The Sustainable Mindset: 5 changes to make today

If ‘climate change’ or ‘sustainability’ are unfamiliar terms to you, where have you been and what have you been doing? The very real threat that climate change is posing to the health and prosperity of our planet deserves your attention. We have to make a conscious effort to think about how our actions impact our environment. If you’re just getting started in the fight for our planet, read on to hear Global Sustainability Graduate Briana Dodson suggest five seemingly small changes to help you on your way to achieving a more sustainable mindset.


Reduce your waste

The idea of eliminating all waste can be extremely daunting. There’s all sorts of information out there. Where do you turn? What’s really true? Recycling properly isn’t something that most people are aware of—not all materials can be physically recycled and difficulties separating is just one of the challenges. A few other obstacles are the actually quite common misconceptions and misinformation around recycling itself. Did you know that milk cartons belong with paper recycling? Are you washing your plastics before putting them in the bin? According to Rubicon, “A single recycled plastic bottle saves enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 4 hours. It also creates 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than would be created when making a new bottle.”  One bottle!  In the United States alone, nine-tenths of all solid waste doesn’t even get recycled, yet over 75% of the waste we produce is completely recyclable. In order to achieve zero waste, it takes more than collecting recyclables—it takes a much more integrated approach that reduces the amount and toxicity of waste in the first place. However, there are small steps we can take to reduce how much waste we produce. Some of these include recycling plastics, glass, paper and cardboard instead of just throwing them out. Instead of disposing organic waste, consider starting a compost pile for leftover food, banana peels, coffee grounds, etc. so they can be converted to fertilizer. There are so many great compost kits out there to get you started, too. And in many big cities across the country, composting bins are being integrated into municipal services, making it that much more convenient to do the right thing. When you’re thinking of throwing out old clothes, save them and use them as rags for cleaning. Before you move to throw something in the garbage, take a moment and think about another use it could serve! 

Tip to get started: Pay attention to what you throw away, and choose one thing to begin recycling. Before throwing anything into the recycling bin, give it a good rinse. 

” The point is to start getting into the habit of thinking about how much plastic we consume on a daily basis and make small changes to our routine to reduce it.”

Say No to Plastic

Plastic contributes to much of ocean pollution as it contains harmful toxins and never breaks down. Antimony, Benzene (known as a human carcinogen), dioxins and other chlorine-based chemicals, lead (which damages the cardiovascular, digestive and renal systems), phthalates (linked to asthma, behavioral problems, etc.), and styrene—just to name a few. These just sound bad, imagine what they’re doing to our oceans, wildlife and us! The problem is that these toxins are widespread and can be found in almost all types of plastic. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology observed 34 everyday plastic products to determine how many harmful chemicals were present. “The researchers detected more than 1,000 chemicals in these plastics, 80 percent of which were unknown. But the study was designed in part to show that it’s possible to assess the toxicity of plastic consumer products directly, even without knowing exactly which chemicals are present.”As you can see, by limiting our use, we’re still leaving ourselves—and our environment—susceptible to them. Some easy ways you can limit your plastic use in no time include: Saying no to plastic straws at restaurants (and bringing your own metal or glass option with you everywhere), bringing your own reusable bags when you shop, and buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market, not encapsulated in plastic from the grocery store. The point is to start getting into the habit of thinking about how much plastic we consume on a daily basis and make small changes to our routine to reduce it. You always have a choice! 

Tip to get started: Bring a reusable bag to your local grocery store to transport your groceries and get rid of one-use plastics by investing in a reusable water bottle!

Eat less meat

Many have questioned the ease of transitioning to a vegetarian or plant-based diet. Beyond the ethical reasons for going meat-free, this topic can get pretty controversial as we know the massive toll production, processing and distribution of meat takes on the environment. According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG),red meat produces up to 40 times more greenhouse gas emissions than vegetables and grains.” One of the ways to be more mindful is to experiment with new recipes, and sub some of your favorite meat-based meals for plants. Try buffalo cauliflower instead of buffalo wings, squashblossom pizzas are such a treat in the summertime, all veggie tacos are oftentimes even better than meat ones ! Making these simple changes can help the environment and turn you into an overnight conscious chef (no guarantees). 

Tip to get started: Once or twice a week, cook a meatless dinner, or go all out and opt for a meatless day, where you remove meat from all of your meals. There are endless amounts of recipes online for your meatless meal inspiration. 


Practice daylighting

This sounds like something vampires should be afraid of, and that isn’t entirely wrong. The daylighting technique includes utilizing natural light as the majority—if not all of the light in your home. When this is done right, you can reduce the need for cooling and heating, as well as reduced your own electricity bill. It’s a win win! Solatube states that “by providing a direct link to the dynamic and perpetually evolving patterns of outdoor illumination, daylighting helps create a visually stimulating and productive environment for building occupants, while reducing as much as one-third of total building energy costs.” 

Tip to get started: Open a few windows and let natural light in during the day. If you’re working from home, try alternating your work station between places until you find the space with the best natural light – and work from there instead

Start Small

This may not even seem like a tip at all, but starting small is arguably one of the most important. Adopting a sustainable mindset all comes down to being mindful and making small changes to your daily routine. These changes can be extremely overwhelming and cause frustration if you don’t do everything right the first time. It’s hard not to get bogged down in your failures at the beginning, but along with making sustainable choices comes making mentally sustainable choices, and if it’s proving to cause you more mental harm than help, it won’t be sustainable for you in the long run. Continue to educate yourself on how you can enact these – and more – choices into your daily life, and celebrate the small choices you’re making by recognizing that your contributions, no matter how small, do make a difference.