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No More Business as Usual

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By John Harlow, Photos by Christopher Boffoli

Published Apr 1, 2020 8:00 AM


Save Yourself, Save the World

10 practical ways to clean up the planet.

Save the world! OK, but where to start? If it all feels overwhelming, remember: Tiny steps — even if they’re something simple — can have a huge, cumulative impact. A team of experts, including UCLA Sustainability, weighs in on 10 simple actions we can all take to show our love for Mother Earth.

1. Advocate for change. What’s the first thing the average person can do about climate change? Vote, says Sean Hecht, co-executive director of UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment: “Vote for people who have good policies, and then tell them why it’s important to uphold those policies.” You can volunteer for nonprofits, participate in demonstrations or start an initiative at work.

2. Reduce your transportation emissions by walking and biking, using public transit or carpooling, and reducing air travel. Use teleconferencing for business meetings, and consider taking a vacation by train.

3. Go paperless. Bring laptops or tablets to meetings instead of printing agendas or documents, and share reports online.

4. Eat more plants. “Plant-based foods tend to have a lower carbon footprint and use less water than animal products,” says Amy Rowat, associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA College’s Division of Life Sciences. For recipes, visit meals4planet.org, which was created by Jennifer Jay, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.

5. Reduce household energy consumption. Turn off appliances and lights when not in use, hang clothes to dry and use natural light by opening your shades or blinds.

6. Reduce single-use plastics, including dishware (carry reusable utensils and straws) and toiletry and food containers. Buy food in bulk using reusable bags. And use compostable garbage bags. “Recycling helps, but reusing is better,” says Kikei Wong, UCLA’s Zero Waste coordinator.

7. Find more happiness with less stuff. Before you purchase anything, consider whether you actually need it, says Erin Fabris, UCLA Housing & Hospitality’s sustainability manager. “Repurpose old clothes and fix garments rather than throw them away,” she recommends. “Shop secondhand when possible.”

8. Save water. Convert your lawn to drought-tolerant landscaping. Also, turn the faucet off when brushing your teeth; take quicker showers; and use a broom rather than a hose to clean the driveway, sidewalk and stairs.

9. Trust the tap. Tap water is more tightly regulated than bottled water in the U.S. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is conducting research and hosting discussions to increase trust in tap water.

10. Measure your carbon footprint (and offset it if you can). All our behaviors generate carbon emissions. Use a carbon footprint calculator to identify your carbon budget, and see how you can reduce or offset it. Overall, just use less. — Bekah Wright

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