This week I would like to talk to you about our ecological footprint and how we can reduce it. The reason why I am writing about this now is because of what happened a few days ago. Do you have any idea what was so special about August 8th, 2016? No? Then let me tell you. On this year’s August 8th we ‘celebrated’ our Earth’s Overshoot Day. Now what is an overshoot day?
Every year we have an environmental budget, meaning the amount of natural resources our Earth can produce in one year. The day that we exceed that budget is called the overshoot day. Ideally it should be later than December 31st, but unfortunately we hit that mark already on August 8th this year, according to data from the Global Footprint Network. To give you an idea, last year Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 13th, in 2014 it was August 19th, in 2000 it was October 1st. To state the obvious here, we are clearly not improving. That is why the Paris climate agreement adopted by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 states our carbon footprint needs to be zero by 2050.
The fact that we can use up nature’s resources for an entire year in only 7 months and 8 days is pretty sad, especially thinking about the severe consequences of our ecological overconsumption, like climate change and the loss of biodiversity. And to be honest, living in Belgium makes me even sadder. According to WWF’s Living Planet Report of 2014 we would need 4.3(!) Earths if all people on the planet had the footprint of an average Belgian. That is a pretty depressing thought if you ask me.
The biggest contributor
Now you might be wondering what is causing this ecological overshoot then? What you probably already knew is that carbon emissions are the biggest contributor. At the moment they are responsible for 60% of our demand on nature. The good news is that it is definitely possible to reduce our carbon footprint to zero. The bad news is that not enough political parties are on board. Luckily though we all individually have the power to change the way we live and to ease our impact on this Earth. Remember change will not come if we all wait for someone else to change first.
I genuinely hope to inspire you on how to reduce your ecological footprint with the following 10 tips. I selected these tips wisely – there are about a 1000 more things you could do – and I believe these are highly important but also pretty easy to gradually incorporate in your life if you really want to. And to encourage you a bit more I provide you with some extra health and saving benefits. Here is what you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.
1. Eat more plant-based foods
You probably saw this one coming as I am vegan, right? Unfortunately, up to 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and their byproducts. And by adopting a plant-based diet, you could cut your carbon footprint by 50%! You might not have heard these data before as most research on the carbon footprint has been financed by the big meat and dairy companies. If you want to learn more about how corrupt this industry is and if you want to hear the unbiased facts and figures, I kindly suggest you watch Cowspiracy. That documentary has been a real eye-opener to people all over the world in the past two years.
The meat and dairy industry is not only responsible for 51% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, but also uses one third (!) of our Earth’s fresh water. To give you an idea, it takes about 2500 liters of water to produce just 100g of beef (one hamburger). That is the equivalent to showering for an average of two months. In addition, 91% of the destruction of the amazon is caused by animal agriculture. Did you even know that livestock covers 45% of our Earth’s total land? It is a lot to take in, I know. But when you fully realize that to feed one meat eater for one year you need 18 times as much land as needed to feed one vegan, the choice becomes really easy, doesn’t it?
If this is all way too much for you, I understand. Just start by making gradual changes. Why not introduce one or two vegan days into your whole week? There are so many nutritious grains and legumes that are very high in protein and the animals will love you for it too. Let me tell you, it is cool to be kind.
2. Walk, bike, take public transport or carpool
The second biggest contributor to greenhouse gasses, after the meat industry, is transport. All road, rail, air and marine transport combined is responsible for not less than 13% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Here is what you can do to help reduce this impact. The most damaging form of transport is flying. And the shorter the distance, the greater the impact. So whenever possible, try to use public transport or just carpool to your destination.
Then what about that car of yours, you may ask. Well, you could sell your car like I did a few months ago, but I understand that for most of you that will not be an option. But here is what I believe you can do. If your trip is shorter than 10 km, are you sure you cannot bike there? Try it sometime and not only the planet, but also your health will thank you for it. For further distances, public transport might be perfect. And if that is really not an option for where you live or for where you want to go, you could always carpool. That is much more fun than driving a car by yourself anyway.
3. Buy local
Reducing your use of transport is something you should definitely also consider with the food choices you make. When you shop for food, you want to go for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from an organic farmer in your neighborhood. Because when you buy products that have flown all over the world, they increase your ecological footprint greatly. Locally grown seasonal organic fruits and vegetables taste best anyway so use those as your bulk. Occasionally you can obviously treat yourself with something not locally grown.
Also, try to not waste your food. Whenever you have prepared too much food or you have bought something that will go to waste before you can consume it, just give it away to a friendly neighbor or a stranger on the street that could really use it. You might hesitate to do this, but really, what is so weird about helping out someone else and reduce your waste at the same time?
Buying local also implies buying clothing that is produced in the same continent you live. Have you ever thought of the ecological impact you contribute to by buying clothes that are manufactured in for example China when you live in Europe, America or Australia? Please give this a second thought and spend your money on clothing made in your own continent.
4. Support fair trade
Obviously, it is not easy to buy everything 100% local. So especially for those products that are imported, choose fair trade. This way you make sure that the farmers got a fair income for it and that the products are sustainably sourced, meaning that the local population and the environment did not get harmed in the process.
Fair trade, like buying locally, counts for both food, clothing and furniture. Because, how can you enjoy that new gorgeous sweater of yours, when being aware that it was made by underpaid employees, maybe even children, living across the world that are working in awful conditions. Think about that the next time you go shopping to one of those commercial clothing companies that do not care about anything else than making bigger profits than the year before.
5. Choose organic
As I already mentioned in the buying local section, organic produce is what you want to spend your money on. Organic agriculture does not use chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, and thus cause less pollution, produce less greenhouse gasses and do not harm biodiversity. And when you choose organic over non-organic you are not only helping the planet, but you are also taking good care or your health as you will not get those harming chemicals into your body. Nice bonus, don’t you think? Again, I am talking here both about food and clothing. It is not only what you eat, but also what you wear on you biggest organ, your skin, that matters a great deal for both your health and the planet.
6. Avoid plastic
Whenever you can, please buy those organic products without packaging. Plastic takes huge amounts of energy to make, is extremely difficult to recycle, releases harming chemicals into our bodies and is the cause of death of about 100,000 marine creatures every year. What you can do to avoid plastic in the future is the following.
First you can look for a zero waste food store in your neighborhood. Seriously, food shopping never felt better! If you do want to buy several things at a regular store though, make sure you buy a big package (more food with less plastic) or buy something in a material that you could recycle easily.
What else could you do? You could switch your plastic water bottles to bottles made out of glass. You can refill them with tap water or water from a natural source in your neighborhood. Also, do not put your vegetables or fruit in plastic bags, but use reusable ones made out of organic cotton. Last, avoid disposable articles like plastic cutlery and drinking straws. There is a sustainable replacement for every plastic product you shop, trust me.
7. Buy reusable materials
Not only plastic causes a lot of waste on this planet, but also the use of non-reusable materials. We live in a time where we constantly use disposable products, think about razor blades, sanitary napkins, tampons, diapers, the list is endless. Here is how you could choose sustainable products for intimate care. You could buy a menstrual cup for your menstrual flow and buy reusable organic cotton diapers instead of disposable plastic diapers. Again, for so many disposable products, there is a much better, reusable alternative.
Also do not forget the beauty of second hand. You could buy your clothing, furniture, electronic devices and much more secondhand so that you can give those materials a second life instead of letting them go to waste. And it is much better for your wallet anyway, right?
8. Choose wood and paper with the FSC label
Another harming source to our ecological footprint is wood and paper. A big amount of all wood and timber products worldwide, from building materials to furniture to writing paper and toilet paper, come from illegal sources. That means our forests, wildlife and local communities get harmed in the process. If you buy materials with the FSC label however you are sure that your product is sustainable with respect for the biodiversity and local population.
FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council which is an independent non-profit non-governmental organization that helps companies and organizations interested in responsible forestry. If you would like to learn more about this organization, take a look at www.fsc.org. They will provide you with all the information you need.
Another easy, but very efficient way to reduce your impact on the environment, is to buy recycled paper instead of your regular white toilet paper, tissues and printing paper. Recycled paper is as good as the original and often you do not even notice the difference. And last, you could also put a no-advertisement sticker on your mail box. This way you get rid of all that unnecessary advertisement you do not want to go through anyway.
9. Use less water
Moving on to water. As I already explained when talking about our meat consumption, the meat and dairy industry uses one third of our fresh water. However, that does not mean you cannot save water in your daily use too. You could take short lukewarm (or cold if you like) showers instead of long hot showers or big steaming baths. That is better for your skin and hair anyway. You could also use rainwater to flush the toilet and to water your plants – if possible where you live.
Furthermore, be aware of the amount of water you are using when doing the dishes, brushing your teeth, washing your clothes, cleaning your house, and doing other household chores. You would be amazed if you would know the exact amount of water you use on just a daily basis. Luckily though you are just the right person that can do something about that.
10. Support clean energy
And last, I want to get your attention to clean energy. We could have 100% renewable energy by 2050, but you need to do your part for that as well. So switch to a renewable energy provider when you can. I put this tip last although it is a highly important one. But obviously if you live in an apartment or you still live with your parents, that choice is not always up to you. If you are in the position to change, however, please choose renewable energy. It will even save you money in the long run.
Also, if you are from Belgium reading this, make sure to take a look at www.topten.be. That is a website that can help you with making smart decisions for the environment for your next buy, whether that is a refrigerator, freezer or washing machine. The little things will be the big things in the end and once you know better, you can do better, right?
Thank you so much for your time if you are still reading. I sincerely hope these tips were helpful in some way for you to be able to reduce your ecological footprint in the future, preferably starting now. Remember that change cannot happen if we wait for other people to change first. If everyone thinks like that, nothing ever changes. The ideal time to start is NOW. You may not be fully aware of it, but there is no planet B. The Earth is our planet and it is about time we give something back.
Note: If you liked this blogpost and it inspired you in some way, feel free to like it, comment on it and share it with others. It would totally make my day. Also, if you like this blog, make sure to follow it to not miss out on anything I write about 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and hopefully I will see you next time!