Five ways to lead a more sustainable life

Many institutions have been actively campaigning for a more sustainable world and tackling climate change for years.

This year, A Rocha UK celebrates 20 years of campaigning on conservation. It began as a local Christian conservation project in Southall, West London. Now, it runs an eco-church scheme which gives out bronze, silver and gold standards to churches that can demonstrate various levels of protecting and restoring nature on land they manage. This inspires organisations to take climate protecting action.

Another group, CDP – initially named the Carbon Disclosure Project – is celebrating 20 years, too. It urges investors, companies, cities, regions and states to disclose their carbon footprint, as a way of inspiring change.

Dozens of campaigns have formed in recent years to ask Governments, regional and local, to think about changing their ways. Pressure from the first Extinction Rebellion protests led to the UK Government declaring a climate emergency. Nearly 70% of UK local councils have declared one.

The past year, when far fewer people have been travelling to work, has made the people take notice of the environment. Some of that is through the media, reporting that there has been less pollution. Some of it has been because, last summer, more people took to cycling and walking and appreciating their local open spaces.

Tackling climate change will come from three angles: Government, through regulation and policies – including those hopefully to be mandated internationally at COP26 in Glasgow in November; businesses driving change through producing more sustainable products and services which use or create fewer carbon emissions; individuals, through behaviour change as consumers or by backing campaigns.

So how can you make a difference? Here are five ways to start.

1 Make more sustainable choices

Whether as a consumer or while working at home, we can all make more sustainable choices.

The New Leaf Zero Waste store has gathered a huge following on Facebook and Instagram since opening its store in Woodhatch, Reigate last October.

Customers can take their own jars and tubs to refill with all sorts of food and cleaning products, such as washing liquid that does not harm the environment. Opening hours quickly had to be extended to Sunday and Monday, from the original ones of Tuesday to Saturday.

Buying bamboo toilet paper reduces your impact on trees

Other ways to make more sustainable household choices are to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, reducing plastic, and even bamboo toilet paper, using a more sustainable source than paper from trees.

Recently, the cold weather inspired members of Climate Action, Redhill and Reigate to offer some tips on more sustainable living at home. These included seasonal eating, installing a smart metre, improving allotment space loft insulation projects, using an eco warrior shampoo bar and using a hot water bottle and extra layers to keep warm instead of automatically reaching for the heating booster button.

2 Reduce waste, especially plastic

Signing up to Oddbox for fruit and vegetables, delivered in various sizes weekly or fortnightly, is a fantastic way to reduce waste. About a third of the world’s grown food never makes it to shoppers. This organisation taps into this supply chain, rescuing the carbon footprint which has already been created and ensuring that water that has been used in growing the food is also therefore not wasted.

Much of the food is rejected from the normal retailers simply because it is the “wrong” size, shape or colour, or because it was over supplied. If you are inspired to sign up, use this link for an introductory discount.

It comes with minimal plastic. Supermarkets, where most people buy their groceries, all have policies and targets to reduce their plastic and carbon footprints by certain dates. However, when shopping in stores we can all take steps to minimise the plastic we take away on fruit and vegetable, by choosing the loose items.

3 Take public transport or cycle and walk

Early last summer, the Government announced huge funding for councils to invest in cycle and walkways. This was timely, given the numbers of people looking to fulfil exercise hours or go out as family, when many of our regular activities had stopped during Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Have you noticed a reduction in the number of miles you drive? Or the amount of traffic going up and down local streets? Many people have made minimal journeys compared to just over a year ago, particularly because they are working from home.

We might have walked more, for leisure or to reach work and noticed where cycle and pathways might need improvement.

Food wrapper litter
Litter blights our countryside. Take it home when enjoying the outdoors

As we emerge from Covid-19 restrictions (hopefully permanently) why not encourage your offspring to go to school via public transport or walking? And why not do the same if and when the office reopens? Driving people onto public transport might seem counter-intuitive at present, but this collective way to travel is far better for carbon emissions than taking the car.

And when out enjoying open spaces, don’t be a “tosser” by dropping litter. Please take it home with you, so that others can enjoy the environment just as you have.

4 Back a campaign or join an action group

There are hundreds of ways in which you can back a campaign or become part of one very easily. Any number of campaigns would appreciate your support.

Two I have been tracking are as follows. The first is Teach The Future, which calls on the Government to make sustainability core to the education system and to eco-reform school buildings. Another is Power for People, which seeks the introduction of the Local Electricity Bill. This would put power – literally in the form of energy generation – in the hands of communities. They could sell it to the grid, or communities, at competitive rates.

Both have drafted Parliamentary bills. Both have garnered support from many organisations, individuals writing to their MPs and from MPs themselves.

Typically, you can sign up to newsletters which will then prompt actions such as writing to your MP periodically.

The recently formed Climate Action Redhill and Reigate offers residents the chance to make changes “not just on a personal level, but in the structures of our community“.

A Friends of the Earth Action Group, it urges people to carry out actions to counter climate change. They have already formed sub-groups, one aiming to reduce the carbon footprint on local buildings. Another aims to develop ideas for rewilding Earlswood Common (and possibly others). This could involve tree planting, improving biodiversity and carbon capture. Your professional background could be useful – could you offer energy surveys for example – as well as simply your willingness to help with rewilding when opportunities arise.

If you want to take action as a campaign device, Keep Britain Tidy’s annual Great British Spring Clean isn’t far away. Taking place between May 28 and June 13, this encourages residents to set a date for a community litter collection. Pick a site you know to be a problem. Galvanise a group. Contact your local council (Reigate and Banstead) for equipment (pickers, bags, gloves). They will also arrange a post-collection point for the greenspaces team to pick up what you have found. This year, Keep Britain Tidy is aiming for a million miles to be cleared in this fashion.

You can even get political on a local level – party political or not. Surrey Pension Act Now urges residents to ask questions of May’s local election candidates about eliminating council pension pot investments in fossil fuels. Surrey County Council currently invested about £100million in such companies, which is at odds with its declaration of a climate emergency.

5 Make your workplace more sustainable

If you haven’t yet realised the dream of working for a company or charity that specifically tackles climate issues, have you tried to influence change at your place of work?

Is there a committee you could join that is willing to drive change, perhaps? Those messages under email signatures are now all too familiar. “Do you really need to print? Consider the environment,” or similar. But did you know that sending an email increases your carbon footprint? It uses energy and the data has to be stored. We could all do with a few less emails.

Perhaps you could start a more obvious environmentally friendly action? Could you organise a litter pick during a lunchtime? And make it a regular event? Office staff working at home could each do this in their own street, even. Could you start a crisp packet collection point in the canteen or communal area, then take it to a TerraCycle recycling point?

Could you, like Sky when they began their Ocean Rescue campaign in 2017, cut plastic cutlery from the canteen? Are there other ways plastic could be reduced around the office? Could you order branded refillable water bottles?

How could your procurement team or office supplies buyers look at purchasing more sustainable products? These could range from recycled paper to ensuring the company buys its energy from renewable sources. Does the company use vehicles it could phase out to electric ones over time?

Could your company make use of office roof space by installing solar panels? Or pledge to replace boilers with heat pumps over time? Does your company have “corporate days out” for team bonding or socials? Could one of those be used helping conservation or wildlife charities?

These are just a few ways you can make a difference to tackle the climate emergency. How will you start?