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Sustainable homes and living: from energy consumption to waste avoidance

Topics: Saving energy, Sustainability, Sustainability, Saving energy

Each one of us can do our bit to achieve our common environmental goals. The method of choice: to make sustainability and climate-friendly behaviour an integral part of daily life. Our article outlines some possibilities. Feel free to pick your favourites - and get started!

Sustainability is an important social issue. But does it also impact the daily lives of people in Germany? It definitely seems to: In a survey conducted by IUBH Internationale Hochschule (german), some 75 per cent of respondents stated that climate neutrality was currently the most important challenge facing mankind - and were able to specify the areas in which they were changing their behaviour. Climate-conscious consumers preferred to avoid air travel or the car and bought food that had been organically grown, fairly traded or at least regionally produced.

This shows there is a will to act. Nevertheless, in the same survey, the majority suspected that people's ability to put ideas into practice fails to match their awareness of what needs to be done. Some 80 per cent of respondents in the IUBH survey agreed with the following statement: "Many people talk about protecting the climate but do not themselves behave in a climate-friendly way." We can change that by not only raising awareness for climate protection and sustainability, but also by giving people some specific knowledge to apply in their daily lives. For example: Do you want to live in a sustainable and climate-friendly way? Our tips on the subject give you some initial pointers!

Sustainable homes and living at a glance

  1. Buying sustainable furniture
  2. Saving electricity
  3. Heating and ventilating your home properly
  4. Eco-friendly ways of cleaning your home
  5. Saving water
  6. Buying sustainable products
  7. Sustainable gardening
  8. Avoiding waste and microplastics

1. Buying sustainable furniture

From a climate point of view, the best solution is not to buy new furniture at all, but to "source" old chests of drawers, cupboards and tables from friends, family and neighbours. If there is nothing suitable, there are antique furniture stores or second-hand platforms where you can usually find something for a small amount of money. Another sustainable solution, which, however, requires some DIY skills: upcycling furniture. Sometimes all it takes is a coat of paint to upgrade an old chair. Or a saw to turn it into a bedside table …

However, when buying new furniture, climate-conscious consumers can also do a lot to live sustainably in future: sustainably produced furniture is manufactured taking ecological, economic and social aspects into account. Various labels identify them: with the Blue Angel you can be sure that your new piece of furniture emits no or few harmful substances and that the wood comes largely from sustainable forestry. The label of the Forest Stewardship Council FSC also guarantees wood from sustainably managed forests. The European Association of Ecological Furniture Stores awards the Öko Control certification label (german) for compliance with a high ecological standard. And the eco-Institut tests furniture, but also mattresses, and awards certification to high-quality, environmentally compatible products that do not pose a health hazard.

2. Saving electricity

People who want to live in a particularly climate-friendly way opt for green electricity - and also keep a close eye on their consumption. After all, saving electricity has a distinct advantage: you not only have a good conscience, you also have more money in your pocket over the year as a whole. So your commitment to sustainability also pays off financially. One of the most effective steps you can take is to use energy-saving light bulbs throughout your home and completely switch off appliances that are not in use – because they continue to consume power in standby mode. It is also worthwhile looking for energy-saving products when you are buying new appliances, especially large ones such as dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators. So far, the energy efficiency class A+++ has been used to designate particularly energy-efficient appliances. From the spring of 2021, the "plus classes" will be replaced by the energy efficiency classes A to G.

However, especially when it comes to saving electricity, there are many small ways in which you can make a difference on a daily basis. Take the kitchen, for example:

  • To save energy, cook with the right size of lid on your pots and pans and use the same size of pot as the ring on your hob.
  • Turn off the oven or hob for the last part of the cooking time and use the residual heat to finish the cooking.
  • Do not preheat the oven – by the way the fan-assisted setting is recommended rather than top/bottom heat.
  • Heat water in a kettle; that is particularly efficient.
  • Defrost fridges and freezers regularly.
  • Use the ECO program on your dishwasher.

3. Heating and ventilating your home properly

Heating and hot water account for a large proportion of the energy consumed - and the CO2 emissions - in the home. So if you only want to put one sustainability tip into practice, you should take this one. You can save a lot of money and energy all year round, but your efforts will be particularly rewarded from the autumn onwards, the start of the heating season. The climate and sustainability both benefit, if, for example, you treat your radiators well: vent them when necessary and make sure that the heating air can circulate freely. You can find more tips for early autumn and spring here:

You can also reduce heating costs by creating temperature zones in your home. After all, you're more likely to need your living room to be cosy warm and the bedroom or kitchen to be cooler because your duvet or oven keep you warm there anyway. We have put together our sustainability tips on room temperatures here:

Opening the windows full for short periods rather than having them permanently ajar is the third, extremely efficient trick to reduce heating costs: turn off the radiators three to four times a day and open the windows full. In winter, close the windows after about five minutes and turn the heating back on. You can find more good habits to reduce high heating costs here:

4. Eco-friendly ways of cleaning your home

When it comes to sustainable cleaning, it depends on how much dirt there is and what final result you want to achieve. However, ecological cleaning agents are usually perfectly sufficient for normal everyday household use. Chemical cleaning agents pollute the environment, especially if they contain surfactants that are petroleum-based. Additives giving the liquids fragrance, colour or a long shelf-life also harm the environment - because they are rarely biodegradable. What's more, allergy sufferers, but also less sensitive consumers, react to contact with chemical cleaning agents. A decision to use sustainable substances is therefore also a decision to protect your own health.

The best-known environmentally friendly - and effective - home remedies include soda and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), vinegar essence, citric acid, and soap. Soda and baking soda work well against greasy stains. The substances react with acids, so many people use that combination for hard-to-reach dirt in the drain. Acetic and citric acids are the remedies of choice in the fight against lime scale. Soft soap, mixed with baking soda and water, can be used to make a sustainable dishwashing detergent.

For those who are afraid to make cleaning products themselves (according to a recipe): many ecological cleaning agents contain the above-mentioned basic ingredients.

5. Saving water

When it comes to saving water, there are two good approaches to using this precious resource sustainably: you can change your behaviour - and you can find and eliminate hidden leaks in the home. The second approach in particular saves an astonishing amount of water: a faulty toilet cistern or a dripping tap, for example, can increase consumption dramatically. And can put up your bill by hundreds of euros.

Tips on how to change your behaviour to help save water in your daily life are more about changing habits. For greater sustainability, we recommend you to:

  • shower instead of taking a bath. Those who want to do more can install a low-flow shower head that adds air to the water.
  • turn off the tap when cleaning your teeth or soaping your hands.
  • when cooking, only heat up as much water as you really need.
  • install an economy button on the toilet flush.

In your own house you can also collect rainwater to use in the garden or to flush the toilet.

6. Buying sustainable products

The law of supply and demand: if many consumers demand regional, fair trade and organic products, supply will increase. This way you support sustainable producers with every purchase.  

However, there are product groups that are not particularly sustainable, even in their organic variety. Meat and meat products, but also dairy products such as butter and cheese, and even plant-based goods such as palm oil, avocados or frozen French fries do not perform well in terms of sustainability: they use a lot of land and water, cause the emission of climate-damaging gases or are processed and stored in a costly manner.

As far as the climate balance is concerned, it also depends on the distances a product is transported and the means of transport. So in Germany we should do without strawberries flown in from warmer climes in January.

If you are serious about protecting the climate, make sure you

  • have less meat and more vegetables in your diet,
  • choose regional products, fair-trade and organic food,
  • buy field-grown instead of greenhouse-grown produce,
  • avoid heavily processed and canned foods
  • and, ideally, go shopping by bike or on foot.

7. Sustainable gardening

If you buy what is in season and organic, you can apply the same sustainability principles in your own garden: it starts with kitchen scraps and compost - and extends to plants that provide food for insects. But let's stay grounded for now: instead of using artificial fertilisers, sustainable gardeners use organic alternatives, save water (and work) by mulching regularly, and make their own nutrient-rich soil in the composter.

A lot of water can be saved in the garden. To do this, collect rainwater, water the garden only in the morning or evening, and take the trouble to lay irrigation hoses.

All this takes time and planning at first, but it pays off. After all, sustainability in the garden is not only good for people, but also for insects and birds. A meadow of flowers instead of the often seen rock garden, native plants and nectar suppliers are your invitation to butterflies, bees and bumblebees. In addition to food, they also need a place to retreat - piles of leaves and brushwood are ideal. For birds, you can put up nesting boxes, plant sunflowers and offer a sheltered watering place.

8. Avoiding waste and microplastics

In 2019, each inhabitant in Germany produced an average of 457 kilos of waste – with such a large volume it should not be too difficult to avoid a kilo or two. One problem that the public has only become aware of in recent years is microplastics. The microscopic plastic particles are everywhere: in the oceans, in the Arctic, on fields. They are not biodegradable and harm animals in particular. Microplastics enter the environment from artificial turf, tyres, clothing and cosmetics.

Each one of us can do something to reduce the amount of waste and microplastics that pollute the environment. You should take these tips to heart:

  • Buy food with natural 'packaging', such as many sorts of fruit and vegetables, loose.
  • Switch from disposable to reusable bottles for beverages or use a carbonated drinks maker.
  • Take cloth bags or baskets with you when you go shopping.
  • Choose reusable products.
  • Buy high-quality clothes that last longer.
  • Save paper by reading your daily newspaper or books in digital form.
  • Use recycled paper and toilet paper.
  • Avoid microplastics in cosmetics (peeling!) or fleece garments.

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