Have you ever heard the starfish story? (If not, read it here.) It’s a great lesson about doing the right thing even if you know it won’t change the world instantly. When we think about sustainably it’s easy to get overwhelmed and even confused and feel that nothing you do could really make an impact on the world’s troubles. But just like in the starfish story, despair doesn’t have to overtake us.

You don’t have to donate your car and commute by bicycle, live off the grid, and never buy a plastic wrapped product from a store again to live a sustainable lifestyle. Living sustainably means developing routines and habits that don’t harm the environment or cause the least possible impact. It feels that our efforts aren’t enough, but every little action you take sends a message and sets an example for someone else. 

We’ve compiled a short, simple list of every day efforts you as an individual or family can make. These simple efforts can serve to offer the biggest individual impact toward a more sustainable lifestyle. While yes, these are simple and there are dozens of other actions (go paperless, conserve energy, grow your own food, try Meatless Monday, go electric, etc.), let’s start with some basic steps to start (or restart) to live more sustainably conscious lives starting today. 

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

One of the simplest, yet most effective things you can do is be a conscious consumer. Yes, it’s an old idea, but we’re still not doing enough of this!

First, look for quality in products, especially products you intend to use or wear over and over, again. These products are often (but certainly not always) more expensive. And if we’re looking at it exclusively from a financial model, buying a quality item for $90 and having it for 10 years OR buying a cheap item for $35 and needing to throw it out and replace it every two years, makes a lot more sense.

In regard to reuse, consider having items that are ripped, broken or no longer working fixed rather than throwing out and buying new when possible. Thrifting and swapping goods is more trendy than ever, so take advantage of the “new to you” lifestyle wherever you can.

When shopping, consider packaging. Is the packaging recyclable? Compostable? Does one brand have an excess of packaging where a competitor on the shelf has much less or none at all? Can you buy bulk in one package? When purchasing something packaged in plastic, look for plastics 1 and 2 as these are universally the most accepted plastics at recycling centers. But don’t be fooled by the recycling stamp on containers. It’s critically important that you know what can and can’t be recycled in your neighborhood. By “contaminating” your recycling with unaccepted items, the whole collection may have to be discarded! So in general, if you can, avoid plastic all together. 


The food industry is arguably the biggest player in either being a solution to the climate crisis or being the biggest catalyst for continued deterioration and exploitation of our natural resources. It all depends on where your food comes from and who your money is going to.

Organic and Other Sustainable Certifications

When you hear people say “vote with your dollars,” choosing to buy sustainably grown, produced or harvested foods is one of the most impactful ways you can do so. Certain certifications help us as consumers navigate the dizzying array of food items on shelves. Choosing to buy organic produce, grass fed and finished meat, eco-certified seafood, etc. is not just making a healthier choice for yourself and your family. When you choose to buy these products you are directly supporting the grower or food producer. You are helping to chip away at the industrialized, conventional food corporations that only have profit in mind, deplete our natural resources and use toxic chemicals. At some point, if the demand is high enough, we might even see a shift in what food and food systems are subsidized in our country. 

Moreover, choosing to support your local food producers and growers who adhere to sustainable practices is maybe, single-handedly the best thing you can do as a consumer. Not only are you accomplishing all of the above, choosing to buy locally, especially from farmers markets and directly from farms, cuts down on transportation, supply chain demands and packaging. Even more, you are directly elevating your local economy, keeping money in the community and giving your dollars to neighbors.

We ran some numbers for our Howe Meadow Farmers’ Market. We found that food and other products at our market travel, on average, a total of just under 28 miles to get to the market each Saturday from May to October. Do you know what the average transport is for food across the globe? 1,500 miles. Food that is at our market (or any farmers market, for that matter) is likely picked the day before by the farmer and driven to the market by that same farmer. Food that travels 1,500 miles goes through many, many hands from harvest, packaging, refrigeration, distribution and finally to the shelf.

Food Waste

The world has no shortage of food, don’t let anyone tell you different (yes, that means the “feeding 9 billion people” excuse we hear to exploit resources is false, but that’s for another blog later). Our problem is that we waste almost just as much food as we consume. Yes, that means that nearly half of the food we grow or produce is thrown out, especially here in the United States where we average roughly 140 billion pounds of wasted food every year. It’s important to note that much of this is not the problem of the consumer (processing and distribution problems, overproduction, transportation, contribute too), but there are still some simple actions we can take as individuals to reduce waste. As stated above, conscious decisions at the grocery store or farmers’ markets are most impactful.

Before you go grocery shopping, do some simple meal planning to get an idea of what products and how much you’ll need to get yourself through the week. The biggest contributor to individual food waste is lack of planning and over buying. To live more sustainably at home, learn how to store, and prepare fresh foods to get the most out of your groceries. 

Lastly, consider composting in your backyard or purchasing a membership to a local composting business to have them compost your food waste for you. Only 5% of food in the US gets composted and uneaten food is the largest component of municipal solid waste. In landfills, food slowly breaks down and forms methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Composting food waste drastically cuts down on methane release and ultimately ends up as organic matter, something we need much more of on Earth!


These, again, are simple changes you can make in your household today. We’ll certainly follow up on this blog with more simple actions you can take! In the meantime, try this Carbon Footprint Calculator to see how much more you and your family can do to live more sustainably this year.

To summarize, simply slowing down and being a more conscious consumer can create waves in a more sustainable economy and society. Encouraging your friends and family to do the same creates even bigger waves. Each, single effort you make is ultimately like throwing that one more starfish back into the ocean. 

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