The ultimate guide to going green: 30 ways to be more environmentally friendly
27 May 2021 | Aimee Tweedale
The climate crisis is so much bigger than all of us. Small actions like recycling a cardboard box, or buying a reusable water bottle, can feel tiny in the face of the issue. After all, we need major actions from governments, companies, and organisations, to achieve a carbon neutral future.
But that’s not a reason to bury our heads in the sand. There are also lots of small, everyday actions that all of us can take, to play our part. And along the way, we might find that we also save money, raise awareness, connect with nature and the local community, and ease our own anxiety about the climate.
Here are 30 tips that could help you live a greener, more environmentally-friendly life. Which one will you try today?
1. Swap to energy-efficient light bulbs
An easy first step on your journey to eco-living: replace your old light bulbs.
Did you know that the average incandescent light bulb wastes 90% of its energy as heat1? By investing in energy-efficient LED bulbs, you’ll get bulbs that last longer, and even save money on your energy bills. For extra eco brownie-points, always remember to turn them off when you leave a room!
Interested in making your lighting more eco-friendly_ and _smarter? Read our complete guide to smart light bulbs.
2. Eat less meat
Cutting meat and other animal products out of your diet is one of the biggest steps you can take in going green.
Why? Because farming, transporting, and storing meat creates a huge amount of carbon emissions. Not to mention, the amount of land used for farming worldwide is the biggest cause of deforestation2.
Even if you don’t go completely plant-based, there are benefits to cutting back. Beef alone produces about 60kg of carbon emissions per 1kg of meat produced. That’s more than twice the amount generated by the next-worst offender, lamb3. So cutting out the burgers alone could make a big difference.
According to one Oxford University expert, if every family in the UK switched their red meat for a vegan meal just once a week, the effect would be the same as taking 16 million cars off the road4. So it’s not a bad place to start!
3. Track your energy use
Here’s one we’ve mentioned a few times before: get a smart meter. While smart meters themselves don’t save energy, they tell you exactly how much you’re using. That helps you to see where you can cut back.
Even better, combine your smart meter with OVO Greenlight. Our nifty energy-saving tool is free to all our members, and uses your smart meter info to give you tips on how to save.
By using the 2 together, you can not only make your home greener, but also lower your energy bills5.
4. Get out from behind the wheel
We all know that cars are a big factor in the climate crisis. After all, they’re powered by oil, aka petroleum, which is a fossil fuel. One way to reduce your impact on the environment is to leave the car at home as often as you can, and walk, cycle, or take public transport instead.
If your car’s essential, perhaps it’s worth thinking about going electric. Here’s everything you need to know about whether electric cars are really better for the environment.
5. Let your garden show its wild side
From cutting out pesticides, to watering the plants only when needed, less is more when it comes to environmentally-friendly gardening. That way, you’re not only saving the planet, but saving your own money and energy, too!
In fact, any less-than-keen gardeners will be overjoyed to hear that one of the best things you can do for your garden is down tools and let nature run wild, and reclaim it.
6. Support your local businesses
Shopping locally isn’t just a great way to invest in your community. It’s also much better for the planet – as it saves on the carbon emissions that would have come from your car (or your delivery driver’s van!).
If you need to shop online, try to avoid the temptation of next-day deliveries. Grouping deliveries together in one trip is better for the environment.
7. Take a tote when you go shopping
This one’s an easy win. Make sure you carry extra tote bags, or even your old supermarket bags, around with you, so you’re always ready to carry your own shopping without picking up more plastic.
8. Cut down on food waste
When we throw away food, we’re wasting all the energy that went into producing that food and transporting it to our homes. In fact, it’s been estimated that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China6.
We can fight food waste by planning meals ahead, and buying exactly what we need. Another option is starting a compost heap in your garden, or a food waste recycling bin, if your local authority offers one. The useful food-sharing app Olio can help connect you with neighbours who are getting rid of things you might want (and vice versa!).
9. Avoid single-use plastics and packaging
In the modern world, we’re surrounded by single-use plastic. Research suggests that there’s been about 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s. And about 60% of that has ended up either in landfill, or worse, in our oceans and natural environment. Perhaps even more shockingly: only about 9% of plastic ever made has been recycled7.
It’s tough, but when you can, it’s best to buy things wrapped in recyclable packaging (or even better: no packaging at all). There are a growing number of zero-waste shops around the UK, aimed at cutting packaging out of our weekly shop. You could also try buying fresh produce at your local market.
10. Recycle, recycle, recycle!
The average person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish roughly every 7 weeks8. To stop our landfills from overflowing and wreaking havoc on our environment, we need to first cut down on the amount of packaging and disposable things we use. But where we can’t cut down, it’s important to recycle.
11. Buy second-hand and vintage clothes
A whopping 10% of the world’s carbon emissions come from the fast fashion industry9. Not to mention, the fashion industry is also responsible for a shocking amount of water use, and for polluting our environment with microplastics. You can avoid all this by shopping second-hand, instead – and find yourself a bargain in the process!
12. Switch off your devices at night
Did you know that vampire devices are draining power from your house?
That might sound a bit sinister – but what it really means is that things like your mobile phone and laptop chargers will continue to use electricity if you leave them plugged in, even when they’re not in use! So remember to turn things completely off (not just on standby) whenever you can, and don’t leave devices charging for longer than they need.
13. Change your shower head
We all love a long, hot shower, but the water we use around the home is a huge part of our individual carbon footprints. This is due to how much energy it takes to heat water up. An eco shower head can be an easy and cheap way to reduce the amount of water you’re wasting in the shower (and buy you an extra minute or 2 in there!).
14. Plant a tree
Trees are some of nature’s best carbon sinks. This means that they can absorb dangerous carbon emissions and take them out of our atmosphere, which helps fight climate change.
If you’ve got space, perhaps you could plant a small tree in your garden. Or you could go one better, and get out and about to plant trees in your local community with other volunteers. Find opportunities to go planting near you, with The Conservation Volunteers.
15. Fill the dishwasher
You might be surprised to learn that using the dishwasher can actually be more eco-friendly than washing up by hand. Of course, this is only usually the case with newer, more energy-efficient dishwashers, and only when they’re full. (Running a dishwasher to wash just a few dishes is a big waste of energy.)
If you prefer to wash your dishes in the sink, there are ways of saving water while you do it. Check out our complete guide to washing your dishes the green way.
16. Make use of your boiler timer
If you’re not already using your boiler timer, then it’s about time to start! The handy dial on the front of your boiler can help you automate your heating, so that it’s only on when you really need it. This is another carbon-saving trick that’s also good for saving money on your energy bills.
17. Spend less time online
We’re all guilty of getting sucked into an endless scroll on our devices. But did you know that there’s a carbon footprint to our time online?
Using our devices less means using less power, which is better for the environment. Maybe you could spend that extra time out in nature, doing a bit of forest bathing!
18. Banish draughts from your house
Cold draughts that blow through your house are more than just a little annoying. They’re wasting the energy used to heat your home, which is a drain on the environment (not to mention your wallet).
Luckily, there are some simple DIY steps you can take to banish draughts from the house. And if you’re able to invest a bit more in making your home energy-efficient, check out our guide to home insulation.
19. Check if it’s time to upgrade your white goods
We mentioned up above about the importance of unplugging your devices when you can. But there are some electrical items that you can’t really switch off. Fridges and freezers are the biggest culprits, along with dishwashers and washing machines.
There are ways to make your fridge-freezer more efficient. Make sure it’s not over-filled, so air can circulate, and check that the rubber seals around the doors are clean and airtight. If you think it might be time to upgrade your old, ailing fridge-freezer, check out our guide to buying an energy-efficient new model.
20. Turn down the heat
Warming our homes is directly related to global warming. In fact, according to the Committee on Climate Change, 19% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from home heating10. Just turning down the temperature by as little as 1 degree could make a big difference.
21. Speak up!
Never underestimate the power of simply having a conversation about climate change. Raising awareness about the problem is a powerful way to make a difference.
Start by chatting to your family and friends about your concerns about the planet, and the eco-friendly changes you’re making in your own life. Read our guide to talking about climate change with kids, for help with explaining it to the little ones.
On a bigger scale, you can also speak to your local community, by getting involved in volunteering or activism. And speak to your political representatives, to get your voice heard in Parliament, too.
22. Get some eco-friendly toilet paper
It’s not the most glamorous action on this list, but it’s an important one. The average Brit goes through around 127 rolls of toilet paper per year11. Worldwide, about 712 million trees are cut down each year to make loo roll12. That’s a huge amount of paper going down the drain, and not enough of it is recycled.
Consider swapping to recycled toilet paper, or paper made from more sustainable materials like bamboo.
23. Find out where your money goes
The link between your cash and the environment might not seem obvious at first. But the money we deposit in our current accounts is used by banks to fund their profit-making activities. At lots of high street banks, this includes financing fossil fuels.
The same goes for any other funds, pensions, savings accounts, or other financial products you own. All financial institutions invest money, so it’s worth finding out where yours is going, to make sure it’s not funding practices you disagree with.
Speak to your bank or pension provider, or do some digging online, to find out more about how your money’s being invested. If you’re not happy with what you learn, it might be time to switch. This is Money has a helpful guide to green banking.
24. Replace your old boiler
This is a big one. The way we heat our homes is one of the most important changes we need to make, to reach our net-zero goals as a country. In 2017, the average household generated around 2,745kg of carbon emissions just from heating. That’s around 31% of a household’s total carbon footprint13.
To be part of the change, have a think about low-carbon heating options that don’t use any kind of fossil fuel. And read up on whether gas boilers are going to be phased out by the UK government in the future.
The next best thing is to make sure your boiler is as energy-efficient as possible. If your boiler’s more than 10 years old, it could be driving up both your energy bills and your carbon footprint. Consider whether it’s time for an upgrade.
25. Install a smart thermostat
Not yet joined the smart home revolution?
With a smart thermostat, you can control the heating and hot water in your home from wherever you are, via your phone. That’s not just a cool party trick. It can also help you save on your energy use, by making sure you’re only heating your home as much as you need to, and no more.
In fact, by getting a tado smart thermostat, you could save as much as 31% on your heating bills14. Being eco-friendly can have its perks!
26. Get handy with a needle and thread
Repairing your old clothes, or altering them to fit, is always a more eco-friendly alternative to buying anything new. And if you don’t have the time or the skills to sew yourself, you could also use The Seam, a new directory, to find a tailor near you.
27. Make your own cleaning products
Loads of our usual household cleaning products contain corrosive and harmful chemicals. This can have a big impact on air pollution, water pollution, and our health.
28. Take staycations closer to home
It won’t surprise you to learn that flying comes with serious carbon emissions. After all, it takes a lot of fossil fuels to power those huge jets! Aviation actually makes up about 2.4% of total global carbon emissions. It may not sound like much, but that figure is set to grow in coming years15.
If you’re interested in holidaying closer to home, check out our full guide to having an eco-staycation in the UK.
29. Get green fingers in your own veg garden
We’ve talked about the benefits of shopping locally, and buying fresh food without packaging. But the very best option? Growing your own!
Not only will this lower your carbon emissions and plastic use, but it’ll also give you a good use for your food waste, in your very own compost heap. Plus: tending a vegetable or herb garden can be a boost for your mental health16.
30. Switch to a green energy supplier!
Of course, we saved the best ‘til last.
Your home energy makes up a mighty 28% of your personal carbon footprint17.
With OVO, you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting 100% renewable electricity18.Plus: we’ll plant 1 tree in your name every year19, and give you access to OVO Greenlight, our nifty energy-saving tool.
On Insta? Give us a follow, and we’ll share more simple ways to make your life greener.
Want to go even further? Our green upgrade, OVO Beyond, comes with 100% carbon-neutral energy (including 15% green gas – one of the best mixes you can get in the UK)20. We’ll also plant 5 extra trees for you each year.
Interested in joining us on the journey? Get a quote in less time than it takes to boil the kettle.
Sources and references:
5 OVO's 2019 analysis of academic research into the effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption behaviours indicates that being able to monitor your energy usage by installing a smart meter and having access to energy insights information can lead to a reduction in energy use. The reduction in energy use results from the customer making changes to their habits by curtailing home energy use through actions such as optimising heating settings or switching lights off. The actual savings achieved will vary depending on individual energy use and the nature of changes made to a customer's energy habits.
14 An independent study has shown that installing and correctly using a tadoº smart thermostat can reduce your energy use from heating by up to 31%. The study found that the tadoº device can reduce heating energy requirements by 14-26% through controlling the heat source (e.g. boiler or heat pump). You could also save another 7% by turning down the heating based on the weather forecast, depending on the window sizes. If the window surfaces are relatively large, the energy saving will increase.
17 Based on analysis carried out by the Carbon Trust for OVO Group (2020), 28% of an average individual’s carbon footprint in the UK comes from energy. In this analysis, the carbon footprint includes the following lifestyle categories: energy, transport, shopping, food and drink and holidays. See table below for each category. This carbon footprint data has been calculated using BEIS 2020 emission factors. This excludes emissions from things that the average person cannot directly control such as supporting the NHS, defence, government bodies, etc. Please note these figures are not reflective of potential changes to your habits during the coronavirus pandemic.
18 100% of the renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. A proportion of the electricity we sell is also purchased directly from renewable generators in the UK.
19 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.
10 Enjoy even greener energy with OVO Beyond in comparison with our standard OVO plans. In addition to 100% renewable electricity as available with our standard plans, OVO Beyond reduces your yearly carbon emissions from the energy used in your home that is supplied by OVO to net zero by providing 100% carbon-neutral gas (15% green gas and 85% offset) and offsetting all associated lifecycle carbon emissions involved in the production and consumption of your electricity & gas, you will also get 5 trees per year in UK schools and communities and other green benefits. The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. The green gas we sell is backed via renewable certificates (Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin (RGGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin and how these work. A proportion of the electricity we sell is also purchased directly from renewable generators in the UK. We offset the remaining emissions by supporting UN REDD+ carbon reduction projects that are certified to the Verified Carbon Standard or the Gold Standard. See here for more information on how we restore nature and protect rainforests with our offsetting programmes.