By Cameryn Aliya Burnette, Co-Founder and Vice President, Howard University Water and Environment Association
Going green can be difficult to commit to due to the sheer variety of choices you’re faced with in the process. I was confronted with many new questions when I first went green. Natural materials or cruelty-free? Do organic labels matter? and Am I really bout to drop a band on just one dress? I dived into sustainable living headfirst so you don’t have to.
Here’s my list of first steps to going green. These steps are designed to take some of the pressure off any aspiring earth-warriors who would love to be doing a little more to help the cause but don’t exactly know what doing a little more looks like. If that sounds like you, you’re in the right spot – and there’s no cliché stuff like “turn off the water while you brush your teeth.”
Get with like-minded people
Great minds think alike! There are other people out there with ideas on how to live more sustainably. Find a thread on social media, a club on your campus, or a group that meets for dinner monthly. Eco-living looks different for different people, and this is a way to find out how others best incorporate sustainability in their daily lives.
I know y’all know what reusable water bottles are, and you should be using those, but I have to put you on to reusable plastic bags, reusable straws, and travel utensils. Yes, it is a little extra work to wash these things after using them. But, in addition to reducing pollution, you will save money usually wasted on plastic bags and utensils. Reusables pay for themselves. You won’t need to replace them until they break!
BYOB! Plastic is bad for the earth and you look so much cuter carrying a cool canvas bag back from Barnes and Noble or Trader Joe’s than you do with a bunch of plastic bags.
Here are some honorable mentions for the category of things-that-shouldn’t-be-disposable – cleaning rags, shaving razors, and menstrual products. Paper towels, plastic razors, and pads are things you forget at the store and always seem to run out of during an emergency. The reusable alternatives will last you longer and save you money.
Thrift your wardrobe
Ethical/sustainable/artisan boutiques are hella expensive. There’s a reason that you mostly see influencers and celebrities wearing Reformation. Luckily, there is an alternative you are very familiar with: thrifting! I could go on for years about why you should ditch the mall for a Value Village next time you go shopping, but here’s the bottom line: 1. You save money. A thrift store fit costs 10 dollars on a bad day. 2. You look good. Follow trends if you want, but you will find more unique, one-of-a-kind items at a thrift store. 3. Less stress. Thrift store clothing has already been tested out by someone else, so you won’t have to worry about color fading, garment stretching, or texture changing. 4. Thrifting is fun! Really, there’s no way thrifting can go wrong, so there’s no reason not to get into it already.
Make a shower playlist
This is my favorite sustainable baby step, even though it’s the most basic! Yeah, we need to save water by taking shorter showers, but having to watch the clock or set a timer detracts from the whole experience. The best way to track how long you’ve been in the shower is to make a playlist with 3-5 songs with a total run time of however long you need to get clean. My standard playlist 10 songs, 37 minutes long, and when I hit “Summertime Magic” (song 4), I know it’s time to get out. You can make multiple playlists to spice up your routine or make the same songs part of your everyday routine. Disclaimer: I am not advocating for half-hour showers, but I got a lot of 3c hair to clean, comb, and condition, so best believe I need that extra time on wash days.
Living an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle is about transitioning to living within a set of principles, not just a few actions. It will take more than a day to fully commit to this lifestyle and everyone’s circumstances will not allow them to be ‘100 percent green’.
Everyone will have a different opinion on these suggestions. The lifestyle is about doing what’s feasible for you. Any step, even a baby step, is a good step! The bottom line – continue to educate yourself and remember change doesn’t happen overnight. Get out there and find how to make it work!
Cameryn Aliya Burnette is an undergraduate student at Howard University studying Civil and Environmental Engineering. She is the co-founder and vice president of the Howard University Water and Environment Association. Have friends, will travel: She’s a native Houstonian, but you can find her running through the streets of any major city, from New York to Berlin, with her crew.