Fifty years ago an estimated 20 million Americans came together to celebrate the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. A half a century later we are still faced with serious environmental and health challenges, from an accelerating Climate Crisis to a global pandemic which has touched people around in the world in the span of only a few months.
In light of the current crisis and the cancellation of public Earth Month events, ActiveSGV has curated a list of actions individuals can safely take amidst COVID-19 Stay-At-Home orders. Many of these suggestions are also great ways to improve one’s health and save money in the short and long-term, a welcome benefit in uncertain times when many people are facing financial hardships.
But do individual actions matter? While state and national-level systems change is absolutely needed to address the #ClimateCrisis, there are things each and every one of us can do to help move things forward, from adjusting our purchasing habits to engaging with action-oriented groups. Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too. For example, studies have discovered that when people are informed that others they know have reduced how much meat they ate for environmental and health reasons, they are more likely to emulate their peers. Other researchers have found similar effects for people who have started traveling more locally to avoid flying.
Whether we recognize it or not, most people are constantly evaluating the choices others are making -- whether it be the cars they are driving, the clothes they are wearing, or water bottles they are using -- and adjusting their behaviors. When we see our friends, family, and colleagues taking action to save energy, reduce single-use plastic, or adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle, we are more likely to do so, too.
At a time when we’re all making dramatic changes to our lives to confront an immediate threat to our health and well-being, we have a unique opportunity to step back and examine what we value and what we truly need. We hope these 50 tips for 50 years will provide some inspiration to support a healthier future for all as many of us have to Stay-at-Home to protect our community now.
Actions are roughly organized based on their relative impact, with tips based on research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the climate solutions book Drawdown, other community action groups, and people who care in the San Gabriel Valley!
Got other tips? We'd love to hear them! Please share them with us on social media by tagging us @activeSGV and using the hashtags #EarthMonthSGV and #SustainableSGV. Also please share your efforts with us for a chance to win! At the end of the month we'll randomly select folks who highlighted steps they took in April 2020 for prizes, including gift certificates to SGV restaurants that are doing their best to adopt greener business practices!
1. Switch to a renewable energy option through your utility or a certified renewable energy provider. Local examples include Southern California Edison’s Green Rate program (allows you to purchase 50% or 100% green power), Pasadena’s Green Power program, and the Clean Power Alliance, which serves an array of SGV communities including Alhambra, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, Temple City, and unincorporated LA County.
2. Ride more, drive less! Switch your car for a bike, scooter, skateboard, or other active mode. Need to carry heavy loads (e.g. children), live in a hilly neighborhood, or not as spry as you once were? Electric-assist bicycles, scooters, and other “micro-mobility” options are also incredibly energy-efficient compared to operating a several ton vehicle. They’re also super fun to use and great for hot days! Already doing this? Consider ditching your car altogether and save big on registration, insurance, maintenance, and payments. A 2017 study that ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact found going car-free was the number-one most effective action an individual could take.
3. Calculate your carbon footprint and buy carbon offsets from a certified provider. You can edit/reduce payments any time.
4. Adopt a more minimalist lifestyle. Less is more! Free up space in your home, life, and mind by decluttering and donating unneeded items. If you’re stuck at home anyway now’s your chance to rethink your space. Need inspiration? There’s a ton online, from the Netflix series “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” to countless websites dedicated to organizing.
5. Carefully consider major purchases and life-decisions. Moving? Check the walk score of the neighborhoods you’re considering (if you have options). Buying a major appliance? Check its energy star score. Looking for furniture, a bike or car? Buy, borrow, or rent whenever possible.
6. Vote for eco-friendly candidates and get involved with their campaigns. Many groups evaluate and rate candidates on their environmental track records, including the Sunrise Movement, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club. Follow and support these candidates however you can, whether via social media, making a donation, and/or volunteering for their campaigns. 2020 is a BIG election year, as you know!
7. Reduce your energy use at home.
8. Hang clothes to dry and wash your clothes in cold water. Most dryers and water heaters are still gas powered.
9. Switch to more efficient LED light bulbs. LEDs (light emitting diodes) use up to 80 percent less energy and last as much as 25 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs.
10. Plug electronics into power strips and switch off when not in use.
11. Eat more plants, and less meat. It’s better for your health and the planet. It’s also more affordable! The food industry, especially the meat and dairy sectors, is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs); if cows were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, after China and the US. Why? Cows produce lots of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. We generally feed them other potential sources of food for people, including corn and soy. Last but not least, they require lots of water and land, some of which come from cleared forests, another source of carbon emissions. This doesn’t mean you have to go vegetarian or vegan. Just by reducing your meat consumption in half, you can cut your diet's carbon footprint by more than 40%.
12. Make #MeatlessMondays a habit! One way to start reducing meat consumption is to make it a habit. Set a weekly reminder on your calendar. Invite your friends and family. Make a standing online dinner date with friends, so long as we have to be physically distant. Check out their website including lots of recipe tips.
13. Insulate your home. Install new insulation and weatherstripping, especially for doors, windows, attic, etc.
14. Reduce water use (and save money!) Limit showers to 3-7 minutes (use a timer). Check for leaks. Upgrade to water-efficient shower and faucet heads, toilets, washing machines, etc.
15. Minimize food waste (and save money!) by planning out meals ahead of time, and freezing as much as possible (no plastic needed!).
16. Compost your food waste. Collect kitchen scraps and use them to feed a garden. Turn waste into fertilizer!
17. Buy locally-sourced, plant-based, unprocessed foods from local farmers via local farmers markets (most are still open) and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) such as Farm Fresh to You and Good Life Organics. Support green restaurants and health food stores.
18. Fly less (easier right now, we know!), and if you must fly, purchase carbon offsets for your flight.
19. Donate financially (or time) to a climate action organization or movement. Local groups include Climate Plan, Climate Resolve, and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
20. Plant or adopt a young street tree in your neighborhood. Water it during the coming summer months to help it survive and mature.
21. Switch to reusable cloth napkins and ditch those single-use paper napkins and towels.
22. Shop secondhand first. Before shopping for new clothes or other items, try your local thrift store for awesome finds first. Inexpensive, low quality “fast fashion” and similar items often are discarded or fall apart after short periods.
23. Reduce the amount of plastic in your life. Almost all plastics are made from fossil fuels and remain mostly non-recyclable (except for numbers 1-2).
24. Host a virtual junk mail reduction party with your friends and family via an online platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts!
25. Make your own natural cleaning products out of simple ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice to reduce the amount of chemicals that pollute our water and reduce the number of plastic bottles.
26. Choose quality, long-lasting products when buying new.
27. Say no to Palm Oil to help protect rainforest trees and endangered wildlife. The development of palm oil plantations is resulting in massive rainforest destruction around the world. It’s as easy as checking the list of ingredients when you buy processed foods such as oreos and instant ramen.
28. Use less gas by cooking with electric appliances such as an electric kettle or pressure cooker.
29. Use Ecosia as your web search engine. They donate 80% or more of their profits to organizations focused on planting trees and run their servers on 100% renewable energy. Read more about them on wikipedia.
30. Buy tissue paper made from recycled paper or bamboo.
31. Charge your phone in airplane mode to save energy and unplug once it’s done charging.
32. Save glass food containers and use them for meal prep, storage, or other projects.
33. Try oat milk. It requires less water and land to produce oat milk than milk from cows, almonds, and other alternatives.
34. Use non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cleaning products.
35. Tele- or video-conference first. It’s easier than ever to connect with friends, family, and work colleagues remotely. If you fly five times per year, those trips are likely to account for 75% of your personal carbon footprint.
36. Drive more efficiently. If you drive, keep your tires properly inflated to get better mileage. Don’t race from red light to red light. Drive the speed limit on the highway, even if there’s no traffic. For each gallon of gas saved you will reduce your carbon footprint by 20 pounds.
37. Switch to online billing. Save trees and the fuel it takes to deliver your bills by gas powered trucks and planes.
38. Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper, when you need to use paper.
39. Set the default on your printer to print two-sided.
40. Plant tomatoes and other vegetables at your home. This can be done on a balcony or patio, or any shared outdoor space big enough for a couple larger pots.
41. Remove invasive plants in your yard or garden and replace them with native ones.
42. Recruit colleagues, friends, and family to start a “green team” to support and inspire one another to conserve resources, save money, and promote sustainability.
43. Take the stairs (if you can) instead of the elevator to save energy (and get exercise!).
44. Use rechargeable batteries. The cost of rechargeable AAs and AAAs is higher upfront, but far less over time.
45. Turn off your computer when not in use. Computers continue to drain energy when they are in sleep mode.
46. Install a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust your home’s temperature and help avoid wasting energy while you’re away. Some devices even learn your behavior and adjust temperatures automatically.
47. Protect yourself and the ocean by using less toxic, reef-safe sunblocks. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s sunblock guide here.
48. Encourage your City to adopt climate-friendly, cost-saving measures such as switching street lights to LEDs, reducing street sweeping by half, and requiring new City vehicles (leased or purchased) be electric.
49. Need a car? Consider used and as fuel-efficient as possible first. The market for used electric vehicles is growing, with significant deals to be had if you just need a vehicle for around town.
50. Share these tips with friends and family! Challenge them to see who can complete the most in one month.
Want to learn more? Check out ActiveSGV's new podcast, ActiveLab