Introduction: how your consumption habits can have a surprisingly large impact

There is a growing awareness of the need for sustainability, but the focus is often on reducing the environmental impact of production processes. However, what we consume has a much larger impact than most people realize. The average person in developed countries consumes 30 times more resources than someone in a developing country. And, while it might be easy to think that our individual consumption doesn’t make much of a difference, research shows that our consumption habits are one of the main drivers of environmental degradation.

There are a number of things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment through our consumption.

Point 1: Food

The way in which we produce and consume food is one of the most significant contributors to environmental degradation. According to the United Nations, agriculture is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key driver of climate change. Land use changes, including deforestation for agricultural land, account for about 75% of global biodiversity loss. And our current food system wastes an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year – that’s about one third of all the food produced globally.

The good news is that there are ways we can address these problems and create a more sustainable food system. One key approach is to eat less meat and dairy products. The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and producing beef generates far more emissions than producing chicken or pork.

Point 2: Driving

The average American spends around 90 minutes in their car each day. In total, Americans spend an average of 1,500 hours a year behind the wheel. Driving has become an ingrained part of our culture and it’s hard to imagine our lives without it. However, as our population grows and the demand for more cars increases, we must ask ourselves if this type of widespread car ownership is sustainable in the long term.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), U.S. passenger cars and light trucks consume 1.21 trillion gallons of gasoline every year. This amounts to more than 40% of America’s total oil consumption and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. If we want to create a more sustainable future, we need to find ways to reduce our dependence on cars.

One way to do this is to use public transportation more often, or to carpool when possible. Alternatively, we could invest in electric vehicles, which generate no emissions.

Point 3: Electricity

Electricity is a clean and efficient way to power our homes and businesses. It is also a key part of our sustainable future. We can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by using electricity to power our cars and heat our homes. Electricity consumption is growing more quickly than any other form of energy. We can meet this demand by investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Electricity consumption is responsible for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, this number could be much lower if we used renewable energy sources to power our homes and businesses. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that renewable energy could provide up to 80% of the world’s electricity by 2050.

Point 4: Recycling

Every day, we make choices that have an impact on the environment. One of the simplest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to recycle. Recycling helps us conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, and save energy.

It’s estimated that recycling one tonne of paper can save 17 trees, 2,500 gallons of water, and enough energy to power the average home for six months.  In addition to paper, we can recycle glass, plastic, and metal. These materials can be used to make new products, which reduces the need to mine or harvest new materials.

We can also reduce our environmental impact by reusing products. For example, we can use reusable bags instead of plastic bags, and we can carry a reusable water bottle with us instead of buying bottled water.

Point 5: Water

Water is essential for human life and is necessary for sustaining most forms of life on earth. With the world’s population expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, the demand for water is only going to increase. It is estimated that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas with severe water shortages.

The average person in the United States uses about 100 gallons of water per day. This includes water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and flushing toilets. It doesn’t include the water used for watering lawns or washing cars. Agricultural irrigation accounts for about 70% of global freshwater withdrawals.

There are a number of ways to help conserve water and address the growing demand. One key way is to promote sustainable consumption practices. This includes things like reducing leaks in plumbing, taking shorter showers, using less water for gardening, and washing cars with a bucket and sponge instead of a hose.  A single dripping faucet can waste up to 3,000 gallons of water each year. Low-flow fixtures can save households hundreds of gallons of water each month.

Another way to conserve water is by increasing its availability through watershed management and storage projects. These projects can help improve water quality and protect communities from floods and drought.

Point 6: Shopping

The average American generates 4.6 pounds of waste per day, and only 1.5 pounds of that is recycled or composted.  This amounts to 25 percent of all waste generated in the United States. Shopping accounts for a huge amount of this waste, as each item we buy has to be packed, shipped, and eventually disposed of. The average American discards 81 pounds of clothing every year, most of which could have been reused or recycled.

The way we shop has a big impact on the environment. For example, online shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years, but it often comes with hidden environmental costs. The manufacturing and shipping of goods generates emissions, and packaging materials end up in landfills. In fact, packaging waste is one of the biggest contributors to landfill waste in the United States.

We can reduce the environmental impact of our shopping habits by making more conscious choices about what we buy and where we buy it from. For example, we can choose to buy local  products, which have a smaller carbon footprint because they haven’t been shipped long distances. We can also choose to buy second-hand products, which don’t require any new resources to be produced.

The environmental benefits of buying used are many, including the reduction of energy and transportation costs. Buying new is not always the best choice, however. For example, look at the materials used to make new items. If the fabric is made from synthetic materials like polyester, it might not be completely biodegradable. Plus, some of these new fabrics are not absorbent and can leave a mess on floors and furniture.

There are many other benefits of purchasing used items. Used items also have a lower environmental impact than new ones. The manufacturing process for used goods uses less materials, energy and water. Even when it comes to the recycling process, used goods are more efficient.  It takes less energy to recycle a used aluminum can than it does to create a new one from scratch.

So next time you need something, think about whether buying used might be the more sustainable choice.

Point 7:  Travel

There are many ways to reduce the environmental impact of travel, from the way we get around to the way we plan our trips.

One of the biggest impacts of travel is emissions from transportation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounts for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The majority of these emissions come from passenger cars and trucks.

We can reduce our transportation-related emissions by choosing low-emitting vehicles and modes of transportation. For example, electric cars have zero emissions, and hybrid cars have significantly lower emissions than gas-powered cars. Electric bicycles are another low-emitting option for getting around.

We can also reduce our emissions by changing the way we travel. Instead of flying, we can take trains or buses, which emit far less pollution per passenger mile. And instead of driving long distances, we can carpool or use ride-sharing services.

When planning a trip, we can also choose destinations that are accessible by public transportation or that don’t require a lot of travel to get to. And we can look for lodging options that have sustainability features, such as solar panels or water conservation measures.

By making some simple changes to the way we travel, we can make a big difference for the environment.


As we look to the future, it’s clear that sustainability will be key to our survival. We must find ways to reduce our consumption of natural resources and minimize our impact on the environment. By making small changes in our daily lives, we can make a big difference for our planet.

Our consumption habits have a significant impact on the environment. We can reduce our environmental impact by eating less meat and dairy, driving less, recycling more, and using renewable energy sources. When we make sustainability a priority in our lives, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and the planet.

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