27 Sustainable Living Ideas in 2023 for Busy City Dwellers

Ever found yourself dreaming of a greener lifestyle? Only to be put off by visions of trekking to the community garden with a bucket full of kitchen scraps or trying to balance on a bike in your best heels?

If so, you’re not alone. We all know the typical tips for eco-living: cut back on driving, eat plant-based, and compost. And sure, they’re great, but let’s face it, they’re not always practical.

You’re a busy city dweller. You’ve got meetings to run to, errands to do, and a latté with your name on it waiting at the local café.

There was a time when we decided to ditch our car for a couple of foldies. We also compost and take the bucket to a local community garden every week. When we decided not to drive anymore I had to strap the bucket to the foldy and cycle it to the garden. I know! One step too far!

But what if I told you there are ways to shrink your carbon footprint that doesn’t involve breaking a sweat or sacrificing precious time? Ways that complement your urban lifestyle rather than clash with it, and you won’t have to give up those heels.

If that sounds more like your cup of sustainably-sourced tea, then stick around. Here are 27 practical, time-efficient sustainable living tips, tailored for the busy city dweller. Because saving the planet shouldn’t feel like a part-time job. Let’s dive in.

We earn affiliate commissions if you happen to make a purchase through our link. We love you for that. Read our affiliate disclosure to learn more.

What Are the Best Sustainable Living Ideas for Busy City Dwellers?


So, you’re all set to tread a little lighter on our planet? Then you’re in the right place. This isn’t about turning your world upside down. It is about fine-tuning your city life to strike a greener chord.

Are you keen to optimize your home’s energy efficiency, support local farmers, or practice conscious shopping? We’ve got something for you. Our handpicked sustainable living ideas offer practical, easy steps toward a more sustainable life, wherever you are on your eco-friendly journey.

You can be the upcycling eco-warrior who knows how to replace a microwave light bulb when you’re retired. For now, let’s focus on the ways you can make a difference and still have a life.

Get ready to embark on a more mindful lifestyle. One that’ll help you reduce your footprint on the planet and make you feel good about it. Let’s get started.

Light bulb with an image of the earth superimposed on it

Energy Efficiency

1. Light up the Night With LEDs

Ditch those power-hungry conventional bulbs and move into the light with LEDs. They’re not only great at conserving energy but they also stick around much longer. 

2. Outsmart the ‘Vampires’

‘Vampire power,’ the sneaky power that’s being drawn by your off electronic devices gets a reality check with smart power strips. They’re great at sneaking up on idle devices and cutting off the power. 

3. Flaunt Your High-Efficiency Appliances

When it’s time to bid farewell to an old appliance, opt for the attractive, energy-efficient models. A lot of countries now use the energy star label on products to indicate which are energy efficient. They might ask for a higher initial commitment, but trust me, they repay with lower energy bills.

Beautiful bubbling stream through trees

Water Conservation

4. Be a Leak Detective

Keep an eye out for rogue drips. A small leak might seem innocent, but it can waste gallons of water. Check your faucets and pipes for leaks and fix them immediately to conserve water.

If you live in an apartment building, inform your building maintenance of any leaks in communal areas. Get those leaks fixed and be the hero in your water conservation story.

5. Stop Flushing (So Often) and Save a Bunch of Water

Water is a finite resource. Of all the water on Earth, just 3% is fresh water. It’s critical to life on our planet and yet it’s under constant threat from pollution, global warming, overdevelopment and more.

Ever since Cape Town’s Day Zero scare a few years back, Sporty and I have tried our best to remain water-wise. We switch off the shower to soap up and we don’t leave the tap running while brushing our teeth.

Another habit we kept is not flushing the loo after every use. A toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (even more if you live in an old house with outdated plumbing) and the average person flushes about five times a day.

More if you drink lots of water and green tea.

Not flushing after every pee can save you a lot of water. It’s not as gross as it sounds, so long as you have a bottle of earth-friendly odour eliminator on hand to diffuse matters.

While we’re on the topic, the type of toilet paper you use can also make a big difference. If you can afford recycled toilet paper, then get it. Otherwise, stick with plain white, as it contains less inky additives.

6. Go With the Low-Flow

Replace showers and faucets in your home can with low-flow versions. Shower yourself with eco-friendliness by choosing low-flow fixtures for your home. They offer the same utility while using a lot less water—a win-win for you and the planet! They can reduce water usage by as much as 50%. A big contribution towards water conservation!

Waste Reduction

7. You Can’t Avoid Packaging, So Make Better Packaging Choices

Living with zero waste in the city is almost impossible. Sure, a lot of people have come close, but it’s super challenging and time-consuming. (Which is not to say we shouldn’t try, mind you. Ever heard of eco-bricking)

If you’re not in a position to keep a tote bag full of mason jars and food containers on your person, then make sure you opt for recyclable packaging.

Choose things that come in glass jars rather than plastic, for example. At least they can be reused, if not by you then by someone else.

Understanding how long it takes for something to biodegrade will help inform your choices. But some common sense is needed. While a glass bottle takes much longer to biodegrade than a plastic-coated milk carton, glass is still the better choice. 

There’s not much you can do with an empty milk carton, but a glass bottle has the potential to be used over and over and over again. Also, consider filtering your water instead of buying bottled water.

Another important aspect is knowing what recycling symbols mean. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems. Recycling programs differ depending on where you live.

This means you’ll need to get in touch with your local drop-off depot to find out exactly what you can and can’t send to them. 

Sorry, I know I promised you easy. Look, it’s all about making the effort. Aim to buy as much as possible in glass and paper and avoid plastic bags as far as possible. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. 

8. Be a Trendsetter with Reusable Shopping Bags

Forget single-use plastics. This simple switch reduces the amount of waste produced. Make a statement with reusable shopping bags and enjoy a lighter environmental footprint (and possibly some rewards from your friendly neighborhood store).

9. Brush Like a Panda (Green up Your Oral Hygiene)

Regular oral hygiene paraphernalia is anything but environmentally friendly. But you can’t not brush your teeth, right? Gross.

Plus, false teeth and huge dentist bills.

This too, is a relatively easy fix. Invest in a bamboo toothbrush, some biodegradable dental floss and some toothpaste tablets. These three changes will help you avoid a heap of single-use plastic and non-biodegradable bits and pieces.

You do get environmentally friendly electric toothbrushes, but if money is tight a bamboo toothbrush is great. They’re not entirely biodegradable, unfortunately, as the bristles are made from nylon. Still, at least the handle is made from sustainably sourced organic material.

Banana with Fairtrade sticker on it

Sustainable Buying Decisions

10. Buy Fairtrade (It’s Like Carbon Offset for Your Karma)

For the vast majority of humans, coffee, wine, and chocolate are daily staples. For some of us, they’re almost a religion. 

What we sometimes fail to think about when we’re indulging is where those indulgences came from. Who labored to get that cup of coffee to us? Whose sweat afforded us that bar of chocolate?

Things are slowly changing for the better, but farmers often don’t earn a living wage for the very thing they’re being charged a premium for.

The next time you’re out shopping for your favorite fix, make sure that it’s Fairtrade Certified. Products with the Fairtrade stamp protect the well-being of the producers as well as the environment. 

They’re also infused with good karma, which makes them taste better.

11. Invest In the Good Stuff

It’s so tempting to opt for cheaper products! These are often lower-quality items and need to be replaced more often. Investing in quality, durable products is like opting for a timeless classic—it’ll be there for you, season after season.

This way you can reduce your environmental impact and often save money in the long run. This can apply to a wide range of items like shoes, clothing, electronics, and furniture.

12. Choose Local, Seasonal, and Organic (Win Win Win)

The way our world is set up, we can pretty much get anything from anywhere. Avocados in summer, asparagus in winter, berries whenever. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of imported goodies.

Eating seasonally is better for the planet because you’re not eating something with an enormous carbon footprint. It’s also better for your health since seasonally grown and consumed foods are more nutritionally dense.

Also, for fresh produce to be available year-round, post-harvest treatments are employed to ripen the fruit and veg. Even worse, some produce is coated with an edible film to protect it. Buy local and let nature do her thing.

Better yet, buy local and organic. Aside from being better for the environment, eating organic produce means avoiding all the dodgy stuff they spray on conventionally grown crops.

Rich Roll’s conversation with Zach Bush, M.D. takes a deep dive into the impact of industrial farming and chemical pesticides.

I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but here in Cape Town eating organic isn’t more expensive. In fact, it’s cheaper than buying from Woolworths.

Order from your local organic grocery store and for a small fee, they’ll deliver to your doorstep. It’s a great opportunity to support local farmers and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a small somebody will hitch a ride in your bunch of chard.

Basket of delicious fresh vegetables

Food and Diet

13. Become a Farmers’ Market Aficionado

Swap the supermarket aisles for local farmers’ markets. You’ll not only get fresh, locally sourced food, but it has a smaller carbon footprint due to shorter transportation distances. Plus, it supports local farmers and the local economy. Winning!

14. Try On ‘Meatless Mondays’ for Size

Once a week, give the veggies a starring role on your plate. Meat production has a significant environmental footprint due to the resources required to raise livestock. Commit to a meat-free day once a week, like on Meat-Free Mondays.

You’ll reduce your environmental footprint and might just discover a new favorite dish, like these plant-based breakfast recipes. And without changing your diet too much to boot!

15. Be a Zero-Waste Chef!

Get creative in the kitchen. Use every part of the food you buy and discover new ways to make your meals interesting. For instance, use vegetable scraps to make homemade stocks and broths.

Turn stale bread into breadcrumbs or croutons. And use overripe fruit in smoothies or baking. Not only will you reduce your food waste, but you might also save a few bucks and impress your friends with your innovative cooking!

Image of a clothing rack in a thrift store

Conscious Shopping

16. Body Care That’s Good for the Planet (And Good for You) 

Let’s talk about body care. Like with your regular household cleaners, the lotions, soaps, and potions you use on yourself can be equally full of dodgy ingredients. Worse, they’re often tested on animals.

Herewith easy fix number three. Switch to brands that are vegan, cruelty-free and biodegradable. Don’t worry, you won’t end up smelling like you spent the night in a sweat lodge or hanging out with your patchouli-obsessed hippie aunt.

If you’re up for the challenge, you could switch to a reusable razor. I’m not going to lie, this one’s a toughie. At least, it is for Sporty and me. We really need to psyche ourselves up before shaving.

The result is incredible. We’re talking smooth, smooth, smooth. However, because it’s not a safety razor* the chances of nicking yourself are significantly higher. It can be avoided if you’re careful, but it’s something to keep in mind.

*Of course there’s a safety razor on Amazon. You lucky fish! 

17. Show Mother Nature Some Love With Sustainable Swag

It’s not just about what you do, it’s also about what you wear. Fashion-forward brands are promoting sustainable fashion by waving goodbye to waste, and crafting stylish ranges from recycled plastics and bamboo. Thrift stores are becoming more popular for buying second-hand clothes. Another idea is to experiment with a minimalist wardrobe.

Home is where the heart is, so why not fill it with furniture made from reclaimed wood or recycled metal? These little changes are big steps toward reducing the demand for new materials, and in turn, easing the pressure on our precious planet.

18. Down With Down (The Birds Need Their Feathers)

Humans need to stay warm during the cold months, but does it have to be at the expense of another living creature? I think not.

The animal welfare concerns with the production of down are reason enough to avoid buying a jacket or duvet made from the stuff.

By opting to ‘wear it kind’ you can rest assured that your warmth isn’t the result of live plucking or the equally barbaric practice of force-feeding birds to produce foie gras. 

Brands like Patagonia, Kathmandu, The Northface and Fjallraven make insulated jackets that don’t use down. They’re just as warm and can sometimes even be cheaper. Some people are of the opinion that you can get sustainably sourced down. I don’t agree. 

The Responsible Down Standard aims to ensure that down and feathers come from animals that have not been subjected to unnecessary harm. But what does that even mean? And who’s keeping tabs? 

Besides, it’s still stealing.

Shopping cruelty-free has never been easier or more accessible. Why not go that route and enjoy a clear conscience? Between your synthetic jacket and your Fairtrade wine, you’ll be racking up that good karma. 

Happy people working together in a community garden

Community Involvement

19. Become a Local Hero With Sustainability Initiatives

Who said superheroes need capes? You can make a world of difference right in your own community. Join that local community garden project, get your gloves dirty in a tree planting event, or rally the troops for a neighborhood clean-up drive.

Not only does this contribute to a greener space, but it also stirs a sense of togetherness and camaraderie among residents. And besides, who wouldn’t want to live in a friendly, clean, green neighborhood?

20. Take Part In a Shared Economy

Change is afoot! We’re seeing a rise in shared economies in cities, promoting a more sustainable approach to how we live. Join the revolution and step into services that celebrate sharing, trading, or renting, rather than individual ownership.

This could be anything from car-sharing platforms to tool libraries to shared workspaces, and so much more. Your participation ensures resources are used optimally and waste is kept to a minimum.

21. Vote With Your Wallet

You have power in your pocket, choose to use it in a way that supports your values. Show your green love by supporting local businesses that echo your sustainability goals.

They could be harnessing renewable energy, practicing waste reduction, or sourcing products locally. It’s a win-win; the environment gets some love, and you help ignite the local economy.

Office space with plants

Home and Workplace

22. Embrace Sunshine and Fresh Air

Who needs artificial light when you’ve got the sun? Let the sunshine in and open those curtains during the day. Instead of cranking up the AC all the time, how about we open some windows for fresh air? It’s a breath of fresh air for your home and your energy bill.

23. Swap Out Your Household Cleaning Products 

You want a clean, sparkly home that’s free from germs and lurgies. I hear you. Nobody wants to live in a fleapit. 

But, did you know that most household cleaners are full of hidden toxins? Yup, they’re bad for you and the environment. (Ever wonder why washing dishes takes such a toll on your hands?)

Fortunately, this is an easy fix. You could make your own household cleaners, but I promised you easy, remember?

Instead of buying your usual brand, switch to something that’s better for the environment. Helpfully, EWG’s guide to healthy cleaning lists a bunch of verified products for you to choose from.

Even without the guide, it’s easy enough to find an earth-friendly alternative to regular cleaners. Most of them are loud and proud about announcing their ‘green’ status on the front of the product. 

They used to be more expensive, but that seems to be changing. However, it’s important to note that it’s worth paying a little extra if it’s going to benefit the planet (and your health).

I also found out recently that green house cleaning is a thing. If you make use of a housekeeping and maid service, be sure to ask if this is something they offer. If it isn’t, suggest that they at least consider it.

Greenies are taking over the world, it’ll mean more business for them.

Whether you clean your own home or have someone else do it for you, these home spring cleaning tips will ensure your digs are the kind of clean you almost wish your in-laws would drop by unexpectedly.

24. Green Your Workspace

Let’s bring some of the outdoors, indoors. Decorate your office or work desk with lush, green plants. Besides making the space look great, plants improve air quality by absorbing toxins and producing oxygen.

They can also improve mental well-being and productivity. Choose plants that are low maintenance and are better suited to an indoor environment. Succulents or snake plants fit the bill well in this regard.

Minimalist working space - desk and chair

Personal Lifestyle Choices

25. Say Hell No to Fast Fashion (And Yes to Timeless Classics)

Fast fashion is a huge problem. The apparel industry’s impact on the environment is alarming, to say the least. In the past, we’d have two fashion seasons per year. Now, we have as many as 50-100 microseasons annually.

According to a recent report, the textile industry emits more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined. It also generates an enormous amount of waste, while at the same time consuming a gluttonous amount of water and resources.

Choose instead to buy clothing that’s made to last from brands who care about more than making a quick buck. These triple bottom line companies understand that business isn’t just about how many dollars make it into their bank account. 

Supporting ethical and sustainable clothing brands is better for the planet and your wallet. The initial outlay may be more, but amortised over the long run you’ll come out ahead every time. (Take a look at our roundup of eco-friendly minimalist shoes for everyday use.)

The guys at Beeco, a UK-based marketplace media platform that highlights sustainable alternatives for most everyday products and services, put together a helpful guide you help you better understand how sustainable your wardrobe is.

26. Give Minimalism a Try

This is one of the most powerful personal lifestyle choices you can make. It means reducing your possessions to only what you need and value. This approach discourages excessive consumption and the waste that invariably results from it.

It also leads to a less cluttered and more peaceful living environment. Minimalism looks different for each person, but at its core, it’s about intentional living and making choices that align with your personal and environmental values.

27. Your Choices Matter, Learn How to Make Better Ones

Never underestimate the difference you can make by voting with your wallet. Your choices matter. By supporting eco-conscious brands (they’re generally the little guys), you can help sway the market towards a more sustainable way of life.

Soaring Free Superfoods is a great example of that. Since 2006 this homegrown startup has been providing health-conscious South Africans with sustainably sourced and packaged superfoods.

They’re by no means an anomaly. One quick search on Google yielded a bunch of results. And that was just for Cape Town. Try searching for ‘eco-conscious brands + your city’ and see what comes back.

A tiny marketing budget means they generally don’t make it onto the average consumer’s radar. One way around this is to think beyond your need for something.

Let’s say you’re out of candles. You add the item to your shopping list and head to the store to do your shopping. You locate the candles and toss a packet of tea lights into the trolley. Easy peasy right?

Not so fast. According to Wikipedia, candles are made from paraffin wax, a byproduct of petroleum refining. For your ambiance habit to be earth friendly, you’ll have to source candles made from something other than petrol. This ultimate guide to eco-friendly and toxic-free candles will help.

Be on the lookout for unsustainable ingredients in everything you buy. Toxic chemicals make their way into most of our everyday products without us even realizing it. Trying to decipher the jargon on the label will give you brain freeze.

Instead, look for the green alternative to whatever it is you need. It’s generally out there. Occasionally it’ll have a slightly bigger price tag, but more often than not, the hippie version is on a par with its chemical-heavy counterpart.

Using natural alternatives to everyday products is such an easy way to score some sustainability points. Why not do it?

Speaking of natural, Katie from Bump to Bubble is a huge proponent of breastfeeding, rather than bottle feeding. I know it’s good for mom and baby, but it never occurred to me that it’s beneficial for the planet, too. (Thanks for pointing that out Katie!)

I mean, now that I think about it, obviously, it’s better for the planet. Breast milk is package free, after all! If you’re pregnant or have a baby in the house, breastfeeding (if you’re able to, I know not everyone is) might be worth considering.

What Are Sustainable Living Ideas?

Living sustainably isn’t just about reducing your carbon footprint. It’s about creating a life that’s more in tune with nature and kinder to our planet. You don’t need to make radical changes, like moving into a treehouse or going off the grid.

It’s more about a series of manageable adjustments that bring out the green in you. It could be swapping out your lightbulbs for energy-efficient variants, shopping locally, or being more mindful of your water usage. Every little change matters.

How Can Sustainable Living Ideas Benefit You?

There is the obvious feel-good factor of knowing you’re doing your bit for the environment. But these sustainable living tips can also bring about personal benefits. You could be saving money with energy-efficient appliances.

Or eating healthier by buying fresh, local produce. By taking part in community initiatives or shared economies, you may make new friends or discover a stronger sense of community. Who knew being green could influence so many facets of your life?

Wrapping Up (With No Packaging!)

Three bamboo toothbrushes in a jar

I’ve shared a lot of green living ideas in this post. If you’d like more, you’ll find some amazing Earth Day tips for greening your home in Redfin’s blog post. (We were featured in it, so it’s obviously a goodie!)

However, it’s quite possible that your mind is reeling with all the possibilities. Maybe in a good way, maybe not.

Please don’t feel overwhelmed. Nobody (least of all me) is suggesting you immediately adopt all 27 ideas and make living sustainably your new normal. 

It’s taken Sporty and I a lot of years to reach our current state of ‘greenness’ and to be honest, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Our consumption of fossil fuels has increased now that we own a car again. #PTF

But that’s why we added the word ‘mostly’ to our blog’s name. It’s a reminder that doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all.

Imagine for a moment what doing nothing would look like.

Imagine if everyone chose not to act because the world’s problems seemed too big.

Now, imagine instead a world where everyone did something, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.

That’s how we’ll make a difference.

Start somewhere and keep striving to improve.

Choose one thing from the list above and commit to doing it today. (Or, the next time you go shopping.)

Keep going until you’ve got all 27 sustainable living ideas under your belt.

Before you know it you’ll be living off the grid in a solar-powered teepee. 

Renewable energy FTW. Just remember to use energy-efficient light bulbs.

Like it or not, climate change is everyone’s problem. If we all commit to making small changes there’s still a chance we can improve things for future generations.

While you’re here. Why not consider downsizing your lifestyle? Decluttering makes you happier and more productive, it’s true!

Sustainable Living FAQs

1. Why should we talk about sustainable living?

Making sustainable living a regular topic of conversation is essential for the health of our planet and our communities. As city dwellers, we might not always see the immediate impacts of our choices, but they ripple out in significant ways.

By adopting sustainable living practices, we can reduce our carbon footprint, support local economies, and lead a lifestyle that’s in harmony with nature. 

2. What are some examples of sustainable living?

Sustainable living may look different for everyone, but there are several practices that can help us lead greener lives. This includes energy-efficient habits, like switching to LED lights and reducing water waste by fixing leaky faucets.

Sustainable buying decisions, such as shopping local or organic also make a huge difference. Even small choices, like using reusable shopping bags and supporting green businesses, can move the needle. 

3. How does sustainable living contribute to healthy lifestyle choices?

Sustainable living and healthy lifestyle choices often go hand in hand. Shopping at farmers’ markets, for instance, supports local agriculture and provides access to fresh, healthy food.

Incorporating a meat-free day once a week can foster dietary diversity and healthier eating habits. Many sustainable practices, such as using natural light and ventilation or placing plants in your workspace, also improve mental well-being and productivity.

4. What are some tips for achieving a sustainable lifestyle at home?

There are many ways to make your home more sustainable. This can include utilizing energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs, using smart power strips to avoid wasting energy and fitting your showers and faucets with low-flow versions to conserve water.

Conscious shopping decisions, like opting for durable, quality products that last longer, or using reusable shopping bags, can also contribute to a sustainable lifestyle at home.

Finally, adopting a minimalist mindset can help us make more eco-conscious choices by reducing our possessions to only what we truly need and value.

Photos by Brooke CagleSara Groblechner and  Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash