"Hybrid cars, solar panels, organic food. This green living thing is just an elitist fantasy."
I've never really understood this line of thinking. The more money you have, the more you tend to consume. The more you consume, the bigger your environmental footprint is going to be. Yes, solar panels and hybrid cars are an important part of our low-carbon future, but many of the most important things we can do to go green are totally and utterly free.
Here are some resolutions that can help you live sustainably in the long run and won't cost you a single dime.
Eat less meat
Besides home energy use and transportation, food makes up one of the largest portions of our personal carbon footprint. And meat and dairy make up by far the biggest percentage of our food-related impact. You may not be ready to follow Al Gore's example and go vegan, but why not consider starting with Meatless Mondays or a weekday vegetarian diet? Not only will you slash your impact, you'll save some money at the grocery store, too.
Drive less, walk and bike more
Despite convincing evidence that our culture has reached "peak car," most of us (myself included) are not quite ready to go car-free. Nevertheless, we can all do our part. From walking to the store to biking to work, there are plenty of ways to cut back without going cold turkey. Like most resolutions worth their salt, however, it can be hard to stay motivated at first — so set yourself up for success. Keep an umbrella by the front door, store your bike in a convenient location (and maintain it well!), and make car-pooling plans with friends to keep you from backtracking.
Turn off the lights, program the thermostat
LED light bulbs and fancy learning thermostats will almost certainly save you money in the long run, but there are cheaper ways to cut back. Many Americans, for example, already have a programmable thermostat — too many, however, still fail to program it. Even if your thermostat is not programmable, simply knowing what temperature to set it to can be a great way to save money. And whatever kinds of bulbs you use, just remember to turn them off when you leave the room. It's really that easy.
I may have been singing the praises of the NatureMill indoor composter of late, but we should never forget that old hippy adage: compost happens. Setting up a basic composting operation in your backyard doesn't have to cost a single penny, just follow these easy steps on setting up a compost pile. You'll not only reduce your household waste, but you'll nurture the earth around you and cut back on trips to the garden store too.
Give things away
For all the talk of buying more sustainable products, there's a lot to be said for simply owning less too. So look around you, identify the things you no longer use or need, and then find someone who can give them a good home. eBay or Craigslist can be a great way to make a few bucks in the process — or you can opt for more community-minded options like freecycle or Really, Really Free Markets. In our neighborhood, people just leave things out on the curb that they don't want with a note to let people know that it is free. We've gotten rid of plenty of unwanted items this way ourselves, and we've scored everything from a donut maker to a bike trailer in return.
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