Skip to Content

How to start living sustainably in your 20s

Sustainable living

I will be the first to admit that when I came to college as a young and eager freshman, the last thought on my mind was my impact on the environment and living sustainably. Through my years in school, I gave little consideration to the amount of food I wasted, time I spent in the shower, or even where the food I ate was coming from, and that’s alright. During a time of serious transition, not many people stop to consider their footprint on the world and its resources. However, as I continue making strides toward adulthood and independence, I’ve realized how numb I’ve become to important environmental issues that are just about everywhere I look. I took an environmental course during my last year of college and I can thank my professor for opening my eyes to the impending problems that Americans and people of the world place on our planet.

I will also be the first to admit that I used to care less about saving the planet or protecting our natural resources. I used to see older students protest at the student center and it confused me; it seemed like there were bigger problems in the world than saving a couple of trees. I was baffled when my cousins told me they had been vegans for the past decade: how could they go without eating anything that derives from an animal? That’s no way to live, I thought. Yet what I’ve realized and learned through growing older is that people are making choices that impact their lives for the good of society. So why can’t everyone take more steps to help our planet? It’s actually really simple to show more consideration for the environment around you, and you don’t have to become a tree-hugging hippy to make a difference.

As young adults, many of us have probably not been exposed to the implications the human race has put on the environment, especially in the last several decades. I myself was not aware of serious issues like genetically modified food production (GMO) or rapid climate change. To put a few things into perspective for you, let me outline a few of the things that we as twenty-somethings probably do not think about on a day to day basis.

  1. Have you ever noticed that in an American supermarket, there is no such thing as a season? Sure, you’ll hear your parents talk about strawberry season or “now is a good time to buy apples,” but are your purchasing powers ever really limited to what’s “in season”? Probably not. As American consumers, we can purchase any type of produce at any given time, which is not normal in other societies around the world that rely on crop growth according to season. In America, we rely on companies like Monsanto, Inc. (which is not 100% American owned, for the record) that genetically modify our food. Some of you may have seen the label GMO or GMO-free on your produce. This means that a corporation is genetically altering the food that we consume everyday, usually from the start when they create GMO seeds. Genetically-modified food in animal studies has been known to show organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. It’s simply not natural.

  2. Ever notice that natural disasters have become a kind of norm in our society today? We may not expect them, but when one happens, we assume that it’s just “a natural part of human life.” That’s unfortunately not the case. Nearly all of these “natural” disasters have a direct human causation. What kind of implications can human production have on the world? Well, hurricanes have caused more monetary damage in 2001-2012 than the 1700s-2000 combined, dust storms in China have become so severe that people in California wipe the dust off their cars in the morning, bodies of water have been dried up entirely across the world, certain countries are no longer able to grow crops because their soil has been affected, just to name a few.

  3. When you think of an American farm, I’m sure many picture a quiet countryside and farmers with thick accents and overalls. That may have been early twentieth century America, but not anymore. Nearly every farm left in the United States is in the hands of about five major corporations that control what we eat. Small farms across America that grow non-GMO foods are closing everyday when larger farms try to buy their land. These farms do not possess the quiet countryside setting you’re expecting, either. There is a famous quote by Paul McCartney that says “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” The conditions that animals endure in these slaughterhouses will make your stomach turn. I won’t get into details, but if you want to learn more, take two hours and watch the documentary Food, Inc. – it’s a true eye-opener.

So what are we left with? The options available to us through the convenience of a supermarket are an array of hormone-injected meats, pesticide covered fruits and vegetables, and a proliferation of fats and sugars found in nearly everything from cereal to soft drinks. Our climate is changing at an increasingly rapid rate with not much end in sight. What can we do as twenty-somethings to change the course of the environment for future generations? I have a few ideas:

  • Buy local: I can’t stress this enough. Most towns and cities offer a weekly Farmers Market that provide non-GMO food that has been grown by smaller, local farms. The produce is fresh, organic and tastes great! The prices are reasonable and the people are friendly. Whenever you can, opt to buy your produce (and even toiletries) at these local farmers market. They’re safer for you and the environment!

  • Use less water: I’m sure your mother has told you this a million times, but it’s true! We as Americans use sixty times more water in one day than most people living in African countries use in a week. We can survive with a quick five-minute shower once a day instead of your usual twenty-minute shower. Avoid taking baths and flush the toilet less – you’d be shocked how much water that uses. Wear your clothes twice before washing them. Not only will using less water help lower your bills but it will conserve necessary H2O for the rest of the planet.

  • Meatless Mondays: If you don’t think you can jump on board the vegetarian or vegan track, that’s completely fine, it’s not for everyone. Instead, pick one day a week, like Mondays, where you opt to not eat any meat with your meal. Not only will this improve your digestion, but think about how many animals that can save in a year or so. There are thousands of alternatives to meat, just check out a fun new Pinterest recipe and make a day of it!

  • Read labels: Stop mindlessly putting food into your mouth without reading what you are consuming! Did you know that Naked Juice is owned by Pepsi corporation and nearly all the fruit in the bottle is genetically modified? Take a few seconds at the grocery store to read the labels of what you put in your cart, it will save your health in the long run.

  • Use local transportation: Yeah, it sucks. The buses can be packed and not always on time, but driving to and from work or to class is releasing more pollution into the air than necessary. Be mindful of your impact on the world and make this small sacrifice. You could also bike, walk, or carpool!

As busy twenty-somethings, it’s hard to make time in our hectic schedules to think about the planet and how we can help the environment. But taking small steps like the ones above can really make a difference. You’ll feel better physically and mentally knowing that you are taking care of your body and helping the planet at the same time!

About the Author

Nicole Schultz

Nicole is a University of Georgia senior majoring in Journalism. She enjoys travel, writing and current events. She hopes to one day be a travel writer or political correspondent for a magazine.