8 Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint

The We Company employees give advice on living an eco-friendly lifestyle

by Jenna Wilson

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Even the most diehard sustainability guru couldn’t help but watch, shocked and heartbroken, at the baby flamingo’s unsuccessful trek across the salt flats in Netflix’s Our Planet, the latest docuseries exploring nature’s wonders—and the impact of humankind.

“Climate change and global warming are the ultimate ‘side-effects’ of irresponsible and unsustainable practices,” says Shirannie Diaz, an operations coordinator for WeWork in Singapore. “The only way we can save the planet is through disruptive actions that reverse these effects.”

You can keep procrastinating setting up a way to compost in your tiny studio apartment, but as Diaz puts it, “Why do tomorrow what you can do today?”

Our Earth Day challenge: Add one more Earth-friendly practice to your life. Get inspired by these ideas from The We Company employees.

1. Share your stuff

Being a conscious consumer is an integral part of living sustainably, explains Rebecca McPhail, who supports the financial-technology team at WeWork’s Chelsea HQ. And retail companies are making it easier to find sustainable fashion, upcycled furniture, and other eco-friendly products. “Support companies like Rent the Runway that are conscious about the way they produce and rent clothes,” McPhail says.

Maria Ingaglio, a member of WeWork’s strategic-events team, also at HQ, finds unique and trendy pieces by shopping at a thrift store. Her one wardrobe rule: “Always avoid fast-fashion,” she says, noting that it’s terrible for the environment, and often compromises workers’ rights.

Diaz has another simple rule: one in, five out. “For every one piece of clothing I buy, I donate five items,” she says.

Merrill Wing, a building-services manager at WeWork in Los Angeles, recently moved into a new apartment and furnished it with vintage finds. “These pieces are trendy, and I’m doing a good thing for the planet,” he says.

2. Recycle the right way

Reality check: One unrinsed soup container can render an entire bag of plastic and paper unrecyclable. “If you don’t recycle an item correctly, you might as well throw it in the trash,” Wing says. So be sure that you’re not throwing any food waste in the recycling bin.

3. Do your research

The more you know, the more you’ll care. “Listen to podcasts, seek out resources, be aware, and be conscious,” says McPhail. Some of her favorites are The Minimalists, Conscious Chatter, and Good + Social.

Ingaglio, who builds out sustainability strategies for large-scale WeWork events like Creator Awards and Global Summit, says her passion for the issue grew as she started learning more about it. “I’ve always been a tree-hugger,” Ingaglio says, “but now I can’t ignore it or turn a blind eye. It’s present in each decision I make.”

Growing up, Wing’s father managed landfills, and that experience kept waste concerns top of mind his entire life. “The trash you produce doesn’t go away, and these landfills keep growing,” he says.

4. Save a few bucks

Eco-friendly living can help preserve the planet and your budget. Jenné Blackburn, a community lead at WeWork 3200 Park Center Dr, is always the first to recommend carpooling. “If we can carpool or share an Uber, we save money and keep our ecological footprint in check,” she says.

Wing, who had a hand in replacing the plastic cups in WeWork buildings in the U.S., recommends buying unbreakable stainless steel cups for your home. “Rather than spending $10 on disposable plastic cups every month,” Wing explains, “buy stainless steel cups once and within six months, you’ll have saved $50.”

We all know that drinking from a reusable water bottle eliminates the need to buy single-use plastic water bottles. But some of us get obsessed with one, then ditch it for another, then fall in love with yet another… “Buying those items contributes to more generated waste,” Diaz says. “Even if the products aren’t single-use, they’re still plastic.”

With that in mind, Diaz carries a reusable bag in her backpack for last-minute errands. Not only is she keeping fewer paper or plastic shopping bags out of circulation, but she also saves a few cents every time, because many supermarkets charge you for the bags you use—and others pay you for bringing your own.

5. Learn how to compost

Composting doesn’t have to be intimidating. “You don’t even have to do it yourself,” Ingaglio says. “In many places, you can drop your compost off at local community gardens and farmer’s markets.” She found hyperlocal composting opportunities by walking around her neighborhood, but sites like GrowNYC in New York and Zero Waste in Chicago also list dropoff locations.

6. Nail the follow-through

Saving water is a key component of an eco-friendly lifestyle: An average shower uses 5 gallons of water per minute. “Set a timer for your shower to make sure you’re not using too much water,” Blackburn says. She limits her shower to five minutes and recommends reading to provide more ways to limit your water usage.

Blackburn also tries to save power, so she avoids charging her phone overnight and keeps a reminder next to the front door to turn off all of the lights on her way out. Diaz shuts off the power supply to her TV and WiFi before going to work during the day and to sleep at night. “Make sure all of your power strips are turned off,” she says. “Those little things pile up in terms of energy consumption.”

7. Make it a get-together

A beach cleanup with your friends (like the cleanup WeWork employees organized in Los Angeles) will always be more enjoyable than a beach cleanup on your own. “Create meaningful experiences to get others involved,” says Blackburn. “Get everyone excited to be part of something change-worthy.”

These experiences don’t have to involve garbage or advance planning. When she can, Blackburn tries to meet friends at a restaurant rather than at someone’s place for takeout. It’s more enjoyable and mindful, and eliminates the need for styrofoam containers and single-use utensils.

8. Set an example

Discussing environmental impact has a dual purpose, says McPhail. It can help you hold yourself accountable and spread information to those around you. “My actions can trickle down and impact others to do small things to help make the world a better place,” she says.

“Once you become a leader in this space, you can teach others best practices,” adds Blackburn. “And the impact will reverberate throughout the world.”

Photograph by Getty Images

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