A guide to living sustainably

The following are examples of how we at Humanist Climate Action encourage humanists to adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles.

Reduce carbon-intense consumer goods in daily life

  • Reduce consumption of single-use disposables. Disposable items such as water bottles, food packaging, and plastic bags are heavily polluting and carry a large carbon footprint. It is easy to cut down on these products through minor changes to everyday consumption, such as carrying reusable carrier bags and travel mugs, storing food in reusable containers, and avoiding products with unnecessary packaging.
  • Buy second-hand. Making a single new white shirt produces the same carbon emissions as a 35-mile car journey. Buying second-hand goods diverts waste from landfill and reduces the large environmental impacts of manufacturing new products. From clothes to personal appliances to furniture, second-hand products also tend to be less expensive.
  • Mend, fix, and reuse. Rather than replacing a product when it is damaged, it can be given a longer lifespan by mending it. Like buying second-hand, this helps to reduce the need for manufacturing new products.

Be aware of the carbon impact of your lifestyle and consumer choices

  • Calculate your environmental footprint using the WWF’s Footprint Calculator, which asks questions and compares your footprint to the UK and global averages. Dividing your footprint into food, travel, home, and ‘stuff’, the calculator helps to determine which of your lifestyle and consumer choices are the most carbon-intensive and provides tips on how to reduce your impact in each of these areas.
  • Research companies. If the companies you buy from do not support action on climate change, are not transparent about their impact, or have a poor environmental track record, consider buying from other companies that have shown a commitment to environmental causes.
  • Determine how climate-friendly your local area is. Friends of the Earth’s ‘How climate-friendly is your community?’ tool shows how environmentally friendly your local authority is based on tree cover, transport, housing, waste, and renewable energy. The full breakdown of the results gives information on the area’s environmental impacts and how to ameliorate them.

Reduce meat and dairy products in your diet

  • Meat-free Mondays. Livestock production accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and going meat-free even once a week can reduce your carbon footprint. The average meat-containing diet is responsible for nearly double the amount of carbon emissions produced by plant-based diets.
  • Find plant-based recipes. Knowing how to make healthy and substantial plant-based meals makes it far easier to reduce meat consumption. New dishes can be learnt from vegetarian or vegan cookbooks, or the many recipes available for free online.
  • Build your meals around vegetables. It is easier to start cutting down meat consumption if you view meat as a side, rather than the centrepiece of every meal. Substitute meat with grains, pulses, or vegetables and switch gradually to a plant-based diet.

Use cleaner energy

  • Switch to a green tariff. Green energy tariffs were once more expensive but have fallen in price as more people have shown interest, and this is likely to continue now that green energy production has reached a record high in the UK. With green tariffs, providers promise to match your consumption with renewable energy fed into the National Grid, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions created by conventional energy production. Further, avoid Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificate-only green tariffs. On the surface these tariffs claim that their energy is 100% from renewable sources as they can produce REGO certificates attesting to this. However, there is a market in the sale of these certificates separate from the market for the energy. Therefore it is possible for a company to buy certificates saying their energy is renewable without ever actually having to buy any renewable energy. This is ‘green-washing’.
  • Consider solar panels at home. Depending on the suitability of your home, installing solar panels can be easier than many imagine and, contrary to popular belief, does not require routine sunshine to generate energy. The new smart export guarantee means that households can be paid by energy companies for their excess renewable energy produced using solar PV panels.
  • Heat your home with renewable energy. Renewable heating systems that can be installed at home include ground and air-source heat pumps, solar water heating, and thermal stores, all of which emit less carbon than conventional systems. The renewable heat incentive means those using the systems at home can get quarterly payments for heat produced.
  • Insulate your home. Insulation helps to slow the flow of heat in and out of your home, meaning less energy is needed to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Consider insulating your loft and sealing wall cavities. Efficient insulation, including loft, wall, and window insulation, can be far more effective than alternative energy generation in reducing your carbon footprint and is more likely to provide a quick return on your investment.
  • Upgrade to a cleaner boiler. Boilers are responsible for 60% of household carbon emissions as of 2008 so, if you’re not going to introduce renewable sources of energy (as discussed above), it is a good idea to upgrade an old boiler to a newer, more energy-efficient model, especially if your boiler is more than 15 years old. It may look expensive but greater efficiency means lower energy bills, making it a worthwhile long-term investment.
  • Install energy-efficient appliances, such as LED bulbs. Thanks to longer lifespans and greater energy efficiency, LED bulbs save 85% of the energy used by halogen bulbs. When replacing home appliances, look for those with higher energy efficiency ratings.

Travel less and in more sustainable ways

  • Reduce air travel. Air travel is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions and has a large carbon footprint. Consider holidays closer to home and using less carbon-intensive transport, such as trains or coaches. Business flights can be avoided by using videoconferencing, which also saves time and money.
  • Walk, cycle, or use public transport. Cars account for 60% of the European Union’s transport-related emissions. Cycling and walking produce no emissions, are cost-effective, and provide a source of exercise. For longer journeys, the number of cars on the road can be reduced by using public transport.
  • Drive an electric car. If you do wish to buy a car, consider an electric one. The average electric vehicle produces only a third of the carbon emissions of a conventional petrol or diesel car. The manufacture of electric cars is carbon-intensive, however, so the need for a car should be assessed before.

Plant trees

  • Take part in a tree-planting initiative. As a natural carbon sink, trees are important in combating climate change. Charities such as Trees for Cities and the Tree Council provide opportunities for involvement in tree-planting projects and campaigns, and TCV and the Woodland Trust have resources to help set up tree-planting projects within local communities. Humanist Climate Action will hold a tree-planting as part of its launch.
  • Plant a tree at home. Planting a tree doesn’t require specialist knowledge but it is important for the wellbeing of both the tree and its surrounding environment that you know where to plant it, what kind of tree to plant and how to look after it as it grows. The London Assembly provides some useful information.
  • Donate to a tree-planting charity. If planting trees is not an option, donate to a charity dedicated to planting them. Some charities such as the Woodland Trust and Trees for Cities help to plant trees in the UK, and others such as TREE AID plant in developing regions.

Divest from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable, environmentally-friendly industries

  • Divest your money from fossil fuels. In 2015, the UK’s five largest banks were also the country’s five biggest investors in fossil fuels. Write to your bank about its investments and consider switching to a bank that invests in greener industries.
  • Encourage institutions to divest from fossil fuels. Local authorities, universities, and trade unions can be lobbied to divest from fossil fuels and to invest in environmentally-friendly industries. Fossil Free UK provides a guide on how to lobby local governments on divestment.
  • Take part in a divestment campaign. There are numerous petitions, events, and other initiatives dedicated to encouraging divestment from fossil fuels. Fossil Free UK is the UK’s biggest divestment campaign and offers several ways to get involved.