Tenants in rental properties have little control of changing the space they live in. When it comes to sustainability however there’s lots that can be done as a renter to reduce impact on the planet and contribute positively to society.
Sure renters might not be able to install solar power or live completely off-grid but collectively, individual efforts, even if small, still add up to a big difference.
Whether you’re renting a room or an entire rental property, here are some tips to help you live a more sustainable life as a tenant:
Create a local share economy
Building local community spirit through the share economy is one way to minimise environmental impact. The share economy concept is simple; it’s an economic model of peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services. Think of things like lawnmowers, washing machines (if in an apartment block laundry), camping equipment, a barbecue, the list is endless and doesn’t have to stop with appliances.
Within my small block of six units we have a communal WhatsApp group where we can touch base if anyone needs help; is looking to borrow items or to grab something from the supermarket. Another great idea is to create a second-hand library in your building or your street and donate books, puzzles etc for others to use.
You can connect with your neighbours and those within your local community through Facebook groups or connecting face-to-face (this of course will be easier when isolation and quarantine measures are lifted).
Talk to your landlord about implementing sustainable changes
Although you may not have complete control over your space, your landlord has. Give yourself power by voicing your concerns to your landlord about things that need improvement in the space. This may not always be heard but without at least raising your concerns and issues, no change will occur. A good landlord should work with you to make your home a positive space. Fixing things like leaking taps, toilet pipes and electrical wires are part of the landlord’s responsibilities, but if the place is draughty and has inefficient and old heating systems that need more energy to run, make sure to chat to your landlord about this.
Buy second-hand or sustainably-made home decor
We all fall into the trap of wanting to create a fresh, new space as we move into a new house or apartment and wanting to buy furnishings brand new. If you need to spruce up your home, consider buying second-hand furniture and decorative items from markets, antique shops, thrift stores or trawling e-marketplaces such as Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. It may take a bit more time to scour for used furniture, but when you find quality made pieces that will last you for years to come and at bargain prices, you’ll have the last laugh.
If you don’t have time and prefer to purchase things brand new, you can opt for ethical and sustainable furniture and decor from conscious homewares stores online such as Made Trade, Dharma Door and Accompany.
Be water smart
A quick and easy way to reduce your water usage is to swap out your shower head to one that is more efficient. Speak to your landlord and look to your local council for schemes like The Victorian Energy Saver that may incentivise your landlord to switch to a more efficient and sustainable showerhead. Take shorter showers, only wash laundry when you have a full load and use cold water where possible (as hot water required more energy to heat) and adhere to any water restrictions in your area.
Reduce heating and cooling
Firstly make sure your home is draught-proof. Keeping cool or hot air that enters or exits a room will reduce your need to use the air conditioner, fan or heater. If you must use these heating and cooling appliances, make sure to use energy efficient ones and consider containing usage in the rooms that need it; closing off rooms that don’t.
Make sure to do the basics such as wearing a jumper, throwing on a blanket and using your hot water bottle on cold days and nights, and wearing light coloured, breezy outfits in the hotter months so you won’t need to use more energy than is necessary to warm or cool your place.
Choose efficient lighting and appliances
Many companies now assess energy efficiency when manufacturing new appliances so if you’re in the market for one, consider energy ratings when shopping for a new fridge, dishwasher and washing machine. Energy efficient models require less fossil fuels and will also save you money on utilities bills in the longer term.
Also, if your energy and gas provider isn’t already a ‘green’ one, consider one that sources some or all of its energy from renewable sources and make the switch. A quick online search should bring up green energy providers in your local area.
With lighting, try using lamps instead of overhead lights to minimise costs. Switch to LEDs to save energy. Turn off lights when you’re not in the room and of course make the most of natural light where you can instead of automatically turning on the lights.
Grow your own food
Despite common convention, you don’t need to live in a house with a big backyard to start growing your own produce. Think outside the box with vertical gardens or choose veggies that don’t require much space to grow and pop in a large pot on the balcony. Let’s be honest most of us (in Australia anyway) have those Woolworths Discovery Garden seedlings we are still yet to use which require little space at all!
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If you are really limited on space, grow your own windowsill herb garden or grow herbs on your kitchen bench which will provide the same satisfaction and delicious additions to your meals at the same time. Anything is better than nothing.
Don’t forget that you can regrow plants from scraps such as bok choy, spring onions, carrots and leeks.
Start composting and recycling
Recycling can seem like a chore with all the different rules in different municipalities, but this is an area we can really make an impact. Creating a system for recycling is a must, particularly if you’re living in a sharehouse.
You can have different bins within your house for different materials such as kerbside recycling, soft plastic recycling, and hard to recycle materials that will require extra effort (like posting or dropping off to a recycling point). Organisation and educating the entire household is the key to making recycling feel effortless.
You can also start a home compost which can drastically reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfill. You can either build a compost bin or buy one from a hardware store. If you’re living in a small space, Bokashi composting is a great option as the bin can be stored in your kitchen. Check with your local council as many will subsidise the cost of a compost bin in a bid to increase sustainability in the community (through my local council I paid only A$12 for a large compost bin which included delivery).
Of course you may not have space for a compost bin, in this case use platforms like ShareWaste that allow you to connect with others in the community and drop off your food waste – the app also allows you to track your impact!
Develop good habits
Finally, creating good, lasting sustainable habits – such as minimising mindless consumption, buying eco-friendly and ethically-made products, committing to a low waste lifestyle by using reusables and upcycling and reusing what you own – is essential to minimising your and your family’s environmental footprint over the longer term. If you have children, helping them to develop conscious and less wasteful habits will help to create a more sustainable future since they will be the leaders of tomorrow. Instilling a sense of purpose in their actions towards the environment and community will be hugely beneficial in preserving our environment and maximising community benefits.
Behaviour is the basis of eco-friendly living; it powers human actions. Small actions like recycling, taking reusable bottles and shopping bags, turning off power points and lights when not in use become habits that help to create a better, greener world – even if you’re a tenant.
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Feature image by Dane Deaner.