I want to live more sustainably in the city, but I don’t know where to start. Any tips?
Sincerely, Aspiring Eco Urbanite
Dear Aspiring Eco Urbanite,
The number of ways to live sustainably in cities—big and small—seems as limitless as lights in a busy downtown at night. From transportation to shopping, and everything in between, here are some of our favorite (and easy!) lifestyle tips, straight from Zipcar employees themselves.
Talk about locally sourced! Porches, balconies, and even window sills are great spots to grow your own greens.
Andy Rosequist, director of IT operations, advocates for keeping it local (and fresh) by joining a farm share, shopping at a farmers market, or going super local by setting up a balcony or window box garden. He also takes advantage of the natural sustainable solutions that city life offers. “Living in a multi-unit building, the heating and AC are more efficient than single-family, standalone dwellings.”
Simple ways to keep it responsible are available to city folk, no matter what kind of housing you live in. “Switch to a green energy supplier,” James Sanderson, a UK-based member of our product and engineering team suggests. Couple that with dropping the thermostat a degree or two in the winter time and “put on a jumper—or sweater in the U.S.—instead,” and your carbon footprint shrinks quickly. Composting is another available option, and Kelly Stover, fleet and supply chain specialist, takes advantage of her city-sponsored program. “We have any compostable stuff picked up with the usual garbage and recycling schedule. We can then go pick up compost that we can use in our (tiny!) yard and garden.” Check if your municipality offers a composting program, too. If not, start your own, either by yourself or (if space allows) combine your composting powers with your neighbors.
As Kelly notes above, city yards can be itty-bitty. That’s why Jess Thrasher, lead agile coach, is a big fan of community gardening. Her pick: Boston’s Fenway Victory Gardens—created in WWII to aid in the war effort—which offers small plots to residents to tend to their own little urban acre. Holly Moody, senior manager software engineering, commutes to work each day by rail from her home on the outskirts of Boston. Because she has a little more space than many urbanites, she focuses on water conservation. “I don’t have sprinklers and I am reducing our lawn footprint by picking plants that don’t need watering.”
Big impacts to sustainability can be made with cleaning up as much as getting garden-y. Evelyn Wang, executive administrative assistant, keeps small hand towels by her sink, rather than using paper towels. For her, it’s effortless. “I just throw the hand towel into the weekly wash. No big deal.” Allison Tanenhaus, senior copywriter, also follows the fabric-over-paper route. “I use an ultra-absorbent hair towel, rather than firing up the blow dryer.” In fact, when she can, she skips the whole electrical path altogether. “I hand-wash some clothing at home and put it on a line on my porch to air dry, instead of using a washing machine and dryer.”
Commute? Workout? It’s both! Walk, run, bike, or long board your way to and from work to save time, money—and the earth.
As the transportation industry is the second-largest contributor to climate change, changes in this area are the perfect place to start.
Here are Zipcar, we take our “wheels when you want them” ethos to heart—even if they are just two wheels. “Bike everywhere!” business project manager Kali Karakasidou advises. “Not only is it cheaper, but you get to exercise, breathe fresh air, and watch the beautiful city go by.” Bostonian software engineer Josh Wilcox agrees, and pushes hard against New England’s notoriously tough—and ever changing—weather. “I ride my bike to work every day. I’m like the postal service, sticking it out through rain, snow, wind…unless it’s a blizzard. Then I work from home.”
Zipcar’s Washington DC locations manager, Juliana Geller, sold her car and traded it in for what she calls her “BMW: Bus, Metro, Walk.” For Kelly, commuting is also about using her time efficiently. “I run home from work three days a week. Combining my workout with my commute saves time, plus frees up some space on public transportation.”
Thrift stores give wearable duds new life, plus keep usable material out of landfills.
What you buy—and how you buy it—can go a long way to reducing your impact on the environment. “Buying bulk groceries helps,” offers Arvind Kannan, senior manager, strategy and business development. “It means bringing your own containers to buy loose nuts, beans, rice, etc. versus prepackaged portions.” Less packaging upfront mean less for the landfill—and often comes at a great savings over individually packaged products. Juliana swears by her Costco membership and stocks up, rather than making frequent, energy-consuming trips.
When it comes to purchasing, Kristina Matthews, a regional marketing manager based in Philadelphia, finds her way to thrift stores. Thrift shopping—as well as upcycling—provides a second life for everything from clothing to furniture. You can keep your old stuff out of the ground, too, by delivering donated items to the store for resale. Check with your local thrift store for when and how they accept items, which keeps usable items in the marketplace and reduces the cost of living for many key items for you and your neighbors.
Avoiding any waste to begin with is always the best choice. That’s why Allison never leaves home without a compact reusable bag that she keeps in her everyday tote bag. (No need to take plastic bags from the store, just to toss them out later!) She also finds ways to avoid grabbing other plastic that is destined for the garbage anyway. “I keep a set of my own silverware at work, so I don't rely on wasteful plasticware if I pick up takeout for lunch.”
What sustainable city-living tips are your favorites to try? Which tips are you living already? Tell us in the comments below!