The suburbs often get a bad rap for being outposts of unsustainability. After all, it's not like the country—where there's more of a tradition of making environmentally-friendly choices like growing your own vegetables—or the city, where there may be lots of eco-friendly options for housing, transport, and food.
And it shows in the types of environmentally-conscious posts that make their way around online: many of the tips for going green are focused on urban areas, which can leave you at a loss if you aren’t a city dweller.
The good news is that it’s totally possible to get into sustainable living, even if you happen to live in the burbs––and we've got nine great tips to help you get started.
9 Suburb-Specific Tips for Living Green:
1. Take a look at your transport.
The suburbs generally aren’t a hub of public transportation. And while it's true that you often can't just hop on a bus or metro and many stores and activities aren't within walking distance, it doesn't mean that you can't make eco-friendly decisions when it comes to using your car. (The more you use your car, the more non-renewable fuel you use up, plus the more emissions you put into the atmosphere, which can negatively impact the ozone layer.)
Start by just being aware of how much you're driving. Once you get a sense of where and when you take the car out, you might find that you can start consolidating some trips, or get a carpool going with your neighbors. You can also look at leasing or purchasing an electric car next time you're in the market, and of course, don't forget about biking––it can help you cut down on your driving and get some exercise at the same time!
2. Use your space to get growing.
One of the best things about living in the suburbs is the sheer amount of space you have compared to people in urban areas––so put it to good use with some eco-friendly hobbies! You could try planting some trees around your house, or get into xeriscaping if you happen to live in a drier environment. Trees lower ozone levels, absorb carbon dioxide, and put out oxygen, while xeriscaping reduces water and energy usage—since you're working with the environment instead of trying to give non-native plants all the water and care they need to grow in a dry environment.1,2
Want to do your part to support threatened species? Try growing bee-friendly plants. This is a great way to support pollinators, which play a crucial role in the survival of plants (including those that make up the bulk of our food) while also adding some beauty and color to your yard. Don't worry if you've never grown plants before; hardy options like calendula, borage, and white clover are all easy to get started and hard to kill. Or why not plant an herb garden? Lavender, mint, thyme, rosemary, and oregano are all good for pollinators.
3. Teach your kids about nature.
Your kids are never too young to start learning and cultivating eco-friendly habits, so get your kids involved early by teaching them about nature. It's the perfect springboard for teaching them about caring for the environment: you can use nature-based projects like taking care of plants to teach them about how food naturally grows and why it's such a bad idea to harvest it before it's ready. If you're interested, you can even get your garden certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation––what a great way to teach your kids about biodiversity while giving them the chance to care for some local species!
4. Take the zero-waste challenge.
Did you know that Americans throw away enough garbage to fill 63,000 garbage trucks every day? Less than 2% of the United States’ waste stream is recycled, and while the U.S. population only makes up about 5% of the world's population, it produces about 30% of the world's garbage.3
In light of this, it's easy to see why it's so important that we all do our part when it comes to being responsible with waste. It's really easy to get into the habit of just pitching stuff––but you can compost, recycle, or otherwise reuse so much more than you think. Try to make your household as close to zero-waste as possible. You can use some of that great outdoor space you have to start a compost pile for food scraps, or set up your own mini recycling station in the garage, where you pre-sort glass, plastic, and paper before taking it to a local recycling station.
One simple (but very effective) trick to help you remember to reuse or recycle is to downsize your garbage cans. Instead of having the normal 20-30 gallon can, try going down to a 7-10 gallon, or even a 4 gallon! (That's the size many people keep in their bathrooms, for reference.) Having less space to throw things away will make recycling and reusing an easier option, and it can become your new normal in no time at all.
And if you're looking for even more inspiration as you go zero-waste, check out the documentary, No Impact Man––it's a fascinating look at how to live eco-friendly.
5. Host a neighborhood exchange.
Got a lot of things you want to declutter and don't feel like throwing a yard sale? Consider starting a neighborhood exchange party where everyone brings things they no longer need and takes things they can use. It's a good way to recycle and cut down on consumption (not to mention get some seriously useful hand-me-downs), and you can make it a lot of fun. If it works out well, build on that success and make it a monthly event: have everyone bring some food to celebrate helping the environment and each other at the same time.
6. Be aware of your energy usage.
Suburban homes are often larger, which means they usually take more energy to run...which is all the more reason to be aware of how much energy you're actually using. A good place to start is by getting an electricity usage monitor––it can help you figure out where things stand now and give you a sense of where you might be unknowingly wasting energy. You can also look for energy-efficient appliances; using them can cut your energy bill by a third. And of course, don't forget about all the little things you can do to cut your energy usage, like switching out old light bulbs for newer, more energy-efficient ones, using low flow showerheads and toilets, and letting dishes air dry instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.
Another easy eco-friendly tip? Try opening your windows instead of using air conditioning all the time. It's not only good for your budget and the environment because you use less electricity, it's also much healthier for you. The increased airflow you get by opening your windows refreshes your home's microbiome, which increases your microbial diversity and lowers your chances of breathing in old, inhospitable bacterial strains.
7. Eat S/L/O when you can.
Eating seasonal, local, and organic food is a wonderful way to care for the environment and your health at the same time. S/L/O food doesn't have to travel as far, so it uses up less fuel and cuts down on emissions; plus, it’s usually grown in-season, and using more eco-friendly farming practices. While the suburbs are often notorious for big box stores and a dearth of specialty groceries, this is shifting, and more and more grocery stores carry eco-friendly products and organic and local options. If you're in an area where that hasn't happened yet, don't worry, you can still eat S/L/O. Try looking for farms or CSAs that deliver to your area, or find a farmer's market––there's probably one closer to you than you think.
8. Take steps to make your house greener.
Looking for a home improvement project? You've got lots of eco-friendly, budget-friendly options. For instance, did you know that sealing your attic can help reduce your energy usage (and your electricity bill), reduce noise from the outside, and prevent issues with humidity? The same goes for upgrading your insulation. Or why not try getting a programmable thermostat: that way you don't have to worry about using extra energy while you're not at home. You may even want to look into getting rooftop solar—this is often a hugely beneficial renewable energy option for suburban homes. In fact, studies show that the suburbs may be a huge area of untapped potential for solar energy.4
9. Get involved in community sustainability initiatives.
Amplify your impact by getting together with others in your community: many schools have great "green living" programs that you and your kids can participate in, and residential greening programs abound in neighborhoods throughout the country. If you're struggling to find something to take part in in your area, start your own! Local initiatives like a recycling drive or planting a communal garden can make a big impact on the neighborhood and surrounding communities.
The bottom line: it's 100% possible to go green, no matter where you live. In fact, studies show that suburban areas could be even easier to "green" than urban ones5. So do your part by trying at least one of these small changes today––with all the unique opportunities life in the suburbs provides to go green, the hardest part may be simply choosing where to start!
1. Luley, C. J., & Nowak, D. J. (2004). Help Clear the Smog with Your Urban Forest: What You and Your Urban Forest Can Do About Ozone. Brochure. Davey Research Group and USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station.
2. Vickers, A. (2006). New Directions in Lawn and Landscape Water Conservation. American Water Works Association Journal, 98(2).
3. O'Leary, P.R., Walsh, P.W., Ham, R.K. (1988) Managing Solid Waste. Scientific American 259(6).
4. Byrd, H. Ho, A., Sharp, B., Nair, N-K. Measuring the Solar Potential of a City and Its Implications on Energy Policy. UPE10: University of Auckland, New Zealand.
5. Jones, C and Kammen, D. (2014). Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density. Environmental Science and Technology, 48(2). doi: 10.1021/es4034364
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.