66 Small Changes to Make a Big Difference

I’ve updated this post and I’m sharing it again, just in time for Earth Day.

There are so many small things that can collectively make a difference in our footprint on the earth. Will you try to add one or more of these to your list of changes for the new year? Will you share this list with your family and friends or on your social networks? Even people who are reluctant to step out of their comfort zone will find something here that they can embrace with relatively little effort – we just need to convince them that it needs to be done, and that making small steps truly is not painful.

Kitchen:

  • Stop buying fruits and vegetables that have been imported from another country, for so many reasons.
  • Buy real food. If you can’t trace its origin, it shouldn’t go into your body (ahem, IMHO) and it’s surely not doing our environment any good.
  • Quit relying on takeout food. If you succumb, find a restaurant that uses compostable packaging and say no to plastic straws.
  • Learn to cook some really simple, really fast meals so you won’t be tempted by fast food.
  • Find a local butcher that uses butcher paper instead of buying your meat cuts on Styrofoam.
  • Find a source for local meat and eggs.
  • Turn up the temperature on your refrigerator, just a touch.
  • In the wintertime, put fire bricks in the oven to hold heat and keep the room warm.
  • Switch to glass storage containers instead of plastic.
  • Get rid of your Teflon coated pots and pans.
  • Use a dish cloth instead of a sponge.
  • Bring fewer containers into your home. Be sure to recycle those that you can’t reuse.
  • Compost your food waste.
  • Make your own salad dressing, mustard, mayonnaise, and other condiments. It’s not that hard. 
  • Cook double batches. Eat one lasagna tonight, freeze one for the crazy busy day that’s tempting you to turn to fast food.
  • Switch to bulk teas that can be made with a tea strainer. No bags, no packaging, and no risk of ingesting plastic.

Bathroom:

  • Nix the chemical cleaners.
  • Take shorter showers. Less hot water used, less energy used.
  • Switch to less chemically laden soaps and shampoos, or try your hand at making your own.
  • Still using disposable razors? (Stores are still stocking them; somebody must be using them!) Switch to one with a replaceable blade.
  • Use your bath towel more than once.
  • Try a fabric shower curtain instead of a plastic one.

Home office or at the office:

  • Switch to padded envelopes that don’t have a plastic bubble liner.
  • Stop junk mail before it gets to your house.
  • Consider online banking. You’ll eliminate the envelope as well as the use of much fuel to get your payment where it needs to go.
  • Opt to receive your monthly statements via email. Again, you’ll eliminate paper waste as well as fuel usage.
  • Use public transportation. Not an option? Find someone to carpool with.
  • Transform the water cooler at work: request paper rather than plastic cups. Better yet, encourage fellow employees to bring a cup from home.
  • Refill your ink cartridges instead of buying a new one when you’re out.
  • Not using your computer? Turn it off or put it to sleep.

Laundry room:

  • Wash only full loads of clothes.
  • Switch to a more eco-friendly laundry detergent. Or make your own.
  • Get clothes out of the dryer as soon as they’re dry, so you’re not tempted to “give them a little fluff.”
  • Better yet, set up a clothesline and hang your clothes to dry some of the time.
  • Install a timer on your hot water heater.

The rest of the house:

  • Find out where your power comes from. Is it generated by diesel? Coal? Wind? Knowing that your energy usage is tied directly to environmentally unfriendly sources might make it easier to cut your energy use (good for the planet and your bank account).
  • Say no to products that come in plastic clamshells.
  • Keep a blanket on the sofa.
  • Turn down the thermostat on your heater, just a touch (with that blanket, you won’t notice).
  • Next time you need to buy linens and blankets, skip the man-made materials.
  • Turn off the TV if you’re not watching it.
  • Install window blinds to help keep the house cool in the summertime and warm in winter.
  • Shop second hand.
  • Wash your windows with newspaper instead of paper towels.

Outside:

  • If you have an arbor, plant a deciduous vine that will shade you in the summertime and allow sunlight and warmth in during the cold winter.
  • Grow your own food. If you’ve never done so, start small. Plant radishes. Or lettuce.
  • If you’re a gardening veteran, consider sharing your knowledge with amateurs.
  • Plant an extra row for the food bank.
  • Collect some of your rainwater and use it to water the garden during dry spells.
  • Stop using chemicals on your lawn.
  • If you regularly forget to turn off your porch or garage light, set it up on a timer.
  • Deal with pests and weeds without chemicals.
  • Mulch. It will help hold moisture in, and mean less water used. It will also help keep the weeds in check.
  • Compost your kitchen waste. No space? Get worms to do the dirty work with a worm composter. (You can make your own for less than $5.)

Around town:

  • Stop accepting the bags that stores offer (plastic OR paper) and bring your own.
  • Switch from plastic to glass bottles when buying goods at the grocery store. If it’s only available in plastic, skip it (bonus points for writing to the manufacturer to complain).
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that are sold loose. There’s absolutely no reason for peas, peppers, or tomatoes to be wrapped in plastic or strapped to Styrofoam.
  • Seek out local produce at the supermarket or (better yet) farmers market.
  • Eliminate excess baggage in your car. If you don’t need to carry it around, don’t. You’ll use less gas.
  • Take your own insulated mug for your coffee stops.
  • Combine errands so that you use less fuel.
  • Live near town? Walk, sometimes!
  • Seek out one wild food source in your area. Maybe it’s dandelion greens. Or maybe you’ve got a source for wild asparagus or blackberries.
  • Go meet your neighbors. Having a friendly community means a chance to share equipment rather than everyone owning the same snow blower or tractor.
  • Those same neighbors? May share their garden surplus or help you tackle all of those excess zucchini.
  • Think about needs versus wants. We’ve become a society of shoppers. Do you really need that new pair of shoes?
  • Choose to live with less stuff.

Photo: Flickr user by woodleywonderworks

Got another simple change to add? Please share it in the comments! And, hey. If you’re on Facebook, come join us there. We’re always tossing new ideas around!

This article has 37 comments

  1. Fantastic post. Thanks so much for this. I’m going to share it on NZ Ecochick’s facebook page. I do most of these things but it’s great to pick up some new tips.

  2. What a fabulous, thoughtful list. Thanks for all these wonderful reminders. I wish I could hang my clothes outside to dry all year long…but I’m afraid much of the time I’d come away with frozen towels!

  3. What a useful lists, some really great ideas :)

  4. I use a rain barrel that comes off my barn to water the chickens, only downside is it freezes in the winter.Use a old coffee can for veggie ends to go out to chickens or compost. Shred your paper and put in compost pile or use it for bedding.

  5. Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable
    Wednesday 28 December 2011, 6:32 am

    Brilliant list!!! Even as an eco-conscious family, it still amazes me the amount of waste that filters through our home. It does require constant intentionality. Thank you for these great suggestions.

    • It’s almost as if the more aware and careful we get, the more aware we are of what we can improve upon. That’s a good thing, though, I think!

  6. Such a great list. I do most of the above already. I think the one about meeting the neighbors is important, but it should be extended to spreading the word to those neighbors and, in general, beyond. And, writing to legislators. I listened to our local state senator Dan Wolf last night, as he told Mindy Todd on Cape & Islands radio about his priorities for 2012. He also said he plans to attend house parties informal gathering where constituents can tell him what matters to them. Ie. Conversation. Spreading the word. We need to keep raising the issue of the environment to our legislators so that they understand how very much it matters to us. I blogged about plastic bags this morning. Will now go back in and link this great list to my post so that my readers can have it, too. Thanks!

    • Thank you! I try to talk about this with people, but gently. Some are interested, others tune me out. I try to respect that some just don’t want to hear it – for those, I think it’s a matter of leading by example as best I can!

  7. Mahalo for compiling this comprehensive list, Kris. Many of us miss doing the doable thinking that it is too much trouble, without thinking about the results of our careless actions…

  8. A long time ago, I was very sick. I struggled everyday just to get through the day. I was ready to give up. I had a conversation with an old soul in a very young man’s body. I told him that I didn’t know how I was going to make it. He suggested that I try to make just one thing better every day. He challenged me that if I did that (just one thing better) where would I be in five years. It’s been fifteen years since that one conversation changed how I look at life. One thing better, it’s easier than you think. Try it and see for a month.

  9. Hi, Thanks for a great year of inspiration and wonderful green ideas – I’ve learnt so much. I did a year in review at NZ Ecochick and would love it if you would link up some of your favourite posts of 2011. Have a wonderful new year. M xx

  10. What an awesome list! Especially love the last one – I’ve been tearing my office apart, re-organizing, decluttering, and tossing/re-using/recycling.

  11. GeekMom » Blog Archive » Bookmark This For 2012 Fun
    Monday 2 January 2012, 5:02 am

    [...] is one to act on every day.  To find ways to help you live more lightly on Ma Earth, check out 63 small changes that make a big difference, one in a series of highly useful tips from GeekMom’s own Kris [...]

  12. Great list minus one problem. A lot of the list calls for you to “switch from… to … the act of switching out something you already have is in itself wasteful. unless of course you find someone willing to take them off your hand.

    • Dustin, good point. In no way do I mean to suggest that we pitch out everything we have and start fresh. But, for example, when the need to ship something arises, and the purchase of a shipping envelope is required, I hope that folks will consider an envelope padded with shredded paper rather than bubble wrap. Using what we have? Brilliant? Changing the way we consume? Necessary.

  13. a thoughtful list, Kris. especially liked the reminder ‘plant another row for the food bank.’

  14. So many of these tips are not just good for the environment, they up your efficiency too–like keeping laundry loads full, shorter showers, etc. This year I’m trying to plan ahead more to cut down on packaged foods–wheat berries prepared for breakfast (like your overnight oatmeal), making beans from scratch instead of relying on cans.

  15. You go girl. I LOVE this! Love it. I couldn’t agree more with all of these recommendations. If we ALL did just SOME of them, the changes would be enormous to the entire planet. Poor Gaia. We humans are abusing her so…

  16. I like the idea of doing one a day even, and rotating down the list. Such a great idea, Kris!

  17. Already do much that’s on this list (and feel guilty if/when I don’t). Striving to do better, not perfection, which I think can put some people off from going greener in the first place. And there’s often a solution (like hanging your clothes inside in cooler months) that may not be apparent at first. Especially love: grow an extra row for the food bank. There’s a place — growing my own food — where I could do more.

  18. Great ideas! As far as power sources, there are also programs that allow you to choose how much green power you want to use as a percentage of your total power. And to add another idea, when you are using a floor fan or other type of fan to keep cool (instead of the ac) you can place a bowl of ice in front of it for some extra coolness. Works great.

  19. Turning the brightness down on electronic devices or on auto-brightness, more if you’re indoors or in a dim place.

  20. I switched from Paper Towels and paper napkins to cloth napkins and/or rags. My three kids and hubby would go through a roll every few days. At $1 a roll that not only hurts my pocketbook but the environment.

    I hid the paper towels and made the cloth napkins accessible and I can’t believe how much money I save a year. I think it is close to $120 a year!

  21. […] 66 Small Changes to Make a Big Difference from Attainable Sustainable […]

    • Don’t run the water while brushing your teeth. Put half as much tooth paste on your brush, The tube will last twice as long. Shower with less water pressure. Use white vinegar/water for cleaning most services. Hydrogen Peroxide has dozens of uses.

  22. Thought the article had great suggestions. But it raised a question in me…when getting rid of some of these less green items, i.e.: plastic shower curtain, it occurs to me that in some areas it may not be a recyclable item. The question then becomes, what to do with the item so that it stays out of a landfill and contributing to anti-green activities. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Personally, if I have “questionable” items at home, I don’t just get rid of them for the sake of going green. It doesn’t make sense to add them to the landfill if they’re still functioning. But when a plastic shower curtain, say, is no longer working in the bathroom, repurposing it to get another use out of it before it goes to the landfill would be good. Can it be used as a drop cloth for painting? A tarp in the garden? 

  23. […] It was originally posted via Facebook by Attainable Sustainable […]

  24. […] A much longer and detailed list of great ideas can be found on one of my favorite sites Attainable-Sustainable. […]

  25. “Switch from plastic to glass bottles when buying goods at the grocery store. If it’s only available in plastic, skip it (bonus points for writing to the manufacturer to complain).”

    We’re having a community discussion about this right now.  A letter in the local paper expressed the outrage of the writer who learned from a conversation with a truck driver emptying the dumpster that the only glass recycler in town (Target) actually winds up sending most of the glass to local landfill.  This is primarily because many people tossed in garbage and/or other recyclables, or didn’t remove metal or plastic bands that remain after the lid is twisted off glass bottles/jars.  Now, diligent, devoted local environmentalists have doubled down on how to make glass recycling REALLY WORK here.  It’s a tough issue.

    • It IS a tough issue. We live on an island that ships all of its recycling off to SE Asia or the Pacific Northwest. I know it’s difficult in other regions, too. I think the best solution is to avoid buying disposable packaging at all, no matter the content, but that’s not always going to happen.

  26. We garden. We start our plants indoors in early spring. Instead of buying containers to start our plants, I save cans with cutable bottoms. When the plants are ready to go into the garden, I cut the bottom out of the can and plant the can. It can be removed later, but the can itself will protect the roots from root eating worms.

  27. Switching from plastic bottles to glass bottles makes very little sense from an environmental stand point or a economical one. Glass is heavier then plastic so to ship the same amount of product is a lot of extra weight which means more fuel consumed to travel the same distance. Glass bottles also can break easier during transport so more product gets wasted

  28. […] Sustainable shares 66 Small Changes to Make a Big Difference. They really are small changes, too. I bet you’re doing a bunch of them already… and […]

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