Becoming greener doesn’t have to be about living a life of denial. Here are some easy, fulfilling ways to do better for the planet.
THE YEAR IS 2023. We’re cautious but optimistic. We recycle, obviously. We’re hydrated, hopefully with the help of our refillable water bottles. We bring our reusable totes to the store and take pride in typing “0” when the self-checkout asks how many bags we need. We want to do the right thing (though we may have brief moments of bewilderment at Starbucks when we try to match up what we’re holding to the corresponding pictures and their destinations of compost, recycling or landfill). But we’re all still genuinely concerned about the future of our planet and what it might look like in 2123 if we keep treading on it with our giant carbon footprints. We all have a carbon footprint: a net total of greenhouse gas emissions generated by our lifestyle and choices. In the United States, our consumption habits generate an average 16 tons of carbon emissions per year, among the highest carbon footprints of any country. If everyone on the planet consumed resources the way Americans do, we’d need the equivalent of five Earths to sustain everyone’s lifestyles, according to The Nature Conservancy. The time for change was yesterday. Here are some easy ways to do your part to be more sustainable, plus tips from a few Sacramentans who are already doing theirs.
If your new food forest turns out to be fruitful, than share it
Don’t toss your surplus food out! Use it to help feed others. THE AWKWARD GARDENER’S COMMUNITY TABLE is a passion project of a community advocate and activist named Brie, who prefers not to share her last name due to her line of work and the risks associated with it. “TAGCT was born after I started my first large garden in 2018 and quickly realized that one can have surplus produce on their hands quite easily after I made the common newbie mistake of eagerly planting seven zucchini plants,” says Brie. After learning that this is a common problem for all gardeners, she had the idea to create an outlet for extra produce in the community. The goal is to fight food waste and food insecurity by diverting surplus to those in need in the Sacramento metropolitan area. In the beginning, TAGCT focused on creating meals for people living in encampments, but it has since expanded to help stock community pantries and fridges. “Statistics suggest we could feed the world’s hungry with the amount of food we waste. I believe it’s not for a lack of folks not wanting to address the issue, but, rather, a lack of knowing where to send it to avoid it from becoming waste,” Brie says. Visit @tagcommunitytable on Instagram or Facebook to learn more about TAGCT or visit freedge.org to learn more about community pantries and fridges.
Learn How to Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own food isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for the soul. Successfully harvesting your first fruit or vegetable is reward enough—and then you get to eat it. “The more local organic food we can grow ourselves means less chemicals in the air and water and less transport of food from long distances. Moreover, the act of growing some of the food that you need each day teaches you that just as a garden needs the ‘gardener’ to thrive, so does the earth benefit from active human stewardship,” says Shawn Harrison, founder and co-director of SOIL BORN FARMS. Soil Born Farms is home to the Center for Food, Health and the Environment, a living laboratory that encompasses 55 acres of organically managed gardens, farm fields, orchards, pasture, creek and native habitat. Through a variety of weekly classes, tours and activities, youth and adults can build the skills necessary to grow some of their own food, get in the kitchen to support simple and delicious cooking, and better care for the earth. Whether you have a forlorn packet of starter seeds collecting dust somewhere or you’re looking to take your homesteading to the next level, Soil Born has a class for you.
And growing food isn’t just for people with gardening skills or sprawling backyards. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, try lettuce, radishes, kale, summer squash, arugula and tomatoes. If you have limited space, try culinary herbs like thyme and oregano and salad ingredients like lettuce, radishes and turnips.
To learn more, visit soilborn.org.
Education Programs Manager, Soil Born Farms
How I became aware of my impact on the environment: I became especially aware of my individual impact when I had children and was struck by the fact that my kids will be living in a world where endangered species are common, climate change is imminent and plastics are everywhere. I started a Green Team at my kids’ school. After conducting a trash audit, we reduced our waste from five bags of trash each lunchtime to just one.
How I do my part: One thing I’m very passionate about is creating and protecting healthy ecosystems in my yard, at school gardens and at Soil Born Farms. We are so trained to kill ants and spiders, remove fallen leaves, use harmful pesticides and neatly manicure our yards. In our pursuit of perfectly manicured yards and pest-free homes, we destroy many of nature’s natural cycles. I love to create and protect spaces that allow beneficial insects to thrive, encourage healthy soil through the decomposition of leaves, and build habitats that serve birds, bees and other pollinators.
A sustainability myth or misconception to clear up: Recycling isn’t always what it appears to be. I’ve always worked hard to recycle everything I can, but I’ve recently been made aware of how few things are truly recycled in our waste management systems. I’ve realized that reducing my waste is the only way to solve this. Simple steps I’ve taken to reduce waste include always taking cloth bags to the store, buying produce that is unpackaged, placing lunch items in reusable containers and considering products with containers that can be refilled.
My tips for individuals just beginning their sustainability journeys: Protect the environment around your home. A few simple changes can include planting flowers to support birds and pollinators, using fewer harsh chemicals and utilizing mulch and leaves in your yard to retain water and help build healthy soil. These simple choices affect our water, soil and food systems as well as our bodies.
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, The Awkward Gardener’s Community Table
How I became aware of my impact on the environment: I was raised from an early age to be aware of my individual impact and what steps I could engage in to be more eco friendly. My family recycled as best as we could, and we were mindful of conservation, such as turning off the water or lights at home when not in use. My elementary school always did a day of service around Earth Day, which focused on beautifying the campus through planting flowers, cleaning up garbage or setting up systems like recycling bins in classrooms. At one point, I was on the student council as Commissioner of the Environment. I grew up surrounded by the message to be mindful of my impact on the environment.
How I do my part: I am by no means living a full-fledged zero-waste lifestyle, but I try my best to do what I can in as many ways as I can. Here are a few ways: I minimize single plastic usage in the form of using reusable containers and jars for storage; I use beeswax wrapping instead of plastic wrap; if I use a Ziploc bag, I reuse it; I save single-use plastic containers for the Davis Night Market to reuse; I garden and compost; I use wool balls instead of dryer sheets; and I purchase products that are cruelty-free and use eco-friendly ingredients and practices. I rarely have much in my garbage bin, whereas my recycling bin is always overflowing, and I utilize my garden compost pile frequently.
A sustainability myth or misconception to clear up: It’s not hard to be more sustainable. You don’t have to approach it with all-or-nothing thinking. We all have a duty to engage in more earth-friendly practices and educate ourselves about the impact we have on the environment. We should be more focused on how we can do better as a society, and less focused on who’s “right” or “wrong” on certain issues. For example, why argue about whether eliminating plastic straws and utensils in restaurants is foolish, when accepting that perhaps that small step is still valuable—regardless of the size of the impact it incurs—should be a practice that we want to engage in as mindful humans?
My tips for individuals just beginning their sustainability journeys: Small steps add up. If it seems too overwhelming or too costly, just start with one thing and work your way up to implementing more and more over time. Begin with what seems easiest or the most practical to incorporate into your life. Single-use plastics are a great place to start, as they are a huge part of our society, so being able to eliminate at least some of that element in your daily life can add up. Switch to glass storage and reusable silicone storage bags. Identify where you are frequently engaging in single-use products that can be switched out for more sustainable alternatives, such as in the bathroom, laundry room or kitchen. Recycle, reduce and reuse as much as possible.
Composting Isn’t Complicated
What do you do with your eggshells, carrot peels and moldy bread? What about the leftovers you couldn’t finish, the bananas you were (seriously, totally, definitely) saving for banana bread, and the kale from the farmer’s market that always manages to get lost in the back of your fridge? Approximately one-third of the world’s food is thrown away. What’s worse is that food ends up in landfills where it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, while it rots. But there’s another way: When you compost, your discarded foods are just beginning their journey. Composting is a process that converts organic matter into a soil amendment rich with nutrients through natural decomposition. The compost can then be used to build healthier soil, prevent soil erosion, conserve water and improve plant growth and health in your yard. If you’re not so keen on having a worm habitat in your backyard, you should still contribute to composting: Both the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County offer organics recycling with your waste services, or you can drop your food scraps off at a community drop-off site: Resoil Sacramento/Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento accepts scraps on Saturdays at Midtown Farmers Market between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on Wednesdays at Winn Farmers Market between 3 and 7 pm. Visit grasacramento.org for more info.
Try a little pick-me-up
Let’s talk trash: our city has a lot of it. With enough litter, landscapes become landfills. It pollutes our air, water and soil, and destroys natural habitats. But there’s a group helping to change that, one pickup at a time: SACRAMENTO PICKS IT UP! SPIU! turns picking up trash into fun social outings for positive change by organizing group clean-up events and providing safety vests, pickup sticks, gloves, trash bags and sanitizers. Last year, the mighty volunteers launched a campaign to clean out trash from the Sacramento and American rivers, filling dozens of trash bags at each site along our waterways. The group also encourages others to get together for smaller group pickup days or even solo adventures, and to share stories of how #SacramentoPicksItUp. Learn more about SPIU! by joining their Facebook group or @sacramentopicksitup on Instagram.
Reduce Your Meat Consumption
An Oxford University study named going vegan as “the single biggest way” an individual can reduce their carbon footprint, shrinking it up to 73 percent. If you aren’t ready to give up animal products full time, you can still take part in Meatless Mondays—an initiative to go without meat one day per week. Here are a few of our favorite vegan eats around town to get you started.
IMPOSSIBLE BACON BLEU
2431 J St., second floor;
(916) 448-8768; vegsacramento.com
VEGAN BANH MI
1610 R St.; (916) 368-5400;
ANDY NGUYEN’S VEGETARIAN
2007 Broadway; (916) 736-1157;
CHIPOTLE CHICK’N TACOS
3191 Zinfandel Drive #3, Rancho Cordova;
GURU POTATO CURRY ANNA’S VEGAN CAFE 3500 Stockton Blvd.; (916) 451-6842
Visit the best home furnishing store-it’s in your neighborhood
Except it’s not actually a store: It’s all the things your neighbors want to part with. From one-of-a-kind items to basic freebies to moving sales, you can find probably everything on your Pinterest board and then some right down the street, from unused Talavera tiles to gently used midcentury-modern couches. Because although a popular Swedish home outfitter might be good for a quick furniture fix, it’s also a smörgåsbord of mass-produced particle board with a lifespan of a couple years in a climate-controlled apartment (and potentially multiple decades in a landfill). Every year, Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture, forming mounds of waste that have increased 450 percent since 1960, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Bonus: Sometimes, you can find gems for free.
Check out these groups before buying something new, or download their apps (And when you’re ready to redo your place, there’s probably someone waiting to take things off your hands):
Local Sustainability Blogger, lucismorsels.com
How I became aware of my impact on the environment: Growing up in California, “sustainable living” has always been in my periphery, but it wasn’t until 2019 when we had our first kid and bought our home that I really started to focus on it. I remember trying to figure out the right temperature for washing cloth diapers and how we could save money in our new home. The articles out there were often convoluted about sustainable living, but I kept reading until I found something that fit our lifestyles. One article led to another, and I started really embracing the process of learning, the slow process of making changes, and started shifting gears to think about how I could live my life with sustainability in mind.
How I do my part: When it comes to living sustainably on the individual level, I’ve found the list is often long but full of small actions. I love Sacramento’s new organic green waste program: It makes it so easy to minimize food waste. This year, I’m also learning about the materials and labor that go into fashion. I love clothes and beauty, but I want to be mindful about making intentional and fewer purchases. And after a few years of takeout meals, we’re trying more and more to physically eat at local restaurants instead of to-go. I am even trying to remember to bring my own containers for leftovers—another source of food waste.
A sustainability myth or misconception to clear up: Sustainability isn’t a one-size-fits all lifestyle, and you don’t have to change who you are. My style, food choices and interests haven’t changed much since we started living more sustainably—I still wear great jeans, get my hair colored, use fabulous skincare and watch a lot of baseball!
My tips for individuals just beginning their sustainability journeys: My two biggest tips are to cut back on food waste and to buy fewer new things. Part of cutting back is learning how to properly store and cook produce, as well as trying to eat more seasonally: In-season produce tends to taste better and last longer. Most of the recipes on my blog are based on seasonal eating, and I even self-published two cookbooks last year on seasonal eating because I think sustainable living should taste great, too! And while I’m not telling everyone to stop shopping, it’s important to cut back on purchases and buy with intention and purpose.
Bringing Sustainability to Your Style
The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions—more than aviation and shipping combined, according to the United Nations. Fast fashion—what most of us are accustomed to buying and wearing—is low-priced, stylish clothing that is rapidly produced at high volumes. Many fast-fashion garments exploit not only the environment but labor, and they keep consumers on a perpetual treadmill due to both inexpensive construction and quickly changing trends. If you decide to move away from fast fashion, the best way to start a new wardrobe is to keep your current one. “The most sustainable thing you can do is wear what you own,” says THALIA CASTRO-VEGA, a personal stylist and content creator (@polychrom3). “People have different income needs, and fast-fashion brands tend to have lower price points, so the most important thing is to be mindful of your rate of consumption and wear what you own.” Castro Vega’s advice if you’re looking to slow down your pace on the fashion treadmill is to simply identify your personal style. “There has been this upsurge in clothing consumption because people view it as disposable, but if we change our mindset and see it as pieces that are true to our personal style and that we will wear often, we’ll make mindful purchases and not overconsume,” Castro-Vega says. Sustainability and size inclusivity go hand-in-hand. “Sustainability is accessible to everyone through conscious shopping, but it also needs to be available to everyone in terms of sizing when someone does need to buy,” Castro-Vega says. When size inclusivity isn’t available, people have a much tougher time finding something that fits and may end up in a constant buying cycle from a brand, perhaps even a fast-fashion brand. Other tips include learning how to style one garment in five to 10 ways, cleaning shoes after every wear to ensure their longevity, mending apparel instead of throwing it out, and using gentle detergents and air drying.
Remember, you’re not in traffic, you are traffic. But there are ways to skip the worst of it while being friendly to the environment.
TAKE LIGHT RAIL
Sacramento Regional Transit’s 42.9-mile light rail system consists of three rail lines, 54 stations and a fleet of 96 vehicles. Whether you’re going downtown or to Folsom (and hopefully to the airport in the future), there’s probably a stop for that. Visit sacrt.com for more info.
RIDE YOUR BIKE
Sacramento is relatively flat, making it ideal for leisurely bicycle commuting. While not every street has a viable bike lane, you can map out your trip for the most bike-friendly paths. Visit sacbike.org/resources/maps or sacregion511.org to plan the safest and most efficient bike route.
HOP ON THE BUS*
Flixbus has three stops and stations in Sacramento, and can get you to San Francisco, New York and everywhere in between. According to Flixbus, traveling on their buses emits around 36 grams of CO² per kilometer, compared to car travel, which emits around 168 grams per km (and plane travel, emitting 321 grams per km). Visit flixbus.com/bus/sacramento-ca for more info.
*Megabus recently returned to Sacramento, and it can take you to Anaheim, Oakland, San Francisco and more. Learn more at us.megabus.com.
Fix it instead of replacing it
Ripped clothing, rickety bicycles, dull tools and broken appliances all get a second life at OAK PARK FIX-IT CAFE, a community group founded in 2017. The group meets every second Saturday at 3818 Stockton Blvd. to offer free help to neighbors looking to repair household items. Visit oak-park-fix-it-cafe.mailchimpsites.com for more info.
Refill More Than Just Your Water Bottle
Most of us are cognizant about the downsides of single-use plastic for our beverages, but we still buy new tubes of toothpaste and new bottles of soap and shampoo when our current ones tap out. But one store on the grid has proven that a new set of bottles isn’t necessary. REFILL MADNESS is a zero-waste shop and soap refillery that opened its doors in February 2016. “I wanted to offer our customers a way to shop that was the opposite of throw-away culture,” says owner Sloane Read. “I really wanted to make consumers aware of the plastic problem and that they could take part in a solution.”
The shop offers refills on laundry detergents, hand soap, bath and body products, dish liquids and household cleaners. In addition to refilling your containers, you’ll also find household products for sale with zero plastic packaging or in biodegradable/plastic packaging, such as shampoo/conditioner bars, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
What to expect on your first visit: The Refill squad will greet you, weigh your containers and take your order. After your order is fulfilled, you’ll receive a stamp for each refill on your rewards card. You can also purchase any quantity you want, which is a great way to test new products.
“Consumers have immense power to create change—the almighty dollar says it all,” says Read.
Give it a try: Refill Madness, 1828 29th St.; (916) 382-4823; refillmadnesssacramento.com.
That goes for your booze, too
Around 50 breweries operate in the greater Sacramento area, and you can buy a lot of their cans at your favorite bottle shops. But something else you can do is visit the taprooms directly with your own reusable growler—a glass, ceramic or stainless-steel container that holds up to 64 ounces, or a little bit more than five bottles of beer. Not only is it a little cheaper, but it’s a lot less wasteful.
Development and Administrative Director, 350 Sacramento
How I became aware of my impact on the environment: I owe a lot to my first-born, who majored in sustainability in college and taught me even more about living sustainably—he’s my inspiration. He taught me that your purchased water bottle is no more than tap water in a convenient bottle to go.
How I do my part: I unplug any appliances not being used. I don’t use electricity during peak hours, despite the fact I have rooftop solar panels. I am conscientious about washing in cold water and not driving my car often, even though it is fully electric.
A sustainability myth or misconception to clear up: Not everything that appears “green” actually is. It’s essential that the consumer—someone like you and me—researches what eco-friendly is, because of greenwashing. Greenwashing is nothing more than companies posting online that they are “going green” to add to their corporate social responsibility image by making you think it’s eco-friendly when, in reality, it isn’t. There’s also the misconception that sustainable living means not shaving or only buying from local farmers markets. That’s not exactly the meaning. It just means to be a conscious shopper who knows where the products come from and what happens to the waste once the products are disposed of.
My tips for individuals just beginning their sustainability journeys: Think twice before shopping, find ways to shop local and without plastic containers, and make sure your big purchases have big environmental benefits. Don’t forget to pay attention to labels and what they really mean. Compost your tea bags, tea leaves, banana peels and lightly used paper towels and napkins. Instead of throwing away old water in a glass or bottle, water your plants with it. If you want to be inspired and learn more about changing your lifestyle, surround yourself with people who are practicing living sustainably. Volunteer at your local climate change nonprofit and see how you can make a difference. Learn what happens to your waste once it leaves your home. You have a lot more power than you think: If we all refused to purchase products when completely packaged in plastics, companies would be forced to find alternative packaging.