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10 Steps to Living a Net-Zero Lifestyle

More people are taking individual responsibility for climate change, seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint and live a net-zero lifestyle. To reduce the impacts of global warming, people must reduce their carbon footprint to under two tons.

According to the Nature Conservancy, the average American’s carbon footprint is 16 tons — globally, one person’s carbon footprint is about four tons. To reduce the impacts of global warming, people must reduce their carbon footprint to under two tons.

Of course, living with net-zero emissions is easier said than done and unlikely to occur overnight. Nevertheless, these 10 steps to living waste and emissions-free can help you achieve your carbon footprint goals.

1.   Reduce Material Waste

The first step to living sustainably is to reduce as much material waste as possible. The U.S. produced 292.4 million tons of landfill waste in 2018 — equivalent to one person generating 4.9 pounds daily. Waste accumulation has significantly increased pressure on our nation’s landfills, with much of the debris overflowing into the environment.

Consider upcycling, donating unused or gently-used goods and avoiding excess packaging to reduce waste. Properly disposing of trash and recyclables will also curb your waste footprint.

2.   Purchase Sustainable Goods

Waste reduction isn’t a new concept — people have been finding ways to eliminate excess waste for 15 years. However, more people are interested in purchasing sustainable products to offset debris generation than ever.

Recent studies show that 85% of people have shifted purchasing habits to account for greater sustainability. Another 34% are willing to pay more for green goods and services and improve their carbon footprint.

Of course, most people report high costs for sustainable goods hindering their transition. According to a recent survey by British supermarket chain Asda, 76% of consumers say lower prices for sustainable products would enable them to live greener.

In the meantime, you should buy whatever you can sustainably, from seasonal produce to green-manufactured items. Just be aware of greenwashing claims hindering your progress toward net zero.

3.   Eat Plant-Based Foods

Scientists suggest that plant-based diets are beneficial for planetary health. According to one study, vegetarian and vegan diets can reduce agricultural land use by 76% and greenhouse gases from unsustainable farming practices by 49%.

A transition toward plant-based eating can also help to reduce food scraps. Since fruits and vegetables only last so long, consumers are more inclined to plan their meals and buy less to ensure food doesn’t get thrown out.

To further improve your net-zero lifestyle, consider composting whatever leftovers you accumulate. You then have an organic source of soil for your at-home vegetable garden and landscaping needs.

4.   Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Our plastic consumption is out of control and significantly contributes to landfill overflow and harm to marine wildlife. Each year, single-use plastics seep into our oceans and put turtles, seabirds, fish and large marine mammals at risk of disease and death.

Plastic bags, bottles, utensils and everyday items like toothbrushes and microbead facial exfoliators are just some of the many plastics we use excessively and throw away. Reducing plastic consumption by opting for reusable, recyclable and biodegradable goods is much better for the environment and improves our zero-waste lifestyle.

5.   Mix Your Own Cleaning Solutions

Many commercial cleaning solutions contain toxic chemicals that harm ecosystems and wildlife. When you clean the sink or bathroom, solutions go down the drain and empty into our waterways. Additionally, chemical cleaners emit hazardous fumes that negatively affect your respiratory health over time.

It’s best to create safe cleaning solutions at home using everyday household items you can find in your pantry. For example, baking soda, lemon juice and white distilled vinegar are natural ingredients that leave your home squeaky clean.

6.   Use Alternative Transportation

Many people find owning and using a car convenient for getting wherever they need to be. However, cars produce ample amounts of greenhouse gases and reduce air quality.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the country’s transportation carbon emissions reached 1.7 billion metric tons in 2021 — more than any other economic sector.

Using public transportation or finding emissions-free alternatives to get around — perhaps biking or walking short distances — will help you reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

7.   Program Your Thermostat

Most people aren’t maximizing their home’s energy efficiency — but programming your thermostat can make a significant difference. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends setting the thermostat back 7–10° Fahrenheit for eight hours daily, reducing your heating and cooling costs by 10%.

It’s best to program your thermostat to 68° F during waking hours and lower at night. If the thought of sleeping in cooler temperatures has you shivering, setting the thermostat between 60° and 67° F enables your body to release heat from its core and boost melatonin production.

8.   Wash Clothes and Dishes Efficiently

Conserve water by washing your clothes and dishes more efficiently. Your clothes washer and dishwasher use ample hot water to clean household belongings and eliminate germs and dirt.

However, you can reduce water consumption and energy by only washing dishes or clothes with a full load. Likewise, it would help to run the washing machine with cold water, which will better preserve the quality of your clothes anyway.

Today’s ENERGY STAR-certified washing machine models use 30% less water and 20% less energy than conventional washing machines. That helps American families — who typically run 300 loads of laundry annually — save money, water and energy effectively.

9. Unplug

Remember to unplug and flip the light switch when you’re not using a room or logging into your devices — leaving lights on and appliances plugged in wastes energy, driving up your utility bills.

Unplugging is one of the easiest ways to live a net-zero lifestyle and reduce your carbon footprint. It might take some practice to build the habit. However, watching your energy bills go down each month will be the incentive you need.

10. Quit Smoking

It’s well-known that cigarettes pose a significant health risk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that smokers are 15-30 times more likely to develop lung cancer, while cigarettes cause 80%–90% of lung cancer deaths.

Of course, there are also several environmental risks to smoking cigarettes. While one can expect cigarettes to impact air quality, the tobacco industry accounts for 600 million degraded trees, 22 billion tons of water and 84 million tons of carbon emissions. Most tobacco farms are located in low-to-middle-income nations where resources are already limited.

One of the best ways to live a net-zero lifestyle and improve your health is to quit smoking.

A Net-Zero Lifestyle is Healthier for You and the Planet

Living a net-zero lifestyle has many benefits, from creating a better planet to protecting your life. You can do your part for the environment and personal well-being by reducing your carbon footprint and forming an eco-conscious mindset.

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