10 Sustainable Living Ideas for Busy City Dwellers (& Convenience Addicts)

sustainable living ideas for busy city dwellers

Sustainable living ideas generally include hippie advice like driving less, eating a plant-based diet and composting your food waste. 

Those are good tips, but when you’re super busy (or addicted to convenience) they don’t really work.

I mean, who has time to schlep to the local community garden to empty a bucket full of kitchen scraps? And driving less? How are you supposed to cycle in heels?

So, what do you do if you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle but don’t have the time (or a pair of practical cycling shoes)?  As usual, I’m glad you asked.

I’ve come up with 10 ways you can be more eco-conscious without it taking up half the day. After all, you’ve got places to go and coffee to drink.

You can be the up cycling 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.

Enough with the preamble, let’s dive into my list of easy to action and awesome for the planet sustainable living ideas.

10 Sustainable Living Ideas That Have the Most Impact for the Least Effort

sustainable living ideas

The great thing about these ideas is that they’re mostly about greening up the things you already do. I’m not making extra work for you. Rather, I’m suggesting ways you can vote with your dollar to make a difference.

1. 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 some 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.

2. 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.

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

Let’s talk 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 toughee. At least, it is for Sporty and I. We really need to psyche ourselves up before shaving.

The result is incredible. We’re talking smooth, smooth, smoothe. However, because it’s not a safety razor* the chances of nicking yourself is 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! 

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

Living 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.)

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 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.

Another important aspect is knowing what recycling symbols mean. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems. Recycling programmes 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. 

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. 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.

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.

7. 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 indulgence came from. Who laboured 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 you’re being charged a premium for.

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

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

8. 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. 

9. 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 Think Organic and for an additional R60, 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.

10. 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. Onr 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 realising 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?

Are You Ready to Adopt the Green Living Challenge?

bamboo toothbrush - sustainable living ideas

I’ve shared a lot of sustainable living ideas in this post. It’s possible 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 10 tips and make living sustainably your new normal. 

It’s taken Sporty and I a lot of years to reach our current state of ‘greeness’ 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.

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 10 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? Our minimalist living tips can help get you started.

Photos by Brooke CagleSara Groblechner and  Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash