With summer in full swing, people are thrilled to partake in their favorite summer activities. Unfortunately, many of our summer activities, from slathering on environmentally damaging sunscreen to grilling burgers, can contribute to the destruction of our environment. But even if your summer routine is a change from what the rest of your year looks like, it is still important to practice green habits. With constant talk about climate change, our carbon footprint, and the quality of life of future generations, the concept of sustainable living is becoming more paramount than ever. By making some simple lifestyle changes we can help ensure responsible consumption, combat climate change, and protect our local ecosystems.
Swap your sunscreen. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals in our sunscreens (mainly oxybenzone and octinoxate) harm fish, corals, and algae. These chemicals can even bioaccumulate in food webs! So, whether you are going for a dip in the ocean or in a lake, why not lather yourself up with a sunscreen that is eco-friendly (these will contain zinc oxides instead of the chemicals mentioned above). To go the extra mile, here are some eco-friendly sunscreens that are not packaged in plastic!
Unplug. Fortunately, summer is an awesome season that provides lots of light and warmth! One of the best ways to enjoy your summer is to unplug from your electronics and explore the outdoors! Not only will you reduce your energy usage, but you might also have some fun in the sun. Try geocaching, biking in the coulees, river floating, hiking in Waterton, or any other fun outdoor activities. Consider unplugging and turning off other appliances in your home too – why not turn off the lights and let some natural light in or unplug your drying machine and opt for drying your textiles out in the sun. Save your air conditioner for really hot days; your AC unit uses the majority of the average home’s energy consumption! Try cooling off using a ceiling fan, dressing lightly, or eating some tasty ice cream instead.
Ditch your car. The snow is gone, the sun is out, so enjoy the weather while you can! Ditch your car, which releases greenhouse gases, and choose your bike or your two legs instead. There’s no better season to bike or walk to work, the mall, a restaurant, or a park than summer. This sustainable action might even help you achieve your dream summer tan! If you need to get somewhere a bit further, try bussing or carpooling.
Conserve water creatively. Summer is the season where our water usage seems to skyrocket; we spend hours watering our lawns and our gardens, pressure washing our homes, washing our cars, filling up our pools, and more. To offset your extreme water usage in one area of your routine, consider conserving water in another area. If you spent half an hour watering your garden, take a 5 minute shower instead of an hour-long shower. Maybe your pet’s water needs to be changed – give the old water to your plants! If your kids want to beat the heat, let them play in the sprinkler while also hydrating your lawn simultaneously. You can also wash your dog over a patch of brown grass. As long as you think creatively, there are never ending ways to conserve water this summer!
Have a no trace camping or hiking trip. Most of us enjoy getting outside for the summer and exploring the outdoors – but this summer let’s try to be responsible explorers by having a no trace expedition. The principle of no trace is to make it seem like you were never there! Some general tips include knowing specific regulations of where you are visiting, disposing of your waste properly, leaving what you find behind (look all you want, but leave the beauty as is for others to enjoy!), keeping your campfires small, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of others’ outdoor experience. For more details, check out Leave No Trace Canada.
Try out green grilling. When it comes to tackling air pollution and reducing your carbon footprint, try making this classic summer activity a little greener. Grilling with charcoal causes hefty greenhouse gas emissions, so an easy swap this summer is to switch to a gas grill (they are more energy efficient and produce less pollutants). If you are super attached to your charcoal grill, switching to a natural charcoal made from wood waste and furniture scraps (be sure there are no additives or binders) creates a cleaner fire. To be as energy efficient as possible, try reducing your preheat times and clean your grill while it is still hot, after you finish grilling. One of the best things you can do to be a green grill master is to buy a high-quality, long-lasting grill – this will not only save you money in the long term, but also reduce the amount of resources and energy used from manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. And while you are at it, why not try out a veggie burger instead of a beef patty – which accounts for fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses less land and water.
Go zero waste for picnics. Summer is the perfect time for a picnic surrounded by some beautiful scenery! Using disposable plates, utensils, cups, and napkins may be a good choice for easy cleanup, but not when it comes to the environment. By making some minor changes to your next picnic, you can have a big impact on our Earth. Simply bring reusable utensils, cups, and dishware to your picnic instead of disposable alternatives. Swap napkins for reusable cloths, and ditch ziploc bags for reusable beeswax wrap. If you still want simple disposable alternatives, compostable utensils and plates are available – however be sure to put them in your compost pile after your picnic! While out picnicking, be sure that you do not feed wildlife and that you clean up all your trash afterwards!
Eat local and in season. Summer is the growing season – so it makes it the perfect time to head to a Farmers’ Market and grab some local produce! Local food does not have to travel as far to arrive on your plate, so this will greatly reduce your carbon footprint by lessening greenhouse gas emissions and resources needed to ship and package the produce, plus it benefits the local economy. In season foods take less resources to grow, not to mention that food grown in its peak season will inevitably be fresher and tastier. Local and seasonal foods encourage sustainable agriculture which maintains farming practices that are conscious of the effects that farming has on our planet.
A conscious, sustainable lifestyle takes into account eating, energy use, socialization, transportation, and more. Living sustainably requires us to develop sustainable habits that we put into practice everyday, not just when we think about it. Hopefully, these lifestyle changes can be integrated into your every summer to ensure our planet, wildlife, and our families stay happy and healthy for many summers to come.