The ABCs of Sustainability

Just like everyone, I have trouble remembering all of the things that I can do in my day-to-day life that will help me become a more sustainable person (and help me save money or get healthier).  To help me out, I developed this post – sustainability from A to Z.  Here you’ll find tips beginning with each letter of the alphabet that can help you out in your day to day life.

A is for Air Dry.  Lots of dishwashers have a heated dry cycle that uses a lot of energy.  When you have dishes in the dishwasher, typically you’re not in dire need of something that’s in there, so you won’t need the heated dry to speed things up.  You can just turn off the dry cycle all together and let your dishes air dry in the dish washer.  If it turns out that you do end up needing something, just open the dish washer and pull it out and dry it with a towel.  Air Drying dishes can help you save money by using less heat when operating your washing machine, and  can help you save the earth by using less energy.

B is for Buy Used.  Buying used is a rather simple process:figure out what you need (or want)  and find a store that sells it used.  You can check local antique or consignment shops in your area, your local craigslist, or even ebay.  Don’t worry if you think that what you’re looking for is too off of the wall or crazy, sites like ebay have everything.  Buying used can get you what you need for cheaper (and possibly better quality) than buying new, and you’ll keep something out of a land fill as well.


C is for Clothesline.  This is probably one of my favorite sustainability tips as everyone who wants to can do this (even you’re apartment people!)  Many of those in homes can easily string up a clothesline or may already have one that just needs repair. H and I had to make our own by buying some clothesline string and stringing up a few lines over the corner of our fence.  If you live in apartment, you can always use one of those clothes drying racks.  Clothes dried out on the line smell so good and feel so fresh when they are done too!  You can save money by using less electricity, saving wear and tear on your dryer, and you can save the environment by reducing emissions from   your local energy generation station.

D is for Driving.  There are plenty of things that will burn gas at a higher rate than normal, such as constant jackrabbit starts (gunning it off the light) constant stopping and starting, and speeding.  It’s pretty simple to avoid these habits (once you graduate high school) by paying attention to how fast you’re going and watching the lights to make sure you don’t have to come to a complete stop before your light turns green.  Of course, this will help you save gas, which will save you money and will help out the environment by using less petroleum based resources.

E is for efficiency.  Specifically, I’m talking about fuel efficiency.  You know that your commute is going to be X number of miles to work and back home, right?  If that’s the case, then why wouldn’t you want to maximize the amount of miles that your vehicle can operate per gallon of gas?  Well of course you would, because you want to be more sustainable, and you know that getting a more fuel efficient car will help you save money by using less gas than you would with a less efficient vehicle, and will help save the environment by lowering emissions and using less petroleum based resources.

F is for Full.  Many things operate better and use less energy when they are full.  Freezers use way less energy when they are full because the things that are already frozen will help freeze the newly put in things.  Many other home appliances work in a similar way.  Why run the dishwasher or washing machine when it’s half full, simply wait a day or two until you’ve got a full load and you’re on the road to sustainability.  This can help you save money by using less energy (on freezer, dishwasher, washing machine and other home appliances) and saving on wear and tear, and will help you use less energy or water depending on the appliance.

G is for Garden.  Most food that you eat has traveled 1500 miles (on average) to get from the production area to the shelf of your local store.  Clearly that’s a lot of miles and a garden is a great way to cut down on food miles.  Even those of you with apartments can plant a pot full of your favorite herbs like basil and mint and avoid buying some things.  Starting a garden will help you save money at the store by lowering what you’ll need to buy, save the earth by cutting down your food miles, and could help you become a bit healthier by removing additives and pesticides from your food.

H is for Homemade.  For just about everything you buy, you can do it yourself.  People just think that it’s cheaper to buy what someone else has made (while it does happen sometimes, it’s far less often than you think).  I haven’t been into the homemade movement for long, but since I started digging in, I’ve found tons of things you can make at home that I’d typically buy, like dryer sheets, drain cleaner, food, cheese and so much more.  When you make things yourself you can control what goes into the product and how it tastes at the end – and you also get that great feeling of having done something productive that day.  You can save money and the environment by going the homemade route.  This tip provided by staff writer Beatrice.

I is for Information.  The more information you have about something (be it a service or product) the more you can decide if it’s as sustainable as you would like it to be.  Don’t like how many miles your food travels?  Get some information and figure out how you can start producing some of your own food.  There’s plenty of ways to become more sustainable, you just have to look around for them. Honestly, I didn’t know you could make your own laundry detergent, dish soap, etc until I started this site.  This can save you some money by cutting down costs of things you’d normally buy but start making instead, and can help save the earth (and your heath) by using less toxic ingredients.

J is for Join. If you look at the definition of join in the dictionary here is what you will read, “ the shape or manner in which things come together and a connection is made;  make contact or come together.” Use this to your advantage in living sustainable. See if there are community programs you can join that work on green projects, like community gardens for example. Or, join a Community Supported Agriculture Progam (CSA) and use it to source your fruit and veggie groceries. Or, bring your friends together who think like you and ‘come together’ to form an environmental advocacy group. The sky is your limit when it comes to connecting with the planet.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

K is for Knowledge.  There are a ton of things that you can learn about from a sustainability perspective.  You can learn about life cycles of products, how things are made and how the inputs used are harvested, mined, or otherwise created.  There is sustainability in each one of those steps, and the more you know about the most sustainable methods, the better you can make decisions on the day to day.  For instance, when I bought laundry soap I would always buy the powdered kind in the box because all of the fancy designed bottles are wasting a ton of space in the truck.  Less space wasted = more room for product = less trips.  So, there’s sustainability everywhere, you just have to know about it and make decisions based upon what you know.

L is for Low Flow.  Low flow showerheads and toilets are awesome.  Simply purchase a low-flow showerhead and install and it will regulate the water flowing out of the head.  Low flow toilets work a bit different – some use less water per flush and some will have two buttons – one a half flush for number one, and the other a full flush for number two.  You can cheaply lower the water in your toilet by filling a few jugs with water and placing them in your toilet tank, lessening the amount of area the water has to fill every flush.  Low flow treatments can help you save money and the environment by using less water.

M is for Mindful Spending.  A lot of sustainability can be boiled down to resource use.  If you buy things that you don’t need just to buy them, you’re wasting resources.  When you think about what you spend, you’re giving thought to what’s actually going to happen to the item when you take it home.  Is it something like a tiddy bear (full disclosure: I didn’t know about this before I started writing this post) that seems totally useless and will only be used a few times before it stored away, or will you use it a couple of times every week?  Think about your purchases, if you do this, you’ll end up saving yourself some money and stopping resources from being used for no reason.

N is for New Life.  Anything that you feel like you’ve outgrown or no longer have a use for, consider donating to a local chairity.  Even though you may not have a use for it anymore, there very well could be someone who has a need for it and would be more than happy to have it.  This could be anything from movies to books to old clothing.  You’re keeping things out of the landfill helping you become more sustainable and saving the person purchasing it some money because they are getting it secondhand.


O is for Overboard.  Don’t go overboard with your sustainability measures needlessly, as it could cost you money that you’ll never recover.  When I was in college we got assigned a task to try and figure out where we would save the most money if we could only replace one incandescent with a compact flouresent bulb.  Obviously, this meant replacing the light that was on the most for whatever reason.  Think about it – should you put the light in a high traffic area like the living room where the light is on 2 hours a day, or the closet in the basement that gets turned on once a week.  You can save some money by not buying needless bulbs and still be exponentially more sustainable.

P is for Programmable Thermostat.  Programmable thermostats operate pretty simply – you tell them what time and what temperature to turn the heat to on any given day and they do the rest.  They take probably an hour to install and cost about 50 bucks, but can easily make that back during the winter, and then some.  Once you’ve got this done, you can sit back while it saves you money and helps out the earth by using less energy than  you would if you heated/cooled your house when you were not going to be there.

Q is for Quality.  One of the most important things I have discovered on my eco-living journey is the importance of quality over quantity.  I have discovered, in terms of food, I prefer an approach that is less about how cheap and easy to make the food is, and whether or not the food is of good quality. Quality over quantity, in this sense, means going slightly against your natural spending habits, at least on the surface, and embracing an added short term expense to minimize a long term one. Investing in your health and the planet now by modifying your diet to include organic and humanely-raised animal products will benefit you in the future with lower health care costs. It also benefits the planet through sustainable farming practices. Already eat sustainable? Then here is another example.  Think of the consumer marketplace. How many people buy a cheap, plastic item and eventually have to take it to a landfill because it no longer works, or the plastic cracks, sometime not long after they bought the item? The numbers are staggering. Don’t believe me? Go and pay a visit to your local garbage dump. In my experience, not many consumers in general question the quality of the items they buy. They just buy them and forget about the origins of the product, or the sweatshop conditions of those who laboured to make them. It often doesn’t enter into the consciousness of everyday people. Do the planet and yourself a favour and start paying attention to quality over quantity.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

R is for Reuse.  I used to want to buy a lot of stuff – something for every purpose and something crazy for some far fetched idea I had at one fleeting moment.  Thankfully, I didnt do 98% of these ideas, but a lot of people do buy a lot of stuff for one reason or another.  Eventually they’ll tire of the item and will be willing to sell you something perfectly good for cheap, or even better, FREE!  Of course, this doesn’t have to include a friend – you can find something in your house that you no longer use and re-use it for something different.  It doesn’t have to serve its original purpose, it just has to serve a purpose to be reused.  You can turn old shirts into dishrags, hand down clothing to younger children or just about anything else you can think of!  This will help save you money by preventing you from buying things you don’t need to buy and will keep stuff out of landfills by extending the lifetime of the product.

S is for Shower with a Friend.  We increasingly hear about water and electricity becoming increasingly scarce while subsequently increasing in value.  Rolling brown outs in the northeast a few summers ago and a quick look at the water resources in Arizona are no longer isolated resource deficiency stories – the problems are getting larger and more wide spread.  Solution? Shower with a Partner!  The dial on your water meter (if you don’t have one now, you will …) will slow and you will save electricity heating (and keeping warm) a large tank of water in your basement.  That and the quality time with your partner – can’t put a price on that!  Tip provided by Simon at Sustainable Personal Finance

T is for Trees.  Who doesn’t like trees, right?  They are there when you need them to sit under in the shade on a hot summer day and they are there to fall on top of your car when the snow comes too early :).  In all seriousness though, trees are great for saving energy in the summer – they can protect your house from excessive heat by providing shade if they are planted nearby.  This will help you save some money on electricity costs and help the earth by planting trees to fix nutrients into the soil and remove CO2 from the air (you can also solidify your sustainability cred by taking a photo of yourself hugging said tree).

U is for Utility Usage Data.  Some utilities providers don’t offer this yet, but some do.  You get a website to go to that will tell you how much energy you’re using and at what time of day.  I think some of them can even tell you what appliance is using the energy!  Knowing all this information can allow you to tell the utility companies to cut power to your house on days where they have high demand (usually in the summer when lots of air conditioning is turned on).  This can save you some money because you’ll be using less electricity (and some companies give rebates for joining a program like this), you can also help the environment by delaying (or preventing outright) the construction of a new power plant, and reducing all the not-so-great things that comes along with new power plants.

V is for Vampire Draw.  I’ve talked about vampire draw a bit before, but for those that missed it: it’s when something is plugged into the wall but not connected to something charging on the other end.  One of the common culprits is cell phones – you leave your charger plugged in to the wall, but carry the phone with you.  The charger will still draw energy.  Obviously, this won’t cost you a lot of money but waste not, want not, right?  This will help you become more sustainable and save you money by saving you energy and lowering your electric bill.

W is for Walking.  All throughout high school, I thought that you had to drive everywhere.  When I got to college and my dad said I couldn’t take my car, I quickly learned I didn’t have to drive everywhere.  Once I started walking everywhere I had to go, I realized how much I enjoyed it and wanted to do it after I left school.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for me right away, but after switching jobs, I’ve been able to walk to work for 9 months.  I’d prefer never to drive again.  This helps me save money on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle, stay healthy by getting you to walk more, and be more sustainable by driving less.

X is for Xeriscaping.  Xeriscaping is mostly done outside, and involves planting plants and native grasses that would naturally grow in your area anyway, to reduce water use.  Native grasses and plants are used to the conditions and won’t need any special treatment, making them fairly hard to kill if you’ve got a black thumb like me.  You can save some money and help the environment by using less water – gotta love 2 birds with 1 stone!


Y is for Yearn. When we yearn, we have affection for; feel tenderness for something. Yearn for our home, our planet. Be eager to experience mother nature’s beauty; to connect with her on a deeper level. Look around you and see what she has to offer- how beautiful she is. One of the ways I do this is by camping. I pack my tent, hike into the forest and escape into the wild. I listen to the sounds of the breeze touching the trees. I see the birds and squirrels playing. I awake to the brightness of the sun. I soothe myself to sleep with the glow of the moon. I take in the peace of the fresh air and heal myself with the silence. I yearn for my home.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.
Z is for Zero Waste.  While this may be out of reach personally (but maybe not!) lots of events are beginning to head this direction.  I have been to multiple events that have forks, cups and spoons made from corn products, plates made out of recycled paper, and composting for food and paper waste.  While I personally don’t think they can get to absolute 0 waste, I’m glad they are trying.  Even though you may not be able to get to total zero waste in your household, even trying will help you become a far more sustainable person.  You can help the earth by looking at the whole lifecycle of your purchases, and figuring out what you’re going to do at every step.

Well there you have it – 26 sustainability tips.  Do you have any that I left off?  If I get enough tips in the comments I’ll put them together for another post.

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15 thoughts on “The ABCs of Sustainability”

  1. Regarding C: My husband and I set up a clothesline on our balcony, but we hardly ever use it. Instead, we just put our wet clothes on hangers and hang them from the shower curtain rod in our guest bathroom. Works just the same and no extra labor of pinning them up and taking them down – we just move them straight into our closet.

    Regarding S: Creative tip! I’ll have to time my husband’s and my separate showers to see if we actually save time together. I can’t say for sure that we do!

    Regarding P: We bought a programmable thermostat a few months ago but haven’t installed it yet! :/

    • THanks for stopping by emily! I had to rig up a clothesline in the backyard, and I havent been using it as much as I should lately given the weather!
      You need to get on that programmable thermostat install – it’s really not that difficult!

      • The funny thing is my husband spent several hours when he was picking out the thermostat figuring out all the wiring matchups and such. It was a little complicated since the new thermostat is labeled a little differently than our old one.

        Anyway, we just need to pull the trigger. It’s a little hard to get up motivation right now because the weather has been so beautiful here and we are in between using heat and air conditioning.

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