The idea of sustainability pops up everywhere, from food and transportation to fashion and marketing. But what does the big buzzword actually mean, and can it work when applied to small daily habits?
“Sustainability is something that you can have work for you,” says Kathryn Kellogg, the blogger and activist behind the Skillshare Original Sustainable Living Basics: Simple Steps to Make an Impact. “It influences every single area of your life. Whether that’s clothing, makeup, food, or how you shop, there are so many different ways that you can make sustainable choices.”
Kellogg herself adheres to a “zero-waste lifestyle,” which on its most basic level means sending nothing to landfills. For Kathryn, though, it can mean many other things, too. “When we think about waste, there’s so much more than just what we put in our trash can,” she explains. “You can have a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of resources, or a waste of money.”
Here, Kellogg touches on a few small-but-better changes you can make in your life—and shares how her own habits have been affected by sustainable living. “Every choice you make has some impact. So just go ahead and forget about being perfect,” says Kellogg. “You can’t make a perfect choice for the environment. You can only make a better choice.”
Start with a “trash audit”—yes, going through your garbage—to get a feel for what you’re tossing after just a few uses. (Kellogg’s course provides a worksheet to help you list and categorize what you find.) Then, substitute the items you see most often with reusable alternatives. “These are going to be some small wins for you to get immediately under your belt,” says Kellogg. Straws, grocery bags, coffee cups, or water bottles make easy first steps.
You can benefit the planet and your bank account by simply consuming less. Kellogg suggests a 30-day “buy ban:” relying primarily on what you already own and renting, repairing, or borrowing anything else. When you do make a new purchase, do it mindfully. ”Every time you buy something, you are voting for the kind of future that you want,” explains Kellogg. Invest in high-quality, sustainable staples from local makers or ethical brands. And for the trendier items? Shop secondhand.
Building Healthier Habits
Small improvements to everyday tasks add up. Try switching your cleaning products (Kathryn’s DIY solution is half vinegar, half water) or reusing kitchen grease you might normally throw away as a cooking fat. You can also make a difference by prioritizing plant-based dishes—or simply redirecting the scraps. “Fifty percent of a household’s waste is made up of organic matter,” says Kellogg. “If you really want to make a huge impact on the amount of waste that you’re throwing out, composting is a great place to start.”
Growing Your Impact
Individual actions are important, but to implement meaningful change, business and political leaders need to take up the charge. Kellogg suggests tracking lawmakers’ environmental activity via the Sierra Club and contacting your representatives about bills that could affect the environment.
You can also set up recurring donations to the causes that matter to you—Kellogg likes Earthjustice, Project Drawdown, and Oceana—and encourage friends and family to get involved, too. “When you switch over to a zero-waste lifestyle, you’re going to be much more focused on the things that truly bring you joy,” says Kellogg, who recommends sharing how these choices have benefitted you personally. “You’re cutting off all the excess and focusing on the things that matter.”
More Classes for Earth Day
Try your hand at nature photography, a more sustainable routine, or botanical illustration.