In the simplest terms, sustainable living is the process of becoming more mindful about what you use and making changes to reduce your impact on the Earth's resources.
From cutting back on meat to tracing the origin of our clothes, we're increasingly waking up to the fact that our lifestyles could be better. With great blogs out there such as HungryCityHippy for food and travel, Ethical Unicorn for fashion and the KissThatWorld podcast, it's becoming a lot easier to learn what we could be doing and feel inspired to take the next step. We're also realising that consuming less can be good for us too.
What better topic for us to address then, than sustainability in the home?
Home is the place where you can relax, spend time with your family or curl up on a Sunday evening. It's an environment that can affect your health, a space that can make you happier. Our homes are also responsible for 25% of our personal carbon emissions.
There's a lot we can do and, particularly in the case of our home, there's no one-time solution. The way we create our homes is made up of a lot of small and big decisions made throughout our lives.
Change takes time. If you want to edge towards a more sustainable way of living, small steps are effective in creating good habitats and propelling you to make more lasting changes overall.
Here are ten ways you can start to live more sustainably at home:
1. Buy less, but better
There is nothing like moving house to make us realise the amount of clutter we accumulate in life.
This happened to me when we moved into our flat recently. My partner and I lugged heavy boxes and unpacked them, only to realise a lot of the things we had weren't things we wanted at all. A big bag of things went straight to the charity shop.
Now picture the alternative. Imagine that each item in your home was purchased after reflection, is right for you and the best quality you can afford. Whether it's a saucepan, a mixing bowl or a dustpan and brush, it's something you won't ever want to replace. You've bought it for life.
Kirsty Patrick, founder of local shop Home byKirsty, suggests, "Take time to choose the products that you're putting in your house. It's easy to rush into things - to just get a throw, a cushion or a print because you think you need it. Spend time getting used to a space and think before you buy. You'll save money because you won't buy things you regret."
Here are some examples from a local startup, Hive, whose whole premise is based on buying a good item only once.
2. Take something old and upcycle it
It takes a lot of energy to create a single piece of furniture, from workmanship to the tree that took a human lifetime to grow.
Yet good furniture can last for generations.
"Before you buy anything new, do your research and see if you can buy something older, better quality and make it what you want it to be," says Jan Williams, an expert upcycler and founder of Beti Biggs. "Go to an auction or charity shop. It’ll take a while but you’ll have something unique to you rather than mass produced."
If the older furniture you have does need touching up, a common way to do this is by applying a coat of eco-friendly chalk or acrylic paint in your colour of choice. These methods are usually good for beginners as the paint can be applied directly to the wood with no need for sanding or treatments.
3. Minimising plastic
Plastic is a non-renewable material that is notoriously hard to biodegrade.
What's surprising then is how often we use throwaway plastic in our daily lives, from toothbrushes and kitchen sponges to cling film and plastic bags.
The good news though, is that there are lots of alternatives you may not yet be aware of.
One great local shop is Tabitha Eve Co, which began in Cardiff last December. Debbie, the founder, makes her own reusable cotton bags, wax food wraps, makeup pads, sponges and bowl covers.
"I started because I was using a lot of sandwich bags and dispensable nappies with my girls. Tabitha Eve Co was born to help people make swaps away from plastic easily and make a difference."
4. Growing your own food or buying local.
Growing your own is the ultimate way to trace the origin of your food and reduce its environmental impact.
Recently I saw some fruit in a supermarket that had come from Chile... yes Chile. Just take into consideration the impact of the fossil fuels used to transport the fresh produce from South America to Europe. Then think about the huge amounts of nitrogen fertiliser used in industrial-scale food production that is responsible for toxic chemical leaching and you may well have lost your appetite!
Whether it's at your allotment, your garden or as part of a community garden, growing your own is fun and a welcome break from our city lifestyles - most of us spend a shocking 90% of our time indoors!
If you're looking for an allotment in Cardiff, you can visit the Council's website here.
If growing your own seems like too much hard work, consider buying food from a local market. This helps you be assured of the provenance of your food, how it was grown and let's you get the grower - they may well be the one selling it to you.
Cardiff's Riverside Real Food holds farmer's markets across the city. The local market in Roath has just celebrated its tenth anniversary.
5. Use houseplants to purify the air in your home
Research is only beginning to tell of the health benefits of keeping plants inside your home.
In indoor environments where air isn't circulating, there's a greater risk of air pollutants building up and causing damage to your health. This has been cited as a problem for spaceships, offices and also your home.
Pollution is partly caused by synthetic materials in the building and toxic compounds from your cleaning products. It can also be cause by mould and bacteria, as well as exhaust fumes from outside.
Houseplants help by reducing the number of particulates in the air as they photosynthesise. Microbes in the soil of potted plants also have a filtering effect on the air. Furthermore, links have been made between having plants in a room and a reduction in stress, the lowering of blood pressure and reduced mental fatigue.
While spider plants and dracaena are most widely known for their air filtering properties, my favourite indoor plant is the geranium, which can bloom year round once settled in. Special varieties can also perfume the air from rose to the cedarwood scent of my oakleaf geranium bought at the RHS Flower Show.
Great local sources of house plants are edible plants from Blaencamel Farm who appears regularly at local farmers markets, house plants by Home byKirsty and a local shop coming to the Cardiff arcades soon by my friend Stephen, specialising in 'house plants that survive.' Simply said, look for the new shop filled to the brim with plants.
6. Rainwater harvesting and reusing greywater
If all my travels as a student taught me one thing, it's that we are privileged in the UK to have drinking water on tap.
That's great for drinking, cooking, brushing our teeth and showering, but think of all the other ways we use clean water - like flushing the toilet, watering the plants or washing out clothes. That water doesn't need to be drinkable.
In our wet country, rainwater harvesting is an environmentally-friendly way to save rainwater for other uses in the home. Stored in a tank, the water can be channelled into the house or used in the garden.
Celtic Sustainables is an eco-friendly business providing rainwater kits. In their experience, "with a properly installed rainwater saving system in the home, families are able to use up to 50% less treated water without any effect on hygiene or comfort." According to them, rainwater can even be more efficient than tap water for washing clothing because it requires almost half as much washing detergent.
An example of this system at work in Cardiff, is the Ty Oriel low-energy house designed by Downs Merrifield architects. A large rainwater tank is buried underneath the garden lawn and supplies the home.
7. Create space for wildlife in your garden
Cities aren't just for humans. They're also places inhabited by wild animals who need places to sleep, to forage and to bathe. If you live in the countryside there's even more potential.
So don't underestimate your garden. However it looks, it's likely to be a habitat for something, especially if it has plants in it.
And a word on your lawn - a pristine square of grass isn't necessarily as sustainable as you might think. Here's good news for those who have rogue bluebells popping up on theirs at the moment. A mix of grass and weeds like dandelions and clover on the lawn is fine - these plants are likely to be contributing to the biodiversity of your garden.
For those of you who dream of wildflower meadows, but never knew where to start, an interesting product I've heard of is Meadowmat. Just like turf, you can roll this out onto your lawn, but the difference is that the Meadowmat will bloom into a profusion of grasses and wildflowers - if you've ever tried this let me know.
Lastly on gardens, don't pour concrete on them! You're doing more harm than good for your local ecosystem. And never use artificial grass. As garden designer Cheryl Cummings described it to me, "it's like painting concrete green."
8. Build a low-energy home
Low-energy homes can come under a range of labels from BREEAM certifications to the Passivhaus standard. What these have in common is a focus on improving the energy performance of your home.
A while ago I stayed for a week at a Passivhaus certified home in Ardnamurchan, Scotland. Despite the cold, blustery weather, the interior of the home was warm and didn't need any heating. It didn't overheat either, but regulated its own temperature.
Owners of a high performing, low-energy home can expect to pay next to nothing in heating bills. These homes are so energy-efficient that they can keep themselves warm up to a few degrees below freezing. They do this by using the heat from cooking, our appliances and even our bodies to warm fresh air before it comes into the house.
If you're interested in building a low-energy home or retrofitting your current home, it's worth speaking to an architect who can help you understand the possibilities.
9. Renewable energy
Not as hard or expensive as you might think. The easiest thing to do is switch to a green energy provider such as Ecotricity or Octopus Energy. As consumers this is our vote for how we want the UK to be powered in the future.
If you're considering building off-grid or producing your own renewable electricity, local experts such as Urban Solar can help you understand how this would work for your home and if it's a good choice based on the positioning of your house.
I've seen more and more solar panels around in my area of Cardiff, Roath. One advantage of them is that you can sell back any excess energy to the National Grid and buy energy at times when it's cloudy or at night.
10. Use natural or recycled materials in your home
The last one. Do you remember when we mentioned synthetic materials polluting the air in your home? That means think twice about what you use in future.
A key example is paint. Paints containing Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) can be damaging to our health and to the environment. Look for VOC free paints when buying for your home - all the paints at Celtic Sustainables in Cardigan and the Eco Home Centre in Cardiff are safe and environmentally friendly.
Then look at the origin of the materials in your home. Are your window frames made of PVC or from renewable wood? If you have a cheap furry pillow or blanket, be aware it might actually be real fur. Rabbit skins are often used instead of more expensive faux fur.
And your building materials... Natural materials such as stone and timber frames are preferable to steel frames and concrete, but you need to be aware of who mined that stone or whether the wood is from a sustainable source. Ask your provider.
Better still, you can recycle salvaged materials for building or your garden, often at a cheaper price than buying new. SW Reclamation in Cardiff for example, will polish down old bricks and sell them back to you from 45p each. Old paving slabs from your front drive can be used to make paths or line beds in the garden.
I hope that, at whatever stage you are, this post has given you something to think about and a next step to take when it comes to living more sustainably.
As I said at the beginning, sustainable living extends to every aspect of our lives, so there are many more ways we can make changes to limit our impact on the planet.
Have you thought about sustainability in your everyday life? What changes have you made at home and elsewhere?
I'd love to hear from you.