Start walking. Is there any single action that’s better for your mind, your body, and your planet?
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.
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.
Calculate your carbon footprint. Use an online tool to calculate and track your carbon footprint, and prepare to be astounded by how much transportation contributes to your total.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Download a transit app. Transportation planning apps like Citymapper and Transitnot only offer detailed trip-planning services and real-time arrival information, but also help local transit agencies improve service. To create more efficient routes, give your city the data it needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Become a member of your city’s bike-sharing program. Shifting just a few trips per week from a car to a bike could help the U.S. reduce emissions enough to achieve the Paris goals. Support one of the dozens of successful bike-share systems popping up all over the country by buying an annual membership to help keep the system humming.
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.
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.
Try commuting with an electric bike. Research shows that e-bikes are 10 to 20 times more energy efficient than a car, and frankly, an e-bike is just plain fun to ride. Folding e-bikes like this one can give you a sweat-free, less stressful commute and get you out of your car, the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases in our country.
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.
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.
Replace your current car with an electric vehicle. Peak car—the point where car ownership starts to drop in the U.S.—could happen as soon as 2020. Get ahead of the trendby switching to an EV, which will not only reduce your emissions but will also save you money in the long run. Going electric also means you’re investing in the future of a clean grid.
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.
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.
Plant a tree. Shade, serenity, sustainability—trees add so much to the urban landscape and ask so little. Many cities, such as Philadelphia, give away free trees, have planting services, or require tree planting permits, so check your local rules before you start digging.
Shop local. It’s simple, straightforward, and an easy addition to your routine that supports local businesses, provides community jobs, and reduces transportation costs and carbon emissions.
Pedestrianize a street. Take inspiration from car-free cities worldwide and transform a corridor into a walker’s haven, using ideas ranging from Barcelona’s superblock concept to this pretty shared street in Chicago.
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.
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.
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.
Buy vintage. Sustainable can be stylish. Our sister site Racked has a guide to buying vintage denim and highlights the best vintage stores to follow on Instagram.
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.
Support your local river clean-up. From Los Angeles to Boston, cities across the U.S. are working to make their rivers cleaner and more enjoyable. There’s even a movement to create a designated swim park in Boston’s Charles River and to install a floating pool in New York City’s East River. Check out American Rivers for information on how to support a river clean-up near you.
Retrofit your local highway. From envisioning freeway cap parks to reimagining ugly underpasses to turning highways into planted parkways, the most destructive urban infrastructure on the planet can be reinvented for a new life—especially if you tear the highway down completely.
Preserve the night sky. Approximately 99 percent of people living in the United States and Europe live under light-polluted skies, and unnecessary lighting wastes energy and money. Reduce light waste by illuminating only the places that need it, putting shields on lights so they point down, and turning off unnecessary lights. You could also join over a dozen towns and cities that are official Dark Sky Communities.
Learn how sea-level rise will affect your city. You’ve seen the scary real estate maps showing the worst-case scenarios of submerged condo towers if climate change goes unchecked. But the truth is that marginalized communities will be affected first. Check out how Boston is taking action against a rising waterfront.
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.
Attend a town hall. Ask your representatives about climate change in person by finding an upcoming town hall near you. The Sierra Club offers talking points for how to ask your congressperson about protecting the EPA and issues surrounding the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement.
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.
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.
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.
Fight parking minimums. Up to 14 percent of the land in some U.S. cities is dedicated to parking motionless vehicles. That’s not just incentivizing driving, it’s also taking up precious land that could be used to build places that allow people to live and work closer together. Attend hearings for new developments and encourage planners to reduce or nix the construction of required parking spaces.
Keep the fossil fuel industry accountable. Plenty of oil and gas companies are cleaning up their acts, but there’s still a ways to go. Here’s how to keep the pressure on these corporations to go green.
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.