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How to Be Sustainable Without Spending a Dollar

Living an eco-friendly lifestyle doesn't have to be expensive. Here are our top tips.

Written by
Leslie Smith

Sustainable living can look incredibly daunting from the outside looking in. A common trope often associated with zero waste is a single mason jar of trash and aggressive vegans. I’m here to tell you that it is a lot easier than you think it is. Sustainability is so much more than buying all glass items and going vegan. It is about changing your mindset in the way that you shop and the way that you consume products. Due to the society that we live in we are often told to chuck out all of our plastic and single use products and go buy new sustainable options. But did you think that the thing that would be most sustainable would be to use the items that you already have before you purchase anything new.

Step One: Choose a Focus Area

One of the most overwhelming things about becoming more sustainable is seeing how many different ways and areas there are to it. When I first started the first thing that I chose to do was begin researching fast fashion and the ethical problems there are in fast fashion supply chains. From there I decided to ditch fast fashion completely and have committed myself to only shopping from second hand and sustainably & ethically made clothing. There are so many different areas that you can focus on first, such as going plastic free, sustainable gardening, fast fashion, going vegan, focusing on household items, or advocating for change in your city. It’s okay to want to do it all but focusing on one area at a time is a great way to not get overwhelmed when first starting out.

Step Two: Research 

Whether you like watching youtube videos, scrolling through Instagram (or TikTok), or reading articles there is information about sustainability everywhere! Choose your favorite way to learn and begin looking more into the topic that you want to start out with. Change your mindset about how (& why) you shop and be a conscious consumer. Start with researching different certifications and what they mean when a company has them, while you’re at it don’t forget to take some time to learn more about greenwashing and how to spot if a company is doing it to you. Remember that just because a company says that they are using sustainable practices doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. Companies should be proud to show you their certifications and will be fully transparent in showing you everything about their products and where they come from. Remember that you don’t need to buy new things right away and that using what you already have is the most sustainable thing that you can do.

When doing research, I found these resources super helpful in learning more and getting started on my sustainability journey!

  • Fair Trade: Check to see if a company is fair trade certified
  • Cruelty Free Kitty: Shows what companies are actually cruelty free & which certifications that they have
  • B Corporations: Companies with this certification has met high standards of social & environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability
  • Good On You: Gives clothing companies sustainability ratings & breaks it down for you

Step Three: Audit & Plan 

Doing an audit of the items that you already have is a great way to stop yourself from buying more of something that you already have. By auditing what beauty & care products you already have or your closet you will be able to figure out when you go shopping if you actually need it or are just buying it because you can. You can also do a trash audit to see what items you are throwing out and what creates the most waste in your household. By doing these audits it can help you see what you already have and help you buy less in the future. 

After doing your audits, start making a plan about what you will do when you need more of an item or what you will do when you want something. For me this included unfollowing fast fashion and makeup brands on instagram so that I would not be tempted to buy something just because I saw it. Your plan might include adding a Meatless Monday to your meal plan, packing your own lunch to avoid plastic waste from restaurants and stores, purchasing package free beauty products, or buying from local stores and artisans. Now Get Going! Now that you have a plan, continue researching and learning more about sustainability. Consider joining a community such as the Brightly Scouts or look on Facebook to find people in your community to chat about sustainability. 

Wherever you decide to start your sustainability journey remember that it is about making progress and not being perfect. No one no matter how hard they work is going to be perfect but doing your best will help make big changes. Everyone’s journey is going to look different!