this product you are doing something ethical and sustainable. The same companies also put out misinformation about products that are more sustainable. It’s a huge problem as it’s so hard to know who or what to believe. It’s a huge topic and it’s relevant to the state of our society in general so it’s too much to go into here, but oil companies have been at it for a long time. If you look at the latest Shell advertising, for instance, it makes out that they’re super green, yet only a small percentage of their future investment is in sustainable energy. The rest is fossil fuel based.
It’s really hard to know what you can do about that, and the best tip is to properly research the impacts of what you’re doing and then be content with having to change if you get it wrong. I’ve tried to check various news sources and product sources so I trust them as much as you can. I’ve already listed the B-Corp site, and they’re a great way to know that a company is heading in the right direction, and Ethical Consumer is great for products.
For further reading, listening and viewing, check out the links below.
Who wrote this?
He/him. Paul is a tech lover. One of Rusty Monkey’s developers, he spends a lot of time playing with gadgets, and loves trying to fix broken tech. He’s an eco nut. Loves nature. Amateur triathlete, and an even more amateur musician. Plays too many computer games. He dreams of living in a futuristic utopia where we all get on and have a lovely time. Be excellent to each other.
Freebies and downloads
LinksFurther reading | Don't Look Up
Further reading | NEP Home Improvements
Further reading | Ethical Consumer
Further reading | B-Corp
Further reading | The Guardian - Environment
Further reading | BBC - Environment
Further reading | Katherine Hayhoe
Podcast | People Fixing the World
Podcast | Sustainababble
Podcast | Inside Science
Podcast | Fully Charged
Video | Fully Charged
Video | Just Have a Think