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UCLA: 10 Tiny Steps Toward Sustainable Living

Saving the planet isn’t just for superheroes. And it’s not just wishful thinking, either. Tiny steps can have a huge impact when we all agree to play our part.

But, where does one start? We asked some of our UCLA researchers to help us create a list of ways that anyone, even a kid, can switch to a more sustainable life—and here they are! 10 simple actions you can take today:

1. Advocate for change

by first informing yourself on the current issues. What's the one thing the average person can do about climate change? "Vote," says Sean Hecht, the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment co-executive director. "Vote for people who have good policies, and then tell them why it’s important to uphold those policies." You can also volunteer for local non-profits, participate in demonstrations, or start an initiative at your work or in your community.

2. Eat more plants.

"Plant-based foods generally have a lower carbon footprint and use less water than animal products," Associate Professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology Amy Rowat says, "especially beef, pork and cheese." We recommended, an online cookbook from Jenny Jay, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

3. Reduce your transportation emissions

by walking and biking whenever possible, using public transit or carpooling, and reducing air travel. Use teleconferencing for business meetings and consider vacation by train.

4. Reduce single-use plastic

in your household, work and play, including dishware (carry reusable utensils and straws with you), toiletry containers (bar shampoos/conditioners/soaps), food (buy in bulk using reusable bags) and compostable garbage bags. UCLA Sustainability’s Zero Waste Coordinator Kikei Wong encourages, "Recycling helps, but reducing waste and reusing is better."

5. Reduce your household energy consumption.

Turn off appliances and lights when you’re not using them. Try hang drying clothes instead of using a dryer, and open up your blinds for natural light instead of turning on the lights.

6. Drink from the tap.

Use a reusable water flask instead of plastic bottles. It’s a surprise for many people to learn that tap water is better regulated than bottled water in the US. You can also purchase filters that fit on your tap. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is conducting research and hosting discussions to increase trust in tap water.

7. Save water.

Convert your lawn to drought tolerant landscaping. Turn the sink off when brushing your teeth; take quicker showers; or use a broom to clean the driveway, sidewalk, and stairs rather than a hose.

8. Go paperless.

If possible, go paperless with bank statements, receipts, etc., bring laptops/tablets to meetings instead of printing out agendas and documents, and publish reports online instead of printing copies.

9. Be mindful of what you purchase and buy less stuff.

Before you purchase anything, Sustainability Manager Erin Fabris says, consider whether you actually need it. "Instead, repurpose old clothes and learn how to sew, so you can fix garments rather than throw them away," she recommends. "Shop secondhand when possible." Fast fashion may be cheaper, Fabris says, but most brands are unethical and unsustainable. Instead, "Buy certified sustainable products such as Fair Trade, Leaping Bunny, or B Corporation."

10. Measure your carbon footprint (and offset if you can).

All our behaviors and lifestyle generate carbon emissions. You can use one of the multiple carbon footprint calculators (e.g. The Nature Conservancy, Terrapass, Carbon Footprint, EPA…) to identify your largest ‘carbon budgets’ and see how you can reduce or offset them.

We encourage all of our students, faculty and employees to take these small steps with you. With this knowledge, we can make Los Angeles and the world a better place today.

If you’d like to learn more about what UCLA is doing for sustainability, check out our Sustainable LA and stay tuned.


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