Every product we buy, journey we take and lifestyle choice we make influences the natural world. But the good news is that there are plenty of simple, positive changes we can all make to our daily routines that can help mitigate the effects of the climate and nature crisis. If we consider our food, electricity, transport and textiles as valuable and finite, we can help conserve the planet’s resources. Gauge your personal carbon impact using WWF’s footprint calculator, then choose a few meaningful changes that you’ll enjoy sticking to.
“No one is too small to make a difference,” said Greta Thunberg, and by sharing the benefits of a lower-carbon lifestyle, we can inspire others to shift their mindset and transition towards making more eco-conscious decisions. So invite your friends round for a delicious plant-based feast, choose to travel by train instead of plane for your next European break and get a smart meter installed at home.
1. Switch to clean energy
A revolution in Britain’s energy infrastructure is urgently required in order to meet the government’s target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but we can all help to make this happen. Just by having a smart meter installed in your home, you’ll be helping upgrade our energy infrastructure to one that can incorporate more renewable power, reduce our country’s reliance on fossil fuels and prevent energy from being wasted when it travels from the point of generation to supply. At home this winter, turn the thermostat down where possible, wash clothes at 30C, and ask your supplier about switching to a greener tariff. To become even more energy efficient, track your energy usage with a smart meter’s in-home display and check the National Grid’s carbon intensity forecast to see when demand for clean, green energy is lowest in your area.
2. Know where your money goes
“Changing banks could be one of the easiest and most effective things you do for the environment,” explains Fanny Calder, WWF’s director of campaigns. According to NGO BankTrack, top UK banks have invested nearly £150bn into financing fossil fuel extraction since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2016. Ensure your money isn’t fuelling dirty business and practices that damage the environment: “Find out exactly what your bank’s investment policy and portfolio is, then ask your bank to strengthen its environmental policies, such as not financing fossil fuels, progressing towards net-zero carbon goals, and supporting renewable energy, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions to climate change,” says Calder.
3. Eat sustainably
By eating seasonally, and reducing your meat and dairy consumption, your diet will be more sustainable. More people now identify as flexitarian, choosing a plant-based diet with sustainably sourced meat and fish eaten on a less frequent basis. Look out for sustainable certifications such as the MSC label on seafood, and the Fairtrade logo. Currently there is no widely used eco-label for sustainable palm oil, but the Giki app allows you to see which products you buy every day contain sustainable palm oil. As Calder explains, food production is “a major driver of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss. It’s responsible for more than 60% of biodiversity loss worldwide and almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
4. Be a conscious shopper
Our throwaway culture is one of the biggest threats to the environment – especially at Christmas, according to Calder. “Consuming less saves you money and reduces your environmental footprint,” she says, and advises supporting eco-friendly brands, ditching single-use items, and making the most of what we already own. Nationally, there’s a growing movement to repair and borrow – from the Edinburgh Tool Library to London’s Library of Things, members can loan anything from camping equipment and musical instruments to furniture. Secondhand clothes are increasingly fashionable too, from pre-loved vintage treasures in charity shops to the latest trends on Depop.
5. Reduce your waste
Get creative with your leftovers, batch cook and freeze meals, and compost food scraps. Don’t panic buy this festive season, plan your meals and your Christmas stockings – be mindful that every household item or food product carries with it an environmental footprint of its own. Consumerism drives the linear “make, take and dispose” model, so support a more sustainable, circular economy by questioning whether a product can be recycled, reused or repurposed. If not, find alternatives. “It’s crucial that next-generation businesses design their product lines to fit within circular economies, and that we significantly reduce our waste to save things ending up in landfill or being burnt,” says Calder.
6. Make space for nature
Whether it’s a window box, plant pots or a lawn with a pond, gardens act as a vital national network of connected green spaces. “Gardens are intrinsically diverse, with different flowers, herbs, grasses, vegetables, tall plants and small plants,” says Mark Wright, WWF’s director of science. “Our native wildlife needs these green corridors – without gardens, our parks and moorland become islands in a sea of biological desert.” Grow plants that attract pollinators and provide homes for insects, to create a garden buzzing with wildlife.
7. Speak up
Be vocal about the climate crisis. Write to your MP about your concerns and join the important conversations – collectively we can create the critical mass of political pressure for change. “Politicians act on the issues that their constituents care about,” says Calder. “Let them know that you want them to take action so that you can play your part in responding to this climate and nature emergency – without government support we won’t have the net-zero homes or decarbonised transport that we so badly need.”
Part of Britain’s commitment to creating a more sustainable, low-carbon future includes making our energy network “smarter” – implementing digital tech to make our energy system more responsive to increased demand and variable wind speed. By collecting data on our energy use through smart meters, our network can better understand, plan for and balance out peaks and troughs in demand, making it easier to integrate renewable energy sources.
This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB, a government-backed organisation tasked with informing Great Britain about the smart meter rollout.