Guide to Sustainable Living







H e l p u s p r e s e r v e t h e e a r t h .

V i s i t o u r w e b s i t e f o r m o r e i n f o :

C l a r e m o n t g e n u n . c o m

Date of online publication: March 29,


The data and figures included in this

guide are all derived from recent

United Nations’ reports related to the

UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information on the SDGs and

their indicators, please visit


This document. Including the graphics,

was prepared by Lauren Shaffer,

President of the United Nations

Association of the Claremont Colleges

in 2020.



Did you know that, although Americans only account for only 4% of the

world's population, we consume 15% of the world's energy? American businesses

and individuals consume much more than their share of energy, as well as other

resources like food and water. To reverse this trend and reduce our damage to the

environment, we must all be mindful of our habits and how they affect the


In this modern age, many of us

understand the importance of

sustainable living, but have

questions about what

“sustainable living” looks like. This

guide takes you through various

areas of sustainability: Energy,

water, waste, food and shopping,

and activism. By providing you

with facts and figures as well as

tips and tricks, we hope to help

you navigate a path to being

more sustainable in your day-today


Being mindful of your impact on the

environment when you’re making

daily choices is an excellent way to

begin your path to sustainable

living. When you go to the grocery

store, don’t forget your reusable bags. When washing your hands, turn the water

off when you’re soaping up. This guide includes tips like these and more that you

can use each day to reduce your impact on the environment.



Take this quiz to test your knowledge of sustainable living practices and determine

which areas of sustainability you should focus on most in your daily life.

Q U E S T I O N 1 : E N E RG Y

Where do you use most energy at


a. Heating/Air conditioning

b. Water heating

c. Appliances

d. Lighting

e. TV & Media equipment

Q U E S T I ON 2 : WA T E R

Which home appliance uses the most


a. Toilets

b. Clothes Washer

c. Showers

d. Faucets

Q U E S T I O N 3 : WA S T E

Where can you safely recycle


a. Best Buy

b. Local household

hazardous waste facility

c. E-waste removal


d. All of the above

Q U E S T I ON 4 : F O OD & S H O P P I NG

In 2017, there were 267.8 million tons of

waste generated in the U.S. What share

of it was recycled and composted?

a. 55.9%

b. 18.3%

c. 35.2%

d. 5.4%


1. Heating/Air-Conditioning. Heating/AC units on average consume 46% of the home’s total energy consumption.

Water heating accounts for 14%, appliances 13%, lighting 9%, and TV & media equipment consumes 9%. 1

2. Toilets. toilets make up about 31% of overall household water consumption. Second is the clothes washer,

accounting for 15% to 40% of water consumption, and third is showers which account for less than 10% of



3. All of the above! You can recycle household electronics at Best Buy locations, your local hazardous waste

facility, or by using an e-waste removal service. 3

4. 35.2%. In 2017, 35.2% of waste was recycled and composted, 12.7% was combusted with energy recovery, and

51.2% was landfilled. 4



Although great strides have been made in energy technology and

production, most of our energy still comes from fossil fuels. As Americans, we

consume more than our share of energy. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways

that we can reduce our energy consumption and decrease the amount of carbon

emissions we put into the atmosphere.

Facts & Figures


• 17.5% of total final energy consumption comes from renewable energy.

• Energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60

per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. 5

• Although accounting for only 4% of the world's population, Americans consume

15% of the world's energy. 6

• The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power than fossil fuel

generating capacity. In 2013, the world added 143 gigawatts of capacity for

renewable power compared to 141 gigawatts of capacity for fossil fuels. 7

• Renewable energy is creating jobs. The International Renewable Energy Agency

estimates that 6.5 million people around the world work in the clean energy

sector. 7

• Almost 26 million households are served through off-grid renewable energy

systems: some 20 million households through solar home systems, 5 million

households through renewables-based minigrids, and 0.8 million households

through small wind turbines. 7

• Around the world, 1.2 billion people do not have reliable access to electricity.

That’s more than 1 in every 6 people on the planet without lighting for hospitals,


refrigeration for food and medicine, and clean, safe sources of fuel for cooking

and lighting. 7

• 87% of the 840 millions people without electricity live in rural areas. 5

• 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and

heating. 5

Turn it



Total Energy Consumption by Country

South Korea















United States


Total energy consumption (Mtoe)










Changes in Regional and Global Energy


Consumption since 1990

World Europe North America

Latin America Asia Pacific


Tips & Tricks


• Plug appliances into power strips and turn them off when not in use, including

your computer.

• Turn off the lights when you don’t need them

• Avoid preheating the oven unless you need a precise baking temperature. Start

heating your food as soon as you turn on the oven.

• If you have the option, install solar panels in your house.

• Replace old appliances and light bulbs with energy efficient ones.

• Get a rug or carpet to keep your house warm and your thermostat low.

• Shovel snow manually.

• Plug air leaks in doors and windows.

• Adjust your thermostat lower in winter and higher in summer.

• Make sure your home has adequate insulation and energy-saving windows.

• Use cardboard matches, they don’t require petroleum like gas-filled lighters do.

• Add dimmer switches so you can control how bright the lights are.

• Air dry your clothes instead of using a machine.

• Bike, walk, or use public transportation. Save car rides for when you have a big


• If you need a car, purchase an electric or hybrid one.

• Maintain your car to increase fuel efficiency.



Conserving water is an essential step to reducing your impact on the

environment. As climate change increases and our planet grows warmer, our water

resources will become even more stressed than they currently are. International

conflicts over water will arise, sanitation will become harder to manage, and fewer

people will have access to drinking water. To help alleviate these challenges, it is

important to practice water-saving techniques in your everyday life.

Facts & Figures


• Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. Although

the global average water stress is only 11%, 31 countries experience water stress

between 25% and 70%, and 22 countries are above 70% and are therefore under

serious water stress.

• Estimates suggest that if the degradation of the natural environment and the

unsustainable pressures on global water resources continue, 45% of the global

gross domestic product (GDP), 52% of the world’s population, and 40% of global

grain production will be at risk by 2050. Poor and marginalized populations will

be disproportionately affected, further exacerbating already rising inequalities.

• About 90% of all natural disasters are water-related. Over the period 1995–2015,

floods accounted for 43% of all documented natural disasters, affecting 2.3 billion

people, killing 157,000 more and causing $662 billion in damage.

• Given ever rising levels of local water stress, combined with the fact that there are

286 international rivers and 592 transboundary aquifers shared by 153 countries,

it is expected that water-related conflicts will increase in the future.

• Three out of ten people (2.1 billion people, or 29% of the global population) did

not use a safely managed drinking water service4 in 2015, whereas 844 million

people still lacked even a basic drinking water service. Of all the people using

safely managed drinking water services, only one out of three (1.9 billion) lived in

rural areas.

• Worldwide, only 2.9 billion people (or 39% of the global population) used safely

managed sanitation services in 2015. Two out of five of these people (1.2 billion)

lived in rural areas. Another 2.1 billion people had access to ‘basic’ sanitation

services. The remaining 2.3 billion (one out of every three people) lacked even a

basic sanitation service.


Global Water Demand by Sector to 2040


Level of Physical Water Stress



Tips & Tricks

8 10 11

• Take short, 5-10 minute showers or bathe in a partially filled tub.

• Install water-saving shower heads or flow restrictors.

• Don’t rinse your plates before running your dishwasher, and use your dishwasher

for full loads only.

• If you wash dishes by hand, use of dual sinks instead of letting the water run

while you wash dishes.

• Use your dish washer and washing machine for full loads only.

• If possible, buy a high efficiency washer.

• Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, shave, or soap up your hands.

• Install a dual flush into your home toilets to use only the water you need.

• Water your lawn only when it needs it, and water during cool parts of the day.

• Cover up heated pools to maintain their temperature and reduce evaporation.

• Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to slow the evaporation of moisture.

• Use a broom instead of water to clean sidewalks, driveways, and steps.

• Check your toilet, faucets, and pipes for leaks.

• Don’t run the hose while washing your car.

• Plant drought-resistant trees and plants.

• Store stormwater for use in the garden.



The production of waste like paper and plastic is a major contributor of

environmental degradation. Many of our products come heavily packaged, and

many of us use disposable products every day. By following the motto “reduce,

reuse, recycle,” as well as some of the other tips in this guide, you can eliminate

waste and help protect our planet.

Facts & Figures


• The global population, currently at 7.3 billion, will grow in the coming decades

to 9 billion and perhaps 11 billion by the end of the 21st century. Some 80% of this

growing population will live in cities. Of this projected 9 billion people, 3 billion

will belong to the middle class, with sufficient disposable income to purchase the

consumer goods that others enjoy elsewhere in the world, further draining the

planet’s already strained natural resources.

• Of the world’s 50 largest active dumpsites, all have at least one thing in common:

the serious threat they pose to human health and the environment. They affect

the daily lives of 64 million people, a number comparable to the population of


• Typically 50 to 70% of the waste generated in developing countries is organic

materials suitable for composting.

• Recycling rates in high-income countries have progressively increased over the

last 30 years, driven largely by legislative and economic instruments. In lowerincome

countries, the informal sector is often achieving recycling rates of 20 to


• It has been estimated that a 10 to 15% reduction in global greenhouse gas

emissions could be achieved through techniques like landfill mitigation and

diversion, extracting energy from waste, recycling, and other types of improved

waste management.

• From 2015 to 2017, waste processing investment projects worth more than $300

billion were active, of which $85 billion was directed to waste processing. Most of

this investment activity occurred in high-income countries.

• One hundred and fifteen species (44 sea bird species, 9 cetacean species,

11 pinniped species, 31 invertebrate species/taxa, 6 sea turtle species) were

reported entangled in marine debris in the US and a total of 200 species



Relative quantities of waste from different

sources in the material and product life



Trends in MSW generation since 1995


in selected high-income countries


Tips & Tricks

8 13

• Recycling paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum keeps landfills from growing and

limits the use of further these resources.

• Get to know the rules of recycling. Visit your city or county’s website for

instructions on how to properly recycle waste.

• Cancel unnecessary mail. Stop paper bills and bank statements and utilize online

options instead.

• Choose a better diaper option, like cloth diapers or an environmentally

responsible disposable brand.

• Use refillable water bottles and coffee cups.

• Bring your own reusable straws and cutlery when eating at a place that uses


• Stop newspaper and magazine subscriptions and read them online instead.

• Buy e-books instead of paper books.

• Use reusable containers instead of disposable plastic baggies to pack your food


• Shop from bulk bins instead of buying products with individual packaging.

• Bring your own shopping and produce bags to the grocery store.

• Buy milk in returnable, reusable glass bottles.

• Take your own reusable containers to takeout restaurants.

• Use both sides of a piece of paper before recycling it.

• Learn to repair rather than discard items.

• Take fewer napkins.



Food and shopping choices also have a major impact on our environment as

well as our bodies. Unsustainable consumption and production processes have

contributed to the degradation of our planet, but thankfully there are things we

can do to avoid further harm. You can start by educating yourself about sustainable

food and shopping choices, and then adapt your daily choices to match what you

have learned.

Facts & Figures


• Each year, an estimated 1/3 of all food produced ends up rotting in the bins of

consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting


• 3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year while almost 1 billion people go

undernourished and another 1 billion hungry.

• 2 billion people globally are overweight or obese. Overconsumption of food is

detrimental to our health and the environment.

• Land degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, overfishing,

and marine environment degradation are all lessening the ability of the natural

resource base to supply food.

• The food sector accounts for around 30 per cent of the world’s total energy

consumption and accounts for around 22 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas


• If the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost

three planets will be required to sustain current lifestyles.

• While substantial environmental impacts from food occur in the production

phase (i.e. agriculture and food processing), households influence these impacts

through their dietary choices and habits. This consequently affects the

environment through food-related energy consumption and waste generation.


Per capita food loss and waste by



(Kilograms per year)

Distribution of the annual energy used


by the US food system


Tips & Tricks 8 15 16

• Shop locally, like at the farmers market, to support neighborhood businesses and

prevent delivery trucks from driving long distances.

• Buy minimally packaged goods.

• Buy vintage clothes.

• Shop smart and plan meals ahead to ensure you don’t buy more food than you


• Buy “ugly” or misshapen fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown


• Freeze fresh produce and leftovers if you don’t have a chance to eat them before

they go bad.

• Grow fruits and vegetables in your own backyard.

• Buy environmentally friendly cleaning products that are not harsh on the


• Compost your food waste.

• Shop only for sustainable seafood. There are now many websites and apps that

will tell you what is safe to consume.

• Ask for smaller portions. You can always go back for more if you’re still hungry.

• Love your leftovers. Instead of scraping leftovers into the bin, use them as

ingredients for tomorrow’s meal, or simply reheat them as the same meal again.

• Understand dates on your food. After the “use-by” date has passed, food is not

safe to eat anymore. “Best-before” dates, on the other hand, only show when the

food is at its best quality in terms of smell, texture, and taste. If well stored, most

of non-perishable food is still edible after the “best-before” date!

• Give your surplus to help those who need it. Learn about existing initiatives in

your cafeterias, your stores and your city to give a boost to food aid associations

and reduce waste.


Saving the planet requires more than changing our own daily habits. To have

a greater impact on the environment, we must be activists and spread the word

about the importance of sustainable living. Below is a list of different activismrelated

activities, most of which you can do from your own couch. Don’t be afraid to

speak out against unsafe environmental practices and encourage others to do the


Tips & Tricks 8 17

• Use your voice and your vote! Vote for representatives who have a positive

environmental track record, and encourage other representatives to prioritize

environmental issues as well.

• Organize a no impact week in your community or at work.

• Urge your local and national representatives to engage in activities that will

protect people and the planet. Voice your support for the Paris Agreement!

• Stay informed. Follow your local news and stay in touch with the Global Goals

online or on social media at @GlobalGoalsUN.

• Visit Climate Neutral Now to calculate your carbon footprint and purchase

climate credits. In this way, you help reduce global emissions faster!


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T h a n k y o u .

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