Temperature changes, rising sea levels and declining biodiversity are just a few of the sudden or indirect consequences of climate change that we are increasingly experiencing first-hand. In this context, “sustainability” is a term that we encounter everywhere. But what does it mean exactly? According to a 1987 definition by the World Commission on Environment and Development, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, to be sustainable to live without depleting the natural resources for the future.
Sustainability: What can I communicate on my own?
The big question associated with the topics of sustainability and renunciation is: what can I do in a big way? Because what a single person does or doesn’t do in everyday life can’t be important for the rest of the world – can it? The fact is that the actions of each of us add up and make a big whole. Because the main cause of climate change is CO₂ emissions, which we all influence through our CO₂ footprint. This is made up of factors such as electricity, heating, mobility, air travel, nutrition and other consumption. Sustainability is also about paying attention to the consequences in all areas of life – from weekly shopping to cooking to the annual summer vacation.
But that also means that we quickly feel overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes wonder what I should do first when I come across various profiles of sustainability professionals on social media channels, which are teeming with tips and advice . But that doesn’t mean that you have to do everything differently in order to live a more sustainable life. It is enough to change a few small things in everyday life that make a big difference if everyone does them. Because: Whether and to what extent we live sustainably determines how well we will live in the future.
Sustainability for beginners – my 5 tips
1. Switch to sustainable hygiene products
Using tampons during your period is quick, uncomplicated and inexpensive – at least that’s what I thought until I started looking into alternatives. Because if you take a closer look at the topic, you will be shocked to realize how much waste tampons, pads and the like actually cause. On average, women use around 11,000 tampons in their lifetime, which, like pads, take around 500 years to biodegrade. Fortunately, there are now many more environmentally friendly alternatives such as reusable tampons, menstrual cups, menstrual sponges or period underwear. And we should also pay attention to sustainability when it comes to care products such as shampoo, conditioner and shower gel – and not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our health. Because conventional products not only contain environmentally harmful ingredients such as microplastics, but also parabens, surfactants and emulsifiers, which are suspected of irritating our skin, causing allergies and even having a hormonal effect. A suitable alternative are, for example, organic products without harmful substances that are produced sustainably.
2. Avoid plastic packaging
Since high plastic consumption has a significant impact on the environment, we should all reduce our plastic consumption. But what’s the best way to go about it? First of all, we should avoid unnecessary disposable products such as plastic plates and cutlery or straws. The same applies to single-use shopping bags – regardless of whether they are made of plastic or paper. A sustainable alternative is reusable carrier bags. It also makes a big difference whether you buy fruit and vegetables that have been shrink-wrapped or lost. If you eat out during your lunch break, you produce a lot of waste – it is better to cook for yourself and take your meals with you.
3. Eat less meat
More and more people are now giving up eating steak, sausage and other meat products every day. And with good reason: Because agriculture is the second largest cause of CO₂ emissions in Germany. This does not automatically mean that we have to give up eating meat completely, but each of us should consciously deal with the topic. So it makes a significant difference to integrate more plant-based products into your diet and only eat a piece of meat once a week instead of every day.
4. Offset CO₂ when travelling
Whether it’s a weekend trip to London or a long-haul flight to the USA – for many people, regular travel is simply part of life. But that is not sustainable in terms of the environment, as a lot of CO₂ is emitted, especially when traveling by air. But most of us don’t want to give up our well-deserved, relaxing holiday because of this. However, if you cannot reach your holiday destination in any other way, you have the option of offsetting the CO₂ emissions. This is done by calculating how high your own CO₂ emissions are and buying compensation certificates that are used to bind the same amount of CO₂ in climate protection projects. Providers for compensation are among others klimafair.de, www.atmosfair.de or myclimate.org.
5. Dispose of medical masks properly
Both medical masks and FFP2 masks are an important tool in the fight against the current global corona pandemic – but they also pose a major problem for the environment. Around 129 billion respiratory protection masks, some of which are made of petroleum-based polymers, are disposed of worldwide every month , as a spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Agency announced. If these get into the oceans via the water, they can endanger flora and fauna. We can’t do without the masks – however, each of us can help to reduce the environmental impact by paying attention to the correct disposal! Contrary to what is often assumed, the masks do not belong in the paper waste, but in the residual waste. Discarded masks that should be picked up in parks or on the street, but not touched with bare hands.
Conclusion: Every small change helps
I realize that you may not be able to take every step of these changes to heart overnight, but if you start thinking about sustainability, you’ve taken the first step in the right direction. It also happens to me that I sometimes reach for a pack of organic peppers, although these are packaged in plastic (you may have to make a decision here) or buy a take-away meal during my lunch break – although I try my best to that something like this only happens as an exception and not too often. Anyone who consciously pays attention to the use of plastic and keeps an eye on their Co2 emissions will gradually find it easier to lead a sustainable life.