Paris, France: Today, 54.5 percent of the world’s population live in urban areas. By 2050, the UN predicts that the number will be closer to 70 percent with more than 40 million people moving to cities each year. Considering that they produce around 75 percent of the world’s GDP and greenhouse gas emissions, it’s becoming more than urgent for city dwellers to adopt a sustainable lifestyle if we are to mitigate those numbers.
But that’s not always easy, especially depending on where you live in the world. Dar-Es-Salaam isn’t even close to Stockholm in terms of infrastructure, while Hong Kong doesn’t have the same food system as Sao Paulo.
So as a concerned environmentalist who’s always lived in the city, here’s my five top tips on how to lead a green lifestyle even when living in a one million+ inhabitants city (like Paris).
1. Avoid fossil fuel vehicles
The first and foremost step of reducing green house gas emissions. Not only is driving your car and other fossil fuel vehicles highly polluting and a real public health issue, it also causes considerable traffic problems, increases stress and reduces quality of life for people living in highly congested areas.
If it’s possible (depending on your city’s infrastructure), use public transport, bike or walk ! You’ll be saving significant emissions from entering the atmosphere while reducing your risks for disease, improving your sleep, increasing energy and many more other health benefits that have been linked with walking 10,000 steps every day.
If none of these options are feasible where you are, try to negotiate working from home for part of the week or reduce your car use by carpooling with fellow workers to work – the latest trend in Europe!
2. Consume local
It started a few years ago with the local food movement also called locavores, a movement of people who prefer to eat food grown relatively close to the places of sale, and has since expended to almost every field of modern consumption (fashion, cosmetic, furniture, even electronics in some cases!)
By consuming products made close to home, you are not only supporting the local economy (remember, each time you buy from a small business an actual person makes a happy dance), you are also reducing tremendously the environmental impacts of your purchase.
Transportation is indeed one of the most energy intensive step of a product’s supply chain as it likely involves a plane, trucks or even ships, all identified as major contributor to climate change. The further it’s coming from, the more likely it is to have a large environmental footprint.
Moreover, depending on where you live, buying local might mean buying eco-friendlier products as environmental regulations might be strictier in your country/region than on the other side of the world. Take fashion for instance: fast fashion manufactured in Bangladesh will likely have a higher environmental impact from pollution due to poor to non-existent national regulations than a pair of shoes handmade in an urban workshop close to home. And yes, the price will probably reflect that proximity but you can always look for alternatives such as second hand for fashion or furnitures or cooperatives for food that are likely to offer more affordable options.
3. Connect with like-minded individuals
One of my personal favorites! Oddly enough, living in a city can get quite lonely, especially if your ideas differ from your loved ones (cities are, after all, temples of mass consumption and advocating the opposite can feel like a tedious task sometimes).
But there’s no need to be – or feel – alone!
Join existing groups according to your main ‘sustainable’ interests if they exist or set one up yourself. You can start by arranging screening of documentaries, followed by debates, conferences, and eventually organize actions such as marches or protest and even get political (which I cover in detail later).
By joining or initiating a green community in your area, you’re strengthening the environmental movement, making new acquaintances that share the same ideas and giving your city more chances to become greener. Plus, just like any type of volunteering, you don’t have to dedicate more time than you have available but be warned, I ended up spending much more time with my new friends than I originally intended!
4. Reduce, reuse, recycle
As home to more than half the global population, cities also generate most of the man-made waste across the globe. And the problem worsens still when you realize that in many places, there is no supporting infrastructure to take care of people’s discarded items and other waste. This leads to major sanitary and environmental crises such as the one taking place in India, more specifically in the Ganja River, the second-most polluted river in the world, spewing 115,000 tonnes of plastic each year.
Related Post: The 5 Often Forgotten R’s of Eco-Friendly Fashion
But wherever you live, reducing is always an option! So if you’re into getting your morning coffee from the nearby coffeeshop, bring your own coffee cup, say no to the straw that comes with your drink, don’t forget your water bottle and use your own bag to shop your groceries rather than the plastic one given by the store. Implementing these habits will heavily reduce the waste you produce.
Want to go further and live in a city that has a recycling system? Don’t forget to sort your waste and seperate the recyclables. Your neighborhood has created community gardens for locals? Hold on to that organic waste and bring it in, it’ll become valuable compost for next season’s fruits and veggies.
5. Think collective and get political
Individual change is great, but what about a whole city embracing eco-friendly habits? That’s where getting involved in local politics comes in. By lobbying your local representative and becoming vocal about what’d you like to see changed, you could make your city a much greener place than it currently is.
Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world thanks to fierce activism in the 70s following a series of casualties linked to growing traffic. More recently, in Hanoi, a group of 50,000 people came together to protest the government’s policy to cut out 6,700 trees and eventually succeeded. But this movement was also one of the first manifestations of grassroots activism in a country where environmental concerns seems new. This issue brought together thousands of environmental activists that are now voicing their opinion when it comes to greening their cities.
Interested in making a change but don’t know where to start? Check out Patagonia’s Tools for Grassroots activists, a guide that gathers the “best practices for success in the Environmental Movement” (it’s a personal favorite).