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12 Nov 2021

The 10 best simple ways you can be more sustainable

The most effective ways to reduce your environmental impact, plus how to calculate your carbon footprint

There are plenty of things that we can do to lighten our individual footprint on our planet. But which are really best for the environment? Here are our 10 best tips from across a range of areas.

In November, negotiators at COP26 considered ways we might collectively limit global warming to 1.5°C. From global finance deals to public empowerment, amid a host of announcements and pledges, it wasn't clear what we at home should be doing to help.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, it makes sense to focus on the actions that have the most impact.

In the UK, around three quarters of our personal carbon emissions come from just three things: how we heat and power our homes, the way we travel and the food we eat.

Making a sustainable swap in those top three areas - such as eating a plant-based diet, getting rid of your petrol or diesel car, or switching to a low-carbon heating system - can make the biggest difference. But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Making lots of small changes to your lifestyle can really add up, and they might be easier to achieve (and stick to) than big ones.

Below, we've rounded up the 10 best ways to live sustainably in 2022 and beyond.

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Top 10 planet-saving tips

1. Be more energy efficient

Saving energy at home is a great place to start. Draughtproofing and improving insulation will make your home cosier and cheaper to heat. Try to keep your thermostat around 19°C, and choose LED lightbulbs and appliances with high efficiency ratings to keep your electric consumption down.

Get started with five easy DIY jobs to improve your home's energy efficiency or find more detailed help in our home insulation advice guides.

Watch: Four cost-effective ways to insulate your home

Find out how to save money by switching to more energy efficient appliances and learn how to use greener energy without switching supplier.

It's not right for everyone, but if you are in a position to, you could also consider switching to a low-carbon heating system such as a heat pump, especially if you live off the gas grid.

2. Eat more plant-based food

Plant-based foods tend to have a lower carbon footprint than meat and dairy, and eating less meat is nearly always better than eating even the most sustainable meat. In most cases, chicken, eggs, and pork have a lower footprint than beef and lamb.

To reduce your carbon footprint, replace some or all the beef, lamb, and dairy in your diet with lower carbon alternatives. And where you do buy those products, look for farmers using sustainable methods.

For easy swaps, head to our guides to some of the most popular plant-based meat alternatives and look at which plant-based milk alternatives are best.

Eat seasonally, cut food waste as far as possible and put what's left in your compost heap or food waste collection bin, if you have one.

Check out these five ways to make your diet more sustainable and how to eat an eco-friendly diet in winter.

3. Travel sustainably

Choose to walk and cycle or take public transport rather than driving, at least some of the time. Make your next car an electric one, and consider joining a car club if you don't need to use a car regularly.

Read more: the best electric cars in 2021

Minimise flying, especially long-haul, and choose holidays with a smaller carbon footprint.

4. Buy better

Avoid single-use and disposable items, and buy reusable products instead. Choose good-quality products that will last, use them for longer and try to repair before you replace.

We've added Eco Buys to our product reviews for fridge freezers, built-in ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and kettles. These products are ones that not only ace our tests but are also energy efficient and long-lasting, so you can be confident they are a more sustainable choice.

Read more:what to do when common appliance faults happen

Use refillable products where possible. Find out how to buy refillables such as washing-up liquid and shower gel, and which supermarkets sell packaging-free products.

5. Recycle, resell, donate

When you're tempted to throw something away, remember: there is no such thing as 'away'. Most non-recycled waste goes to landfill or incineration, where it produces greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution. Sell or donate anything that still has a useful life, and recycle the rest.

Read more about how to improve your recycling at home and how to recycle electrical items.

6. Use what you already own

You may have heard about 'shopping your wardrobe' - creating outfits from clothing and accessories that you already own. But you can also make use of other unloved items you'd forgotten about, by repairing, upcycling and repurposing things you have stashed away.

If you do need something, look for refurbished or second-hand goods instead of buying brand new. Borrow or hire rather than buying items like power tools that you don't use often.

Find out what to look for when buying a second-hand or refurbished laptop or refurbished mobile phone.

7. Invest wisely

Your savings, investments and pension could be financing fossil fuel companies and other industries that are harming the environment. Check where your money is going to see if you can shrink your financial footprint.

Read more:ten simple ways to make your money greener.

8. Grow a greener garden

If you have a patch of ground, however big or small, gardening sustainably is good for you and the planet, as it can help absorb carbon dioxide, support wildlife and reduce the risk of flooding.

To make your garden as green as it can be, see our tips for eco-friendly gardening.

9. Save water

Using less water is a good thing in itself, as it's a precious resource. But at home we often also use energy to heat the water, such as boiling a kettle, taking a shower, and running the dishwasher or washing machine, so reducing hot water use cuts greenhouse gas emissions and saves money.

Find out how to save water in the bathroom, kitchen and garden.

10. Be a savvy sustainable shopper

To make the right choices for the planet, people need to know what information they can trust, and what's just 'greenwashing'.

Hold companies to account by asking questions about sustainability, report misleading green claims, and avoid buying products that are unsustainable.

Head to our advice on how to spot greenwashing when you're shopping.

How do you calculate your carbon footprint?

If you're already doing all the things above and living sustainably - congratulations!

Every individual and household has a different carbon footprint depending on their needs and lifestyle. So to find out where you can make the biggest personal changes, it's worth calculating your individual carbon footprint using an online tool. This can highlight your most carbon-intensive habits, and help you discover changes you might not have thought about.

This carbon footprint calculator, from environmental consultants Carbon Footprint Ltd, uses detailed information about all the main areas of household consumption. It takes a little while to complete, but should give you a comprehensive carbon footprint estimate using UK-based data.

If you prefer a quicker check-box quiz, try the WWF environmental footprint calculator instead. Answer a series of simple, multiple-choice questions to find out how you score. The calculator also gives tips to help you to reduce your carbon footprint.