Live sustainably: how to be a conscious consumer

Nature is disappearing.

Our consumer habits, fuelled by sneaky marketing tricks, are contributing to it being dug up, overworked and killed off.

Excessive consumption drives climate change, which in turn further damages nature.

Reduce your impact with these top tips.

1. Eat less (and better) meat and dairy

You might be surprised to discover that farming animals is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

Meat and dairy production causes 14.5% of planet-warming gases.

Rainforests are being felled to make way for soya, most of which is being used to feed factory-farmed pigs and poultry.

Learn more about eco-friendly eating by heading to our food pages,  including our guide to better meat and dairy.

2. Avoid palm oil

Palm oil is cheap to cultivate, which is why it’s used in so many of the products we buy.

When David Attenborough recently returned to Indonesia he was shocked at how much forest had been replaced by oil-palm plantations. 

12.5% of Southeast Asian forest has been destroyed to make way for palm oil and other commodities. The iconic orangutan lives in these forests. As its habitat disappears, so too does its chances of survival.

Discover palm-free products in Ethical Consumer magazine.

3. Reduce food waste

That feeling you get when you throw food out. Not good, right?

10 million tonnes of food goes to waste in the UK every year. That's as weighty as about 790,000 double-decker buses.

Stop the guilt trip. Discover easy tricks and recipes for making the most of your food with the experts at Love Food Hate Waste. And we’ve got some tips to help you reduce your food waste, including waste-busting apps.

4. Buy less stuff

Most of us could probably do with less stuff in our lives.

Unfortunately we're hardwired to feel good about getting something new. Retailers feast on this weakness, tempting our pleasure receptors with upgrades and sales.

Rising demands for raw materials to make these things – like oil, metals and water – are damaging the environment.

5. Use good wood

Our country imports a lot of products made from wood – like paper and furniture. It takes an area of land almost 3 times the size of Wales to grow all that wood.

First, try to buy reclaimed or pre-loved wooden furniture wherever possible, and recycled paper products. Next best is to buy wood and wood products from UK or EU sources. If that fails, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo is your next option, but the scheme has not been without its troubles. 

Check how good retailers are at ensuring their wood comes from sustainable sources by using WWF’s timber scorecard, and take a look at our Good Wood Guide.

6. Reduce plastic pollution

It’s impossible to go for a walk without finding plastic waste: from crisp packets to bottles and bags.

But some forms of plastic aren't even visible to the naked eye. Around a third of our clothes contain tiny plastic threads. When washed they can escape into the sea and end up in the stomachs of fish.

The problem of plastic pollution is now big news. Images of sea life entangled in our plastic waste are being broadcast around the world. Check out our guide to living without plastic.

7. Eat less (and better) fish

Our seas are much emptier than they used to be because of overfishing.

Some types of fishing are particularly harmful. Mangrove forests are cut down to make way for farming prawns, and dynamite fishing damages coral reefs. 

Buy sustainable fish – and eat less of it to help lower the demand for fishing. Look out for certification by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). For help choosing sustainable seafood, see the Good Fish Guide.

8. Share and donate

From cradle to grave, the stuff we buy has a big carbon footprint. Secondhand is a greener option.

Freecycle is great for giving and getting free stuff locally. And you'll find affordable prices at community furniture stores and charity shops.

If high quality or designer fashion is your thing, try Thrift+. Donate top brand clothes, and you'll get 33% from the sale – and so does your chosen charity (including Friends of the Earth).

Consider pooling resources with your neighbours so that you can share things like lawnmowers and power tools – you could even start a car pool.

9. Buy from sustainable businesses

As manufacturers and retailers strive to provide us with the cheapest possible products, they cut corners – harming people and the planet. 

It’s often the poorest in the world who bear the main brunt.

So when you do buy new, look for brands that are transparent about the materials they use and the working conditions of their employees. Get more informed with our partner Ethical Consumer magazine, which provides 130 detailed product guides which subscribers can customise according to personal concerns.

10. Recycle and compost your waste

What has waste got to do with global warming?

More than 50% of our waste gets sent to landfill or burnt in incinerators. Both release planet-warming gases into the atmosphere.

It’s much better to recycle and compost. For example, 20 times more energy is used to make a new can than one from recycled sources.

Though buying less stuff or buying second-hand is even better.

A white piggy bank

11. Bank and invest ethically

The most destructive projects don't get off the ground without finance from banks or investors.

Shun planet-wrecking practices by switching to an ethical bank.

There’s a growing movement to stop investing pensions in coal, oil and gas. Ask your employer where your pension money is invested.

A white piggy bank