What is sustainable living and 10 small (but effective) steps to help you do so

10 small steps you can take towards more sustainable living

Sustainable Living, Woman swimming in lake
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s official: green is the new black. Low-impact is the new high fashion. Secondhand September is the new Dry January, and eco-friendly is no longer a quirky lifestyle trend – it’s a moral imperative. As the protest placards are keen to remind us, there is no Planet B. 

But it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by gloomy stats and give up before you’ve even begun. One of the biggest mistakes we make when it comes to sustainable living is believing our efforts have to be all or nothing; flawless or failure. When the truth is that lots of little, imperfect tweaks to our habits can add up to real, lasting change. And shopping more consciously doesn’t need to cost the earth.

So start small and keep your resolutions realistic. From your wardrobe to your fridge to your bathroom cabinet, here are ten steps you can take towards living more sustainably. 


(Image credit: Oxfam)

1. Go Secondhand First

With fashion’s carbon footprint bigger than international flights and shipping combined, modern slavery rife in supply chains, and 13 million items of clothing sent to landfill each week in the UK alone, our shopping habits have never been so in need of a makeover. But if going cold turkey on the high street completely is too big a leap, try adopting the #secondhandfirst rule instead. Before buying anything brand new, ask yourself: “could I get this secondhand?”

Thrift stores and charity shops aren’t the only options. Resale sites like eBay, Depop and Vestiaire Collective can all be great places to snag a preowned bargain, often with the tags still on. Chic new rental platforms like HURR, By Rotation and Nuw prove that clothes hire isn’t only for prom night, while swapping and borrowing from friends has the benefit of being ethical and entirely free. Just don’t spill anything.  


(Image credit: CoGo)

2. Get a digital guide

Now that every brand is jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, sorting the good guys from the greenwashers can be tricky. Thankfully, there are apps for that. Good On You offers at-a-glance ratings for thousands of fashion brands based on their treatment of the planet, people and animals. Meanwhile, the CoGo app helps you find nearby businesses that share your values, such as companies that are low-waste, climate-friendly or living wage employers. You can also connect your bank account to calculate the carbon footprint of your spending, for a daily reminder that ‘voting with your wallet’ really does make a difference.     


(Image credit: Guppyfriend)

3. Wash more wisely

Around 25% of the carbon footprint of a garment comes from the way we wash and care for it. Synthetic fibres like polyester shed tiny microplastic particles into the water supply, while over-washing also reduces the lifespan of your clothes – all of which means you have full permission to skip laundry day and employ the sniff test instead. Treat stains with a spot wash instead of flinging them into the machine after every wear, and banish any lingering aromas by hanging them outside if you can. When you do put a load on (nobody’s suggesting you re-wear pants, don’t worry), try using a laundry bag like GuppyFriend to reduce shedding and protect your delicates. 

Last Round

(Image credit: Last Round)

4. Ditch the disposables

Cotton may be a natural fibre but it’s a problematic fave, using 20,000 litres of water to grow a single kilogram. Which means there’s little excuse for throwing it away on a nightly basis. So instead of cleansing with wipes and pads, switch to a reusable option like a good old-fashioned flannel or muslin (affordable, and great for exfoliating too). Or you could try LastRound, a reusable alternative to cotton pads made from natural, renewable materials and stored in its own nifty case. The Danish company also makes reusable cotton buds, LastSwab, and the self-explanatory LastTissue. Yes, that’s right – the hanky is back. 

Beyond Meat Burger

(Image credit: Beyond Meat Burger)

5. Veg out

It’s no secret that the paleo diet doesn’t do the planet any favours. A 2018 report from Oxford University claimed that giving up meat and dairy is “the single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact. But if the idea of a halloumi-free future is too much to bear, even reducing your consumption by just 20% could make a significant dent in your carbon footprint – not to mention a few quid. So take things one day at a time, literally, with the Meat-Free Monday pledge. Once you discover how close a Beyond Meat burger tastes to the real thing, you might be able to conquer Tuesday too.

Young woman with bags of shopping standing against yellow wall

(Image credit: Getty Images)


(Image credit: Oddbox)

6. Rescue the rejects

More than a third of farmed fruit and vegetables never make it to supermarket shelves because they’re deemed “too ugly” – which, as well as being a concept for a Disney Pixar movie we would 100% cry at, is a massive problem for the planet. With food waste responsible for 6% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, eating a crooked carrot is the least we can do. Vegetable rescue service Oddbox delivers rejected produce across London and the South East, while Lidl and Morrisons have both started selling their own wonky produce boxes to give consumers more choice for less outlay. They might not be pretty, but that fruit and veg still has a great personality. 

7. Get switched-on about energy

If, like us, you still hear your parents’ voice in your head telling you to turn off lights when you leave the room, now is the time to start listening. While household tech is getting cleaner and smarter, there’s still plenty of room to wise up on our own wasteful habits – and save money at the same time. If you can, switch to an energy supplier like Bulb, which uses 100% renewable electricity from solar, wind and hydro sources. If not, make sure you have a smart meter installed to help you keep track of what you’re using. 

Who Gives A Crap

(Image credit: Who Gives A Crap)

8. Answer nature’s call

Here’s a choice that’s good for the planet and your bottom line, so to speak. Eco-friendly toilet paper. Instead of buying your loo roll in small packs from the supermarket, look at bulk-buy delivery options from social enterprises such as Who Gives A Crap, which donates 50% of its profits to help build toilets for communities that need them. Packaged in plastic-free paper (which can double up as stylish gift wrap – you’re welcome), its 100% recycled roll brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘wipe clean’.

Soap Folk

(Image credit: Soap Folk)

9. Hit the bar, not the bottle

Ever since David Attenbrough raised the alarm in Blue Planet II, single-use plastic has become the villain of our shopping baskets. Swerving it isn’t always easy – especially during these hyper-hygienic times – but some simple swaps can help you cut down your consumption. 

For example, buy retro bar soap rather than bottles of liquid handwash. Soap Folk’s All Kinds Offcuts Selection is a lucky dip of five beautiful organic scented soaps, packaged in a recyclable brown paper bag. Likewise, try solid shampoos and deodorants (Lush makes some great options), and skip shower gel in favour of a bar (Aesop’s Body Cleansing Slab, £17 might be spendy, but it lasts for – no lie – six months). The bonus is taking them all on holiday without worrying about liquid restrictions.   

By Rotation

(Image credit: By Rotation)

10. Repair, reuse, recycle, reduce

Memorise the four Rs of sustainable behaviour, and put them into practice whenever you can. Repair anything broken or worn out before buying new, either by taking it to an expert (your local dry cleaner will mend and alter clothes for a reasonable price) or finding a YouTube tutorial and doing it yourself. Reuse everything you possibly can, from repurposing takeaway containers as tupperware to using old t-shirts as cleaning rags. Recycle properly, even if it means a walk to your nearest collection bin. The smug points are worth it.  

Finally, reduce your consumption however you can; whether it’s through a no-buy challenge, renting, swapping, borrowing or simply asking yourself: ‘...do I really need this?’ We can’t shop our way to a healthier planet, but we can make better use of what we already have. Less really is more.