1. Give up meat just one day a week. According to estimates from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat industry is responsible for almost one-fifth of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing such a negative impact on the environment. But as earthday.org points out, if the entire U.S. population abstained from meat or cheese for just one day a week, over the course of one year it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
2. Purchase as many fair trade items as possible. Purchasing Fair Trade goods better ensures that the money you spend on an item goes toward providing a fair and just wage for the person who produced it. I’ve purchased far too many clothing items and products that were extremely cheap, without thinking about how they got to be that cheap in the first place. Even if you start with one thing at a time, check out Fair Trade USA to find out where you can get apparel, alcohol, home goods and more from places where workers are treated ethically.
3. Watch documentaries and read books that will teach you more about the social realities of the world. A good documentary to start with is Inequality for All (available right now on Netflix). For books, try I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Sold by Patricia McCormick, or The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
4. Ride public transportation as much as possible. You’re reducing CO2 emissions every single time you choose not to drive your own car. You’re also giving yourself the opportunity to encounter people from all walks of life. If you use public transportation regularly, try taking a break once in a while from listening to music, looking at your phone, or reading a book and instead focus on being present in the moment with other people around you.
5. Go to a service for a denomination that is different from the one you go to now or the one you went to as a child. It’s a great way to remind yourself that, no matter what religion or spirituality people identify with, none of us are that different.
6. Pick up trash on the ground when you are walking outside. We’ll never be able to pick up all the litter that people produce. But when we go on walks or are walking to and from work, we can do the simple task of picking up the garbage that we pass along the way. That litter can be incredibly harmful to animals and to the environment in general. It’s small, but it takes a second and it makes a difference.
7. Turn off lights when you’re not using them and unplug things that aren’t being used. You’ll save electricity and will avoid expending energy on things that aren’t even being used.
8. Read the news, everyday, from balanced news sources. If you find today’s news sites overwhelming and hard to sift through, try theSkimm. I can’t recommend it enough. The free service sends an email to your inbox every weekday highlighting what’s going on in the world. They’ve also been providing a lot of helpful info about the 2016 election, with tons of information about candidates and where they stand on important issues.
9. Smile at strangers on the street. It’s quick, it costs nothing, and it may provide someone with the smallest act of kindness that they needed to turn their day around.
10. Buy a re-usable water bottle. Self-explanatory. Plus you’ll get to avoid spending $6 on a small water bottle every time you’re at the airport.
11. Don’t run the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Seems harmless. Used to be something I never thought about. But it’s such an unnecessary waste of water.
12. “Empower people around the world with a $25 loan.” Kiva is a non-profit that gives people the opportunity to lend money to low-income or struggling students and entrepreneurs around the world – 86 countries to be exact. Once you make a loan, you’ll get updates on the borrowers’ progress, and as soon as they repay the loan, you can lend it to another person and keep the cycle going.
13. Make an effort to only use air conditioning when it’s essential. Air conditioning has a huge impact on global warming in more ways than one. So maybe it’s a big leap to take all at once, but try turning the air off and opening the windows a couple days a week, and going from there. Here are some great ways to keep your home cool sans AC.
14. Don’t buy food unless you are certain it is going to be used and not wasted. It helps if you plan out your meals for the week before you go grocery shopping. That way, you only buy what you need. And you’ll save money while you’re at it.
15. Take leftovers home from a restaurant. Even if you don’t think you’ll eat it, somebody will. Your roommates, your significant other, maybe your moocher of a brother. If you don’t think anyone at home will eat it, ask if anyone at your table wants it. I have plenty of friends who have taken home each other’s food before. I’m dating the King of Leftovers. Never underestimate the stomach or your significant other.
16. Watch a t.v. show or read a book that you know will have an opposing religious or political viewpoint. If you are Catholic, read books that allow you to learn more about Muslims. If you consider yourself to be liberal, try watching Fox News. You may not agree with what you read or what is being said, but keeping an open mind allows us to better break down barriers and build bridges, even when we disagree.
17. And if you want to do something fun, watch one of the multiple groundbreaking shows that are available today that discuss race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, etc. in fascinating and sometimes hilarious ways. Black-ish. Scandal. Fresh Off the Boat. Modern Family. (Damn, ABC, good job). There are plenty of shows available today that can entertain while still challenging you to broaden your horizons.
18. Reach out to an old friend that you’ve lost touch with. Even just to say hello. Or to tell them you’re thinking about them. It’s just nice to remind people that you’re there if you need them – even if you never hear anything back.
19. Buy a meal for a homeless person. People are always going to have mixed feelings about giving money to homeless people, and that’s okay. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions. But if you don’t have cash or you just don’t feel comfortable giving someone money but you want to help, try asking them if they’re hungry or if you could grab them a sandwich. A little compassion goes a long way.