Kendall here. (And Jess popping in for the occasional commentary 😂)
Welcome back to our second post in what we’ve just decided to dub the On Our Minds series— diving into hot topics and complicated issues that are top-of-mind. (Don’t miss our first one: What you need to know before the next DNC debate + ways to stay informed). The point of this series is not to get political, but to share facts and spark discussion. Additionally, provide attainable ways to make a difference on issues that need our attention.
Today, we’re talking about a particularly overwhelming topic that affects us all immensely––and that is climate change.
We all know how hot this issue is right now as it continues to rev up in the political, scientific and economic spheres. Between marches, Greta Thunberg’s powerful voice leading climate strikes worldwide, and the upcoming election, climate change and the demand for action is EVERYWHERE.
Needless to say, climate change issues and seeing the drastic consequences around the planet can be overwhelming and depressing (As a Houstonian who lived through Hurricane Harvey, I know all too well how scary it can be). Did you know eco-anxiety is a thing?! Just last month a group of British psychologists revealed children are increasingly suffering anxiety and grief about climate change. Because of this, I wanted to kick off with some recent climate change wins/steps in the right direction:
- Extinction Rebellion, a British activist group was instrumental in prodding the British government to become the first major economy to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. And more than 60 other countries are aiming for the same goal. (Within the U.S., New York and California have made the same commitment).
- Renewable energy is on the rise! And because the costs for renewable energy have dropped, more and more cities, countries and companies are transitioning to 100% clean energy.
- More and more businesses are adopting green initiatives.
- People (and a lot of young people) are involved, making their voices heard and demanding action.
But what more can we do at the individual level?
Jess and I both have a lot to learn in this area, so we took to Instagram stories to search for an expert to weigh in, and low and behold–it lead us to Yue, a climate change and environmental sustainability expert, for her tips on actionable steps we can all take in the fight to combat climate change and make the planet a better, healthier place.
Yue is a health policy analyst by day and has a master’s in food policy. Inspired by all of the information she was researching and learning in the climate space, she started a sustainability blog a few months ago to share her knowledge. She’s also a must-follow on Instagram where she shares a spectrum of fascinating research and amazing ideas!
From the cut-flower industry, rooftop gardens and what really happens when you donate clothes, I’ve already learned so much from her page! Yue organized her top practical and science-based tips to reducing environmental impact into three tiers of commitment/knowledge.
The bottom line is we all contribute to climate change — it’s inevitable — and we can all contribute to making the planet a healthier place too. Informing yourself and taking action (no matter how small or accumulative,) is key to incorporating greener lifestyle changes. Yue’s approachable tips are an amazing place to start, check them out:
Level 0: Make Your Voice Heard
Take less than 5 minutes to write to companies, state/local reps and vote in every election
Because climate change will never be solved solely from individual actions, we’re starting with THE most crucial thing we can do — make your voice heard!
“In my opinion, this is THE most crucial thing one can do, because climate change will never be solved from individual actions,” Yue says. “Plus lots of individual actions aren’t possible without public policies and investments (e.g., you can’t walk anywhere if there aren’t safe streets!) Yes, actions to shrink an individual’s environmental footprint ARE important because they do add up to make a (small) difference, but more importantly, it all boils down to creating a cultural shift and a movement that show the people in power that we care and we want them to act.”
Not sure where to start? Fill in your address here to find your representatives and learn how to contact them. From there, you can learn where they stand on issues and which bills they’ve introduced. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a great resource for taking action. They help you locate your senators and representatives and provide scripts to help you communicate stances. Contacting your senators and representative is the first step in building a relationship with your congressional offices and creating the political will needed to solve global warming. Learn more on how to call/email/tweet Congress here.
Quick and Dirty:
Only have 2 minutes to spare? You can also use my favorite, Resistbot–just text 50409 and it will look up your officials (at the Federal or State level) and generate your text into an email, fax, or letter!
Here’s an example of a proposed script/email:
I’m a voter and a constituent and solving climate change is a high priority for me.
My address is ______ and my zip code is ________.
I want Senator _____________ to enact Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.
This is a very important issue to me because climate change is not an issue we can afford to ignore.
Level 1: Learn the Basics
Calculate Your Environmental Impact
Yue highly recommends taking the first step by calculating your own ecological and carbon footprints. Not sure what the difference is? I wasn’t either. Your ecological footprint is the biologically-productive area required to provide everything you consume, and your carbon footprint is the amount of emissions you cause. I used this Global Footprint Network tool to calculate mine. Sign up through Facebook or your email and answer a few questions about your lifestyle, i.e. how often do you eat animal-based products, what kind of home you live in and your transportation use (it takes less than 3 minutes!) My calculation revealed we’d need 3.6 Earths if everyone lived like me. 😲 The tool breaks down your results by consumption category, which gives you a good big-picture of how your lifestyle habits add up.
Learn about climate change from evidence-based sources
There’s a lot of information out there — both fact and fiction. Identify evidence-based sources that can keep you informed as policies, laws, science and elections transform the issue. Yue suggests subscribing to the NYTimes’ newsletter, Climate Fwd, which sends you weekly news as well as one action you can take to help. She also recommends following people who are doing amazing educational work on IG. Some of her favorites are climate science, zero waste chef, Leah Payne, Polly Barks and Shia Su.
Level 2: Approachable Actions
Now that you know where you stand, it’s time to take more action. Here are Yue’s small, practical tips you can do today:
Carry a water bottle or travel mug
Did you know the average American uses 500 paper cups each year? And unfortunately, most disposable coffee cups are not recyclable because they are coated in plastic to hold liquid without leaking. Even if you’re putting them in the recycling bin, they end up in landfills. Cut down on your paper cup usage by keeping a cup, mug or water bottle everywhere you need liquid: at home, at the office, in your bag. Also, most coffee shops offer a discount if you bring your own cup! Need to invest in a mug? The Yeti Rambler keeps drinks hot or cold — perfect for anything you’re craving — from water, hot tea and iced coffee. They also make a tumbler and a mug — and they come in a variety of colors!
Stop unwanted mail
This is such a great tip! Does anyone else get the Restoration Hardware catalogue!? It’s literally a textbook! And while beautiful, it’s so wasteful! Yue suggests making your bills paperless, opting out of prescreened credit card offers and suspending unsolicited mail and catalogues. You can do this through the Direct Marketing Association’s consumer website for $2.
Read your local recycling guide
Did you know if you recycle the wrong items, you can contaminate a whole batch of recyclable materials, creating the exact opposite result you were aiming for? Yue wrote a whole blog post about this — and China’s recent decision to ban imports of recycled plastic, paper and metal. Make sure you understand what you should and shouldn’t recycle in your area. Visit your local municipality’s website and/or find a recycling location near you.
Change your lightbulbs to LEDs
This one is a no-brainer! LEDs use less energy than fluorescent and incandescent lighting, and have a lower lifecycle environmental impact even when counting manufacturing and disposal. Check out this Department of Energy study if you want to learn more.
Swap paper towels with cloths/rags
While paper towels are required for some tasks, others can be done just as well (or better!) with a reusable cloth. Cut an old towel or t-shirt to make a new dusting cloth. If you’re in the market, Amazon has a bunch of reusable cloth options!
Turn on the dishwasher/washer/dryer only when you have a full load
This one is pretty self explanatory and it can have a big impact. According to the EPA, by running the dishwasher only when it’s full, an average family can prevent 100 pounds of carbon pollution and save $40 on energy bills annually.
Air dry your laundry whenever possible
Save money, the environment and your clothes! Airdrying uses less energy and prevents static cling (winter is coming!). It also extends the life of your clothes by reducing wear and tear in the dryer. I have this wooden drying rack, which I prefer to the bulky, metal ones. Check out more eco-friendly laundry swaps in this blog post.
Cook more plant-forward meals:
Reducing meat and dairy products is one of the most effective ways to reduce your environmental impact, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. New research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.
Changing your eating habits is a huge lifestyle change, and by no means are we telling you that everyone needs to go vegan to help the planet. (We couldn’t realistically commit to that either. 😂 )
Start small with an occasional swap or try a more consistent Meatless Monday routine. Jess also has tons of meatless meal inspo in her Trader Joe’s Hacks eBook. (See her veggie burger bowl recipe and TJ’s Quinoa Cowboy enchiladas!) Let’s be honest, we could probably use more excuses to cut down on the cheeseburgers.
Our bonus tips:
Use a period cup
Tampons, pads and liners along with packaging and wrapping generate more than 200,000 tons of waste each year 😱 Switch to a period cup and cut down on plastic waste! Check out Jess’s period cup review to learn how she became a convert.
Take shorter showers
This one can be hard — especially in the colder months. Here are some ways you can make your showers shorter:
- Set a timer so you won’t lose track of time,
- Plug the drain so you can see the amount of water you’re using (and know when to hop out),
- Take a navy shower: turn off the water in between activities, such as shaving.
Reusable shopping bags
Bring your own straw
Jess’ favorite are made by Swzle, a small Chicago startup that makes metal straws with carrying cases for easy transportation.
Level 3: Take it up a notch!
These ideas from Yue definitely take some time, research and effort, but are still totally doable!
Make your energy supplier more renewable
Most people have two sections on their bill: energy delivery and energy supply. You don’t typically have a choice for the delivery portion, but you should be able to change the supply portion, especially in large metropolitan areas. First, do some research with your current energy supplier to see if they offer green power options (most do!) If not, consider switching suppliers to an energy renewable provider.
Opt for walking, biking or public transit instead of driving when possible
Changing the way you commute, walking when you can and carpooling are great ways to cut down on fuel emissions and saving money! Switching your commute transportation can be a huge lifestyle change and not always possible for some people, but it’s worth putting in the effort to see what it might look like if you walked, biked or took public transportation to work — even just a few days a week. If you find a way to bike or walk, your workout is done before you get into the office – win, win!
Avoid or reduce flying, and purchase carbon offsets when it’s unavoidable
You’ve probably heard of carbon offsets, but what does that really mean? Carbon offsetting is essentially balancing out your carbon footprint by investing in environmental projects that will reduce future emissions. You can offset your air travel at Cool Effect by plugging in your flight details. For example, a roundtrip 4-6 hour flight produces .78 tonnes of carbon, and your offset would be $6.07. Cool Effect will put your money toward carbon-reducing projects, “offsetting” your plane carbon.
Reduce food waste and compost
Food is the single biggest source of municipal waste going into landfills. And contrary to common belief, things that biodegrade naturally do not biodegrade in landfills. This is due to the lack of air and sunlight needed for things to break down. Basically, a hot dog in a landfill will still be a hot dog in 25 years, which is a terrifying thought. It just sits emitting methane all day. Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, crumbly substance. It recycles your kitchen and yard wastes and reduces the volume of unnecessary garbage sent to landfills. While composting individually can be an entire blog post by itself, some good sources to get started are here and here.
Jess’ note: I just signed up for WasteNot Compost, a compost collection service based in Chicago! They provide a 5-gallon bucket, compostable liner and an air-tight lid. When it’s ready to be picked up, you just set your bucket out on your scheduled pickup day and they’ll give you a fresh bucket — how awesome is that?! If you’re in a metro area, do a little google digging to see if there’s a compost collection service near you!
Our bonus tips:
Another area where you can improve your green game is beauty — products we all reach for every day. As a whole, the beauty industry utilizes a lot of plastic packaging, a lot of harmful ingredients and chemicals. Also, brands can follow unethical practices and standards. Buying cleaner brands that are making significant steps toward sustainability can both help the environment and your health.
While clean beauty brands and products are becoming more and more popular, it can still be difficult to know where and how to start overhauling your routine. Check out Jess’ Clean Beauty 101 post, which tells you what you need to know and her favorite clean beauty products and brands!
The intersection of going green and fashion is something we’re very interested in! Reducing your fast fashion purchases and opting for pieces that are sustainably and ethically-sourced (quality over quantity) is a great way to start shopping smarter. (Not to mention, it’s better on the wallet in the long run!)
Of course, we all like to indulge in the occasional Amazon Mumu of sorts–and that’s not to say you need to give those up completely or completely overhaul your shopping habits, but we can all be a little better about purchasing a bit more consciously and intentionally–that’s a big step in the right direction!
The great news: More and more, brands are committing to greener practices and ethics to inspire change in the industry. When you support them, you support the movement! Here are just a few standout favorites:
The global footwear industry emits 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and Allbirds is leading the sustainable way by going carbon neutral in 2019. They’re beginning with carbon offsetting, but they’ve got bigger goals on the horizon to shrink their impact — you can find them here. Fun facts: one recycled plastic bottle equals one pair of Allbird laces. Their packaging is made from 90% recycled cardboard. They are also a Certified B Corp–a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
Another B-Corp–They’ve set 2020 goals to: empower women through fair trade, use materials made with sustainable fibers, create products using water-saving techniques and divert waste from shipping packaging from landfills. You can see how they’re doing on their goals here.
Anddd yet ANOTHER B-Corp! One of my favorite beauty brands, they don’t just make some of the cleanest products around, but they also a certified B Corp and have made huge strides in their sustainability efforts. In August 2017, Beautycounter received the highest score among all companies that participated in the Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) survey for the second year in a row. This year, they also updated their packaging replace plastics with alternative materials—such as glass—wherever possible. Other notable mentions: They offset 3,628 metric tons of CO2 to match 100% of their 2018 HQ consumption. They planted the equivalent of 4,270 acres of trees to offset carbon usage, and purchased 1,284 Water Restorative Certificates purchased to offset 120% of the company’s 2018 water usage. You can read their full 2019 Social Mission Report right here!
From radical transparency, quality designed to last and partnering with the top ethical factories, Everlane is committed to sustainability. You can check out all of the factories they partner with here.
A Canadian brand that makes my favorite affordable winter coats, my favorite linen shirt, and lots of amazing athletic wear! They are very committed to sustainability and a lot of their items are even made from recycled plastic bottles. (You’d never know it!)
Surprised to see them on this list? Just another reason to love my favorite retailer. Nordstrom’s own brands (like Treasure + Bond or Halogen, to name a couple) are ethically produced, many with a social mission behind them and/or made with at least 50% sustainably sourced materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester and materials with certifications like bluesign® and Fair Trade Certified™. They’re working closely with brands to make responsible fashion easier to find, shop and support.
Patagonia is a pioneer in sustainability. (Yep, the 4th B-Corp on the list!) They launched the For the Planet project in 2002, which donates 1% of its annual revenue to projects that preserve the planet and they’ve set a goal to be carbon neutral across the entire business (including supply chain) by 2025. Check out their impressive goals and transparent metrics and processes here.
Reformation invests in green building infrastructure and aim to minimize their energy footprint. They also invest in programs that replace the resources they’ve spent by partnering with the Brazilian Rosewood Amazon Conservation Project and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation Water Restoration Programs. In exchange for the emissions, water and waste used last quarter, they protected 1,000 acres of the Amazon Rainforest, contributed 27 million gallons of freshwater to California and purchased landfill gas offsets. And they send out a sustainability report each year, which you can sign up to receive. You can read all about their methodology here.
I DROOL over all of Sezane’s clothes! I basically would describe them as a feminine, French Everlane. (I’m actually meeting with them next week! I’m SO excited!!) They are also making big strides in the Sustainability department. They even publish their yearly sustainability goals on their website–rumor has it they will be releasing a 100% sustainable collection very soon!