Going green: 15 simple steps to living a more eco-friendly life

Posted by
Harriet Hall
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It’s all well and good, people telling us what not to do in order to live a greener and more environmentally friendly lifestyle. But more often than not, the changes required make these adaptations seem impossibly difficult to engineer in real life.

Stop driving (hello, sky-high train fares). Cycle to work (but mind that Routemaster). Avoid flying (‘Sorry, I can’t make that conference in France.’)

In reality, though, you don’t have to turn your life upside down to make a difference in the world.

So, if you’re keen to look after this home we call Earth, take a look over these simple changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Don’t use microbeads

If you’ve used an exfoliator, freshening toothpaste or deep kitchen cleaners, you may have unwittingly been using microbeads. But recent research has revealed the extent to which these miniscule balls are wreaking havoc on marine life.

The harmless-seeming beads are designed to wash down the sink, but 100,000 of them flow through the sewage system following the use of a single product and end up in the sea, in the stomachs of fish and seagulls. These creatures then suffer health problems, or are ingested by other creatures which are, in turn, eaten by humans – who are then at risk from the chemicals.

The worst part is, microbeads are entirely unnecessary – because the same results can be achieved from adding biodegradable natural ingredients such as salt or sugar to these beauty and cleaning products.

Be vigilant when shopping and check ingredients. These are the companies that are pledging not to use microbeads in their products.

Cut down on meat and fish

Going veggie can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint and save millions of lives worldwide.  Experts have cited animal agriculture as being responsible for 51% greenhouse gas emissions, and food-related emissions would be cut by a whopping 63% if people went veggie.

If you aren’t quite ready to go cold tofu, though, simply cutting down on your red meat consumption will go a long way – just one steak uses the equivalent water to two months’ worth of showers. If you can’t resist a burger at all, opt for grass-fed as opposed to corn fed beef – it has a lower carbon footprint. 

When it comes to fish, try only eating rod and line-caught kinds, as industrial fishing methods can kill huge numbers of other creatures including dolphins and sharks.

Work from home one day a week

If more of us worked from home one day a week instead of travelling in – by train or car – it could have a hugely positive environmental impact. According to The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, if one million people did this, it could eliminate three million tons of CO2 per year. Additionally, it would significantly reduce stress of having to fight through the commute, which reduces the pressures on the NHS.

Say no to junk mail

Those passive aggressive ‘no junk mail’ signs are not the sign of a Negative Nelly. In fact, unsubscribing from catalogues you never read, and putting a sign on your letter box can be a small move to take to make a massive difference to reducing the amount that is sent out and - by extension - will likely reduce the demand.

It's also worth making sure you're signed up to online banking and cancelling those pesky paper statements. Not only do they use unnecessary paper and ink, they provide a regular reminder that you're still in the red - which we really don't need.


With the increasing popularity of Uber, many more of us are opting for cabs when we’d usually take the night bus. In order to cut down on these additional emissions, click on the Uber-pool option, so one car makes two journeys. Also, you might meet some fun friends in the process.

Or some weirdos – it’s a gamble. 

Remember a tote bag

Anya Hindmarch was at the vanguard of the tote bag movement. Her ‘I'm not a plastic bag’ was not only an iconic fashion piece, but alerted us all to how wasteful it is to say yes to a plastic bag at the supermarket. Try to carry a tote bag with you (they fold up real small and make a huge difference.)

While the new 5p charge has brought plastic bag use down by 80% in some stores, there are always going to be days when we make an impromptu dash into Sainsbury's Local en route home and forget to bring a tote. Don't feel guilty and attempt to carry all your groceries in your arms life a human cornucopia, though, instead, take your bag and reuse it as a binliner.

Slow down, drivers

If you’ve got a need for speed, you might want to reconsider. Thinking you’re saving time by speeding between lights and then slamming on the breaks rather than just driving at a reasonable pace the entire way is not only illogical (hello: red lights at every corner), but it actually increases your fuel usage. Slowing down a little and maintaining one speed without the need for multiple gear changes will use far less petrol. This obviously saves money - in case you needed further incentive.

Get a car wash (yeah)

You might think you’re being good by washing your own car on a sunny Sunday, but, surprisingly, you’d be better off going to an automatic car wash. Washing your own – according to – drains 10 gallons of water every minute, as opposed to 15 to 32 gallons over all in an automatic wash.

Also, when you're waiting to meet a friend, don't forget to switch off that engine.

Buy your groceries online

Felling guilty for having your groceries delivered? No need. Shopping from your laptop instead of driving to the supermarket is like carpooling instead of going solo. When you shop with Ocado it will also handily tell you when there’s another van in your area- which is not only cheaper, but significantly more eco-friendly. Also, you avoid picking up every item in the supermarket you didn’t go in for – which helps loosen those purse strings. 

Switch off

It’s surprising how many people in offices don’t shut down their computers at night. Get into the habit of shutting down – it saves energy and your computer will run smoother the next day, too. Apply the same logic to your television, radio and microwave. These things don’t need to be on 24/7 – and those little flashing red lights can negatively affect your sleep, anyway. Win win. 

Abandon the washing up

Think you’re being eco by washing up? Think again. Dishwashers use half the energy, one sixth of the water and less soap than handwashing. Plus, they will save you valuable time that could be spent composting or hugging trees. Think about it. 

Goodbye Teflon

Opt for cast iron pans – they are naturally non-stick and the Teflon alternatives are environmentally damaging, created by the application of toxic chemicals that are then released into the air when you cook. Additionally, non-stick bits can flake off into your food over time which can be dangerous to your health because they contain carcinogens. Not so practical now, are they?

Plants in the office

The equipment in an office, from the chemicals in the plastic furniture to cleaning products and even the paint and carpets all emit harmful chemicals. Counteract this by bringing in some plants to your office which can absorb these gasses and bring in more oxygen. Particularly effective (and rather beautiful) are peace lilies, palms and Fiscus plants, which remove formaldehyde from the air. 

Stop drinking bottled water

Bottled water is one of the least eco things you can consume, not to mention the biggest waste of money for those of us in the West who can get it on tap.

Estimated to have a carbon foot print of around 82.8g for half a litre, bottled water is no friend to the environment when consumed at the rate we do in the UK. In 2014 us Brits drank a mammoth 2.6 billion litres of the stuff (you do the maths). Additionally, many of those bottles will have ended up in landfill rather than recycling plants. Oh, and tap water is said to be safer to drink, anyway. 

Bring your own

"Do you want that to-go?" *Cashier throws in four napkins and a plastic fork and puts it all in a paper bag.*

It just makes sense to have packed lunch. Also, it's the frugal way - which means that pub session on Friday night won't hurt as much. 

"I don't have any tupperware" we hear you say. Reuse those plastic takeaway boxes and hey presto.