Practical Tips for an inspiring and Sustainable 2021

How is everyone doing? This is Pedro, Social Media Engagement Intern for Live Green!. 

While celebrating the New Year, it came to my mind that millions of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions in hopes of improving some aspect of their lives each year. Generally speaking, most resolutions are about bettering ourselves instead of looking outwardly at how we can better our communities; however, by strategically selecting solutions to achieve personal goals, as well as generating great overall benefits, 2021 could have a great turn-out. In pursuing this, opportunities within all three sustainability facets (social, environmental, economic) offer a relevant pathway toward inspiring and sustaining ourselves, our communities and our world.

Environmental Sustainability

So, what does it mean to become more environmentally sustainable? In general, it means decreasing the ecological impact of the collection, use, and disposal of resources. Hence, being mindful and strategic about our everyday choices and decisions can make a significant impact, for instance:

1. Recycle properly: Recycling is often the first thing to come to mind when environmental sustainability is mentioned. While everyone knows about recycling, knowing how to recycle properly is challenging. There are still many ways to improve recycling to ensure what can get recycled, is recycled. According to EarthDay, items contaminated with food waste cannot be recycled; however, 25% of the recycling loads in the United States are contaminated with food waste – and instead landfilled. It’s also confusing to know what can be recycled. For example, not all plastics are recyclable and items containing multiple materials can seem recyclable, but would cause contamination – like plastic-coated coffee cups, laminated paper, and bubble-wrap envelopes. Therefore, it is important to stay conscious about how to properly recycle and stay informed on what can be recycled – the guidelines can change from city to city, state to state and country to country. Always read the signs on recycling bins to make sure that your decisions do not unintentionally cause the contents to be landfilled. Ask your recycling company and at ISU, rely on sources such as  Iowa State University Recycling Services.

2. Switch disposables for reusables:  Despite the popularity of recycling, there is still much ground to cover in reducing our wasteprint. For example, according to National Geographic, only 9% of plastic bottles are recycled. Implementing reusable items into our daily routine is a great way to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Water bottles and grocery bags are an excellent place to start. Reusable water bottles are a perfect substitute for the disposable water bottles that are carried around during outdoor activities, traveling or at the gym. Reusable grocery bags are made from durable materials to last for many uses and often provide a larger carrying capacity than their disposable counterparts.

3. Be aware of what you purchase: Being mindful of the durability and utility of the items we buy is an excellent strategy to reduce waste. This can apply to appliances, furniture, electronics and even clothing. Seeking out more durable items, ensures a longer usable lifespan – saving money in replacing items and saving natural resources required to produce new items. For example, consider clothing purchases. According to the World Economic Forum, it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt, and 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans – enough to provide one person eight cups of water a day for ten years. For all this resource demand, more than 85% of textiles produced are thrown away each year – the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes dumped in a landfill every second.

4. Use efficient transportation methods: Our consideration of transporting ourselves offers a great opportunity for inspiring and sustaining in 2020. According to Earthava, nearly ⅓ of all energy demanded in the United States is consumed in moving people and goods from place to place – with over half used by smaller vehicles (motorcycles, light trucks and personal vehicles). Using public transportation or the minimum number of cars on a trip, through carpooling, are excellent ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Choosing public transportation, even two of five days a week, results in a personal greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 25%. If you are in Ames, CyRide busses can take you anywhere in town (for ISU students, unlimited Cyride service is included in our student fees.)  Even better, opt for a completely emissions-free transportation option like walking or biking – healthy for you and the planet.  

Economic sustainability

Economic sustainability is centered around maintaining long-term economic growth while mitigating the adverse effects on the environment and society. A sustainable economy ensures investment in the support of a sustainable future for both the individual and community, for example:

1. Adjust the thermostat : According to, turning down the thermostat by one degree during winter (or up during summer) can reduce your energy bill up to three-percent. Besides, if we lower (or raise) the thermostat by 5-10 degrees at nighttime while we sleep, or when we are away for the day, the monthly energy bill can be about 15% cheaper each month! As such, a household with a $100 monthly energy bill will save $200 yearly -enough money to cover the costs of other services, like streaming subscriptions, fitness classes or a national park pass

2. Be mindful of your electronics’ power consumption: All electronics consume power while plugged into an outlet. The often-forgotten energy flow is known as phantom power or phantom energy. Devices with a remote control, such as TVs or gaming consoles, create the most phantom power. According to How Stuff Works, unplugging your devices when going to bed (or leaving for the day) is an easy way to save 5-10% on your electric bill, meaning that if your electric bill is $100 per month, you’d be able to save $120 each year. (Add that to the $200 you already saved from adjusting your thermostat – awesome!) According to TheSimpleDollar, an easy way to cut phantom power for multiple items is to use power strips where numerous items can be plugged in and then instantly shut off, just by turning off the power strip. For example, all of the electronics on your desk or small appliances on your kitchen counter.

3. Plan ahead for groceries: Impulsive buying can cause overspending at the grocery store. An easy way to curb this behavior is by making a list of items needed at home before heading out to the store, especially when it comes to food. Meal planning allows us to buy what we will use, actively follow a grocery budget and fulfill alimentary needs for at least a week.It also better informs us of what to purchase the next time we go to the grocery store. Meal planning can be carried out in many different ways (visit TheKitchn to explore a multitude of them). A popular meal prepping technique is first to establish the meals you want to have throughout the week and make a grocery list, then after acquiring the ingredients, prepare the meals, according to your plan, throughout the week. To find some delicious inspiration, explore the recipes recommended by the Live Green! Team on our Pinterest page.

4. Opt for local items: Naturally, when an item’s producer and distributor are closer to the final consumer, less time and resources are required for its delivery. Although this may not always equate to a product being less expensive for us to purchase, buying locally offers a great boost to local businesses and producers and a community’s economy. Local items, purchased locally means local revenue for families, local jobs for individuals and local investment to support community needs. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an average of two-thirds of every dollar ($0.67) spent at small businesses in the U.S. stays in the local community and creates an additional 50 cents in local business activity, as a result of employee spending and businesses purchasing local goods and services. Over $9.3 billion returns to local economies annually when each family spends just $10 a month at a local business. 

Social Sustainability

Social Sustainability is achieved when the formal and informal systems, structures, and relationships coexist and create a healthy and prosperous present and future community. Here’s some helpful advice:

1. Be mindful about the items you discard: Although we may have things that are no longer of use to us, they could be of service to others in our community – as well as saving them money, reducing landfilling and eliminating the demand for natural resources through avoiding the purchase of new items. An excellent way to help those in need, and keep useful items in use and out of the dumpster, is to donate products we no longer need to thrift shops or local non-profit organizations. Through various social media sharing platforms, items can also be placed directly. By donating, we positively impact both individuals and communities. Every item donated makes such a ripple effect. For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 146 million tons of waste is landfilled each year at an average cost of $45 per ton. Imagine the impact $6.5 million in saved disposal costs could offer to communities. If you need some ideas for donation outlets, websites like CharityNavigator can help you get started.

2. Keep informed: Nature provides many benefits to society, such as food, water, protection from climate changes, and even amenities/ locations which enrich an individual’s life. Keeping informed about the status of our local (and world) environment, as well as the impact of the goods and services we demand, can help us and our communities stay directed toward long-term prosperity. For some great ideas, I recommend reading the recent blog written by Live Green’s Campus and Community Engagement Intern, Caitlin Tipping, ‘’Sustainability-Minded Media”. Caitlin offers an impressive diversity of films, books, and podcasts related to sustainable living and learning.  

3. Show that you care: Society’s norms are continually evolving; often-times, the innovating behavior of forward-thinkers is what sparks change in habits and ideals. Therefore, by setting a good example, we can help shift our community’s inertia and focus towards a better and cleaner future for all. For example, supporting causes and initiatives that are important to you, through volunteering is a role model for others, as well as an economic boost to non-profits. The Independent Sector estimates each hour volunteered to provide $27.20 in cost avoidance and financial support. Communities have so many opportunities to offer volunteer support to, there really is something for everyone. In Ames, the Volunteer Center of Story County helps connect volunteer needs with volunteers. Outside of Ames, VolunteerMatch can assist with connections. Showing care is not just limited to volunteer opportunities or connections, every small daily action, such as supporting a struggling teammate, offering assistance to a neighbor or showing kindness to a stranger supports a sustainable present and future.

4. Give your leaders feedback: Change cannot happen, when the motivation for change is not communicated. Offer feedback to leaders, organizations and businesses about the future that is important to you through voting, writing letters, making phone calls and attending lectures and meetings on topics you are passionate about. Your feedback ensures awareness that can direct your community towards a sustainably prosperous future.

Living a more sustainable lifestyle in 2021, can contribute to building a connected and resilient community as well as a healthy environment for current and future generations. It also saves money to allow investment in what matters to us. So, how about it? Ready to embark on this journey?

Of course these tips are just a few ideas to get started. Do your own research, find your own motivation, determine your own goals and strategies. In addition, Live Green!’s social media campaign for January is focused on setting sustainable resolutions. Connect with our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for more tips, ideas and resources throughout the month. Please share your ideas with us too; there is so much we can learn from each other in making an inspiring and sustainable difference. 

Happy 2021!

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