On Monday, April 22, people from around the world will celebrate Earth Day. The day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in April 1970, when20 million Americanstook to the streets to demand a healthy, sustainable environment.
Ultimately, those street demonstrations eventually led to the creation of the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Today, Earth Day is a global movement, mobilizing people across continents to act to save the environment and work to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The challenges can’t be understated. Since 2015, the United States has left the Paris accord and reports from around the world show that countries are not moving fast enough to hit those targets. The situation may seem bleak, but there’s still hope. More than ever before, individual actions—including mobilizing for political transformation—can make a difference.
Curbed searched communities across the country and around the world, consulted experts and advocates, and pulled from our voluminous coverage on sustainable cities to create a go-to guide for climate action. Our goal is to provide practical, implementable advice on an individual level, as well as to illustrate the power of collective commitments. Think of it as your go-to action plan for Earth Day, and every other day.
1. Add solar panels to your house. With the plunging price of solar power, and an increasingly diverse group of companies such as Tesla and Forward Labs offering new products, the toughest decision may not be whether to install, but which style and color panels to place on your roof. And the boom in solar installations will only continue; on the heels of a record year of sales, analysts expect the market to nearly triple by 2020. The Energy Department has a good resource guide for homeowners, while Google’s Project Sunroof helps calculate the potential benefits of home installation.
2. Get a home energy audit. A simple home energy audit can show how much energy your home consumes and give you tips on changes that can make things more efficient. Most assessments help homeowners save between 5 to 30 percent on their energy bills, and audits can significantly reduce a home’s carbon footprint.
3. Change lightbulbs to LEDs. Quality LED lightbulbs can last 25 times longer, are more durable, and use at least 75 percent less energy than other bulbs. In the United States, widespread use of LEDs over the next 10 years could save the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large power plants (about 348 TWh).
4. Ask your utility company about buying clean electricity. You may not know exactly how much of your electricity is coming from renewable energy, so now is the time to find out. Contact your utility company, find out the sources of the electricity they supply, and see if you can opt in for “green pricing” in order to pay slightly more in exchange for electricity generated from clean, renewable power.
5. Clean or replace HVAC filters every three months. A dirty filter on your air conditioner or heater will make the system work harder and waste energy.
6. Use a programmable thermostat. Instead of keeping your house a constant 70 degrees, invest in an automatic thermostat, which can cost as little $25. Higher-end smart thermostats like the Nest or Ecobee can customize your temperatures so you’re not blasting the air conditioning when no one is home or using too much heat when everyone is tucked in bed.
7. Wash clothes in cold water. Most Americans still wash their laundry in warm water, which costs more money and takes a toll on the environment. Approximately 75 percent of the total energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions produced by a single load of laundry come from warming the water itself. That’s unnecessary, especially because studies have shown that washing in cold water is just as effective as using warm.
8. Upcycle your furniture. From shopping cart couches to chairs from old skis, upcycled furniture can be innovative and environmentally smart. Consider using recycled materials—like pallets—or repurposing the furniture you already have instead of buying new.
10. Buy new appliances with the Energy Star label. When you need to replace a refrigerator or dishwasher, choose an appliance that’s Energy Star certified. Energy Star products are more efficient, meaning they can help lower your energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
11. Design your workspace around natural light. On June 16, firms around the world will turn off their lights to raise awareness about using natural daylight instead of electric lighting in offices.
12. Unplug electronic devices when they aren't in use. Just because a device or appliance appears to be off doesn’t mean it’s not drawing power. About a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode, which means “sleep mode” is costing upward of $19 billion in electricity bills. Things like your cable box, laptop, and even your speakers may be using almost as much power when they are off but plugged in as when they are on. Group appliances on power strips so you can turn them off at the same time, especially if you’re going on vacation.
13. Obsess over every drop of water. Water management not only helps cities become more resilient in the faces of storms, droughts, and natural disasters, but also saves energy. Rain barrels and rain gardens help capture and purify water, putting less stress on municipal systems and replenishing underground aquifers.
16. Downsize. Does saving the planet “spark joy?” Then follow Marie Kondo’s lead and try to be mindful of what you do and don’t need. A more measured approach to consumption can also eliminate unneeded purchases that contribute to global emissions.
17. Hack your thermostat. Simply adjust your thermostat to run 2 degrees cooler in the winter and 2 degrees warmer in the summer. You likely won’t notice much of a difference in your house, but the energy savings can be dramatic.
18. Remove your lawn. That “little” patch of green in front of your home is the U.S.’s most widely grown crop—there are 42 million acres of grass nationwide, more than the total acreage of corn. Lawns require extra water, gas-powered equipment, and fertilizer that pollutes waterways (and homeowners pollute much worse than farmers, since they aren’t versed in professional landscaping). Less grass equals less gas.
19. Buy furniture made with sustainably harvested wood. Deforestation is a serious problem, but buying sustainably sourced wood—look for the Forest Stewardship Councillogo—ensures that your wood is coming from 380 million acres of FSC-certified forest and not an old-growth forest.
20. Don’t buy a new home; renovate an old one. Preservationists often say that the greenest home is the one that’s already built. That’s definitely true, but often, older housing stock is less energy efficient, so those seeking to lovingly restore and rehabilitate an old gem end up paying higher heating and cooling costs. The true green home, however, is an old house brought up to speed with 21st-century sustainability solutions. A new project by Harvard’s Center for Green Buildings and Cities seeks to transform an old stick-built home into a model for energy efficiency with an affordable retrofit. Inefficient existing buildings are one of the world’s biggest energy problems; the best place to start making a difference is at home.
22. Hang-dry your clothes instead of using the dryer. There are more than 90 million clothes dryers in the United States, and if all Americans line-dried for just half a year, it would save 3.3 percent of the country’s total residential output of carbon dioxide.
23. Recycle. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013 Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. We need to do better.
24. Plant a community garden. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in the soil offers a great way to meet neighbors and collaboratively add something to your neighborhood. To get you started, the American Community Gardening Association offers a set of resources and recommendations on how to manage and maintain a public patch.
25. Start or support an urban farm. Talk about locally sourced: Supporting urban agriculture that’s not just in your region, but also down the block, can help cut carbon emissions and provide local employment while offering more chances to enjoy that just-picked freshness. From warehouse rooftops to urban orchards to innovative vertical farms, new ways to raise crops are taking root.
26. Eat less meat. Going local for food matters, but not as much as methane. Raising cattle and sheep creates vast amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Cutting out meat, or even reducing consumption and favoring fish and chicken, can seriously save carbon. Studies at Carnegie Mellon suggest merely swapping red meat and dairy for a more balanced diet with fish, eggs, and fowl makes a big difference.
27. Reduce food waste. Whether it’s left on your plate or rotting in your fridge, wasted food is a big problem in the U.S.—to the tune of 38 million tons a year, according to the EPA. Luckily, small changes to your routine can make a big difference. Here’s a great list of ideas for saving food, including ways to be thrifty and smarter about storage and preservation.
29. Plant your own vegetable garden. It doesn’t get more local than fresh tomatoes from your backyard.
30. Join a CSA. Community-Supported Agriculture connects consumers with seasonal food sold directly from nearby farmers. You’ll help support farmers while also eating local—a proven way to reduce your carbon footprint.
31. Start composting. Transforming food scraps and lawn clippings into fresh, nutrient-rich soil gives home gardens a boost (and if done right, doesn’t create an olfactory offense). Roughly 20 to 30 percent of what we normally throw out can be composted. And the process offers huge benefits at the city level, too. New York City’s composting programcreates “black gold” in the form of rich soil, saves money on shipping organic waste to landfills, and even generates energy from methane.
33. Work from home one day each week. Studies show that 45 percent of the U.S. workforce has a job that’s suitable for full-time or part-time telecommuting. Working a few days from home each month means one less commuter on the road contributing to greenhouse gases.
34. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that under-inflated tires have a negative effect on fuel economy. You can improve your gas mileage by 0.6 percent on average—up to 3 percent in some cases—by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Better gas mileage means fewer trips to the pump and a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions.
36. Check your gas cap. A loose, cracked, or damaged gas cap wreaks havoc on the environment, allowing gas to escape from your tank as vapor. It also wastes fuel and your hard-earned gas money. Turn the gas cap until it clicks a few times and consider a replacement if it has logged more than 50,000 miles.
37. Map a two-mile circle around your house and walk everywhere within it. You’ll not only realize how many places are an easy half-hour walk away, but you’ll also be able to eliminate unnecessary vehicle trips that make emissions and congestion worse. Check out more tips from Curbed LA.
38. Only wash your car in a self-serve car wash. It may seem better to wash your car at home, but it’s worse for the environment. Washing your car in the driveway causes polluted water to run into sewers, and you’ll likely keep the hose running too long. The best way to wash a car is at a self-serve station where customers use a coin-operated spray device; these stations use around 12 to 18 gallons of water per vehicle, compared to up to 100 gallons at home.
39. Take public transit. Sure, public transportation helps reduce gridlock and carbon emissions. But many city dwellers incorrectly assume that buses and trains take longer. So give transit a try—it may just exceed your expectations.
41. Buy carbon offsets when you fly. Limiting your flights, or giving up flying altogether, would be best. The average American’s annual carbon footprint is 19 metric tons, yet one round-trip flight between New York and San Francisco contributes an outsized 2 million more. Buying offsets—which are offered by many carriers—does make a difference, and experts say it’s a valid way to even out. Even downsizing from business class to coach cuts down your carbon usage, if you can make do without the legroom.
42. Bring your own shopping bags.Plastic bags are incredibly destructive to the environment: They take hundreds of years to break down, contaminate soil and waterways, and cause widespread marine animal deaths. To combat the problem, cities and states around the country have enacted plastic-bag bans or fees on single-use bags. Switch to reusable bags and use them consistently.
43. Ride the bus. Transit ridership is down in almost every major U.S. city, which could be detrimental to your city’s ability to combat climate change. Boost your city’s transportation future across the board by riding the bus, and be on the lookout for self-driving technology that just might save the bus.
44. Pick up trash. Bring two small bags when you're out walking the dog or taking the kiddos to school. Pick up the trash you find on your way—dividing it into recyclables and trash destined for the landfill—and help keep debris from harming animals and ending up in our streams and waterways.
45. Turn off your engine. If you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds (unless you’re in traffic), don’t idle. Idling is bad for your car, uses fuel, and contributes to air pollution.
47. Just ride a bike. Yes, riding a bike really can save the world. According to a 2015 study by the University of California at Davis, shifting more urban trips to bicycling, and cutting car use accordingly, could reduce urban transportation CO2 emissions by 50 percent worldwide by 2050. That seems especially feasible when you consider that half of all urban trips are a bikeable six miles or less.
48. Start a carpool. In 2014, over 76 percent of commuters in the United States drove to work alone, most often in their own personal vehicle. Carpools save money on gas, reduce your carbon footprint, let you work during the drive, and get you access to specially designated carpool lanes that are reserved for high-occupancy vehicles.
50. Opt for a cargo bike. Want to ride your bike more but don’t know how to haul the kids, the groceries, and (figuratively) the kitchen sink? With many different styles and price points, a cargo bike can get the whole crew where you need to be without the soul-crushing battle of putting a 2-year-old in a car seat.
51. Use car sharing. New services like Car2go and Zipcar give you the convenience of having a car without the added costs—and negative environmental impacts—of car ownership. Users can pay to drive cars when they need them by the minute, hour, or day. Studies have shown that access to shared cars takes vehicles off of roads, eases parking congestion, and can have a ripple effect of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and gas use.
53. Sign up for an autonomous-vehicle pilot program. Okay, there’s really only one that we know of—Waymo’s program in Phoenix—but shared, driverless cars are the future of sustainable, low-emission transportation. Become an advocate for AVs to help move this technology forward.
54. Turn a parking space into a park. Bustling streets can do much more than handle automobile traffic. That’s the idea behind Park(ing) Day, a worldwide event that encourages artists and designers to turn metered parking spots into temporary community installations. The concept has even become city policy; the Pavement to Park program allows sponsors in San Francisco to test similar projects and turn some into permanent public spaces, as does the People Street initiative in LA.
58. Help track and measure green performance in your building. “Do you track your health? Do you know if you’re doing the right things to stay fit? You can do the same thing with buildings and know for sure how your building is fighting climate change. Buildings are a large contributor to climate change and small improvements are simple and can make a big difference. Set a goal, then track your building’s performance and improve it.” — Scot Horst, United States Green Building Council
59. Get inspired by a similar city. The best solutions for climate change are the ones that are already being tested on the ground. Download Climate Reality’s 100 ideas from 60 cities worldwide and borrow the ones that fit your community best.
60. Green your parkway. Okay, there’s gonna be a ton of regional slang to fight through here: You know that little sliver of property between the sidewalk and the curb? Whatever you call it, replace whatever’s there with a stormwater garden that allows water to naturally percolate into the ground. It will not only alleviate flooding on your street, but will also filter and clean the water on its way back underground.
62. Put books about climate change in your nearest little free library. Walk down any neighborhood street in cities like Denver, Colorado, and you’re likely to see a small wooden box full of free books. These Little Free Libraries are the perfect place to donate books on climate change.
67. Advocate for better building codes, energy efficiency, and transparency. Buildings are responsible for nearly half the energy consumption in the United States, making the built world—and those who design and maintain it—key to solving the climate crisis. Architects and planners can advocate for building codes and zoning regulations that favor more energy efficiency. Everyone can push for better energy efficiency and rating in housing and offices and move to make this information easily accessible.
69. Tell your city to go car-free. What sounds like an impossible dream could be achieved by cities like Oslo in a few years. Want an example that’s closer to home? Get inspired by the way Vancouver has reduced reliance on cars by half.
70. Support transit-oriented development. Cities such as Chicago have codified the concept of transit-oriented development, which allows for larger buildings with smaller parking minimums if they’re near transit lines. It’s a conservation two-for-one, adding denser housing downtown with less need for private automobile trips.
71. Say yes to transportation initiatives. Improving transit costs money, so the next time there is a transit-focused ballot measure in your city, vote yes. You’ll be in good company: In the November 2016 elections, cities voted yes on billions of dollars worth of transportation improvements.
74. Push your city to support 100 percent clean energy. Switching to 100 percent renewable power may seem like a lofty goal, but it’s not as far off as you think. Many cities have started pledging to switch to renewables, joining the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign. By making the commitment, mayors and city leaders have started to change transportation, planning, and energy policies, embarking on the long road to cleaner air. And, as many who have signed on have discovered, renewables will save significant money in the long run.
75. Come together to combat climate change. Villagers in the rural English town of Ashton Hayes didn’t need government help, special technology, or extra funding to fight climate change. Over the last decade, neighbors there have achieved a 24 percent reduction in emissions by collaborating and changing everyday behaviors, sharing tips on weatherproofing, and reducing energy usage. The grassroots, no-drama effort even earned the town a place in the media spotlight.
76. Listen to the best climate podcast. Warm Regards features a big-picture, science-focused look at climate change, from glaciology to green energy, hosted by paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill and ProPublica journalist Andy Revkin.
79. Support a carbon tax. A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels, like coal, oil, and gas. It’s a way for users of carbon fuels to pay for the climate damage caused by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and an incentive that motivates companies to switch to noncarbon fuels and energy efficiency.
83. Map local air pollution. The Environmental Defense Fund teamed up with Google to build a remote sensing tool that can help map air pollution in cities. Neighborhoods can use the data to reduce emissions and target communities most at risk for health issues.
84. Support corporate sustainability initiatives, or start one at your office. If your company has one, find ways to get involved. If not, talk to your colleagues about starting one. A recent eight-year study by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group, which offers plenty of advice and actionable goals, is a good place to start.
87. Watch a cartoon.Wall-E is the tale of a robot left alone to clean up Earth after humans trashed the place and escaped to outer space. Vox calls it one of the finest environmental films of the past decade, a riveting picture of society’s insatiable need to consume and what happens when private industry’s drive for profit overtakes the public good. This is the movie we need right now.
88. Offset your carbon emissions. If you want to approach the gold standard of environmental responsibility, take steps to completely neutralize your carbon footprint and invest in carbon offsets, which fund programs that help absorb the carbon generated by your everyday activities, such as reforestation. Groups such as Carbon Neutral and My Climate can help businesses and individuals get started.
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91. Become a “planetary futurist.”Alex Steffen is arguably one of the smartest voices for climate action. His latest project, The Nearly Now, is a newsletter that promises to not only change the way you see the future, but also to give you the tools and necessary optimism to affect its outcome.
95. Discuss, and advocate, for the environment in more concrete terms. “The environment is an abstract concept, and until you put a human face to the problem you will not inspire people to act. The Slow Space Movement puts people first—their experience, their health, and their rights. It goes beyond sustainability and checklists and connects with people on an emotional level by telling the stories of how their lives are affected by the built environment.” —Mette Aamodt, co-founder and CEO of Aamodt/Plumb Architects
96. Disinvest from carbon-heavy industries and investments. Making sure your financial portfolio matches your beliefs is a sound investment in our collective future. Many mutual funds and retirement accounts offer clean energy and carbon-free options, and groups such as Carbon Tracker have helped demonstrate the risk of carbon-heavy investments in light of a worldwide shift toward cleaner energy.
97. Endorse the Paris agreement. You can show your support for the global climate accord by personally agreeing to uphold its values.
98. Build towers (and eventually skyscrapers) with wood. “Building with Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) and other emerging wood technologies allows us to ‘grow’ future cities with a renewable resource that sequesters carbon and connects urban growth to rural economic development.” — Thomas Robinson, founding principal of Lever Architecture
99. Work on a community solar project. Solar panels can be a stretch for many homeowners, and an impossibility for renters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t invest in a sun-powered future. More than 25 states allow for community solar projects, which let a group of residents team up to fund a centralized, shared solar installation. Others are attempting to take it one step further: In New York City, the Brooklyn Microgrid projectwants to create a viable market to sell local energy between neighbors.