No one wakes up and says, “What a great day to be sustainable!” Well, maybe someone does. But many folks don’t. The average person is mainly focused on meeting their daily goals in the most convenient and economical way.
If that means buying inexpensive imported goods, using plastic utensils for a quick takeout lunch, and driving their own car instead of hopping on the bus – well, what’s one person in the grand scheme of things, right?
One person can do a lot. But living sustainably needs to go beyond the individual. For sustainable living to truly become a way of life, an entire network of individuals, groups, government entities and organizations need to contribute. And that’s exactly what’s been happening in New York City.
Before we dive into living sustainably in New York City, it’s imperative to understand what the term actually means. While your brain may go racing into a lengthy and complex explanation, the definition is actually quite straightforward.
Living sustainably simply means behaving in a way that will not jeopardize the ability of the current or future generations to meet their needs.
What can become complex is the number and manner of ways communities can support sustainable living. Individuals are only one piece of the big puzzle and, as mentioned, convenience and cost-effectiveness can easily outweigh sustainability for the average individual in the rush of daily life.
In addition to actions from the individual, action needs to be taken by:
With an entire mayor’s office dedicated to Climate and Environmental Justice, New York City is on board with sustainable living. It’s not just all talk, either. The city supports sustainable living in a number of ways. These include:
Providing transportation systems: A massive network of subway and bus routes provides affordable transportation for people and goods while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Having breathable air and drinkable water:
New York City also boasts:
Much of the city’s sustainability success can be credited to PlaNYC, New York City’s sustainability plan introduced in 2007. Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the efforts, which aimed to:
PlaNYC was updated in 2011 and additional initiatives were added in 2014. New York City aims to stake its claim as the most sustainable big city in the world.
While the mayor’s office says New York still has some work to do before ranking as the most sustainable big city in the world, it’s near the top of the ranks in the United States.
The annual Lawn Starter report on the most sustainable cities in 2023 places the Big Apple third on a list of 200 sustainable cities across the nation. Number one went to San Francisco, followed by Boston at number two.
The report calculated overall sustainability scores by looking at five different sustainability categories:
While New York City ranked third overall, it did take first place in the policy and transportation categories.
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The city of New York appears to be doing its part to make sustainable living a way of life, and its residents can follow suit. Here are eight ways you can weave sustainable living into your regular routine.
New York ranks at the top for sustainability in transportation, with 472 subway stations and more than 300 local, select, and express bus routes throughout the five boroughs. Taking public transportation instead of your car can cut down on congestion and emissions.
Walking is another way to cut down on emissions while also producing less noise and air pollution. Not to mention the benefits of burning calories, moving your muscles and getting some fresh air.
If possible, choose foods that don’t create more harm than good for the planet during their production. Go for organic fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally, without harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Make sure your seafood and meat come from well-managed sources.
Shopping locally means less transportation for shipping to get what you need. This again translates to less pollution, emissions, noise and congestion – especially if you walk or take the bus or train to the shop. You’re also supporting the local economy.
Composting and recycling solid waste keeps it out of landfills. New York City has a strong recycling program, collecting about 2,000 tons of recycling per day. It also has a composting program, with drop-off composting sites throughout the city that collect food waste and yard waste.
Even if they can’t install solar panels on their apartment building roofs, New York City residents can support clean energy in a variety of ways. One of those ways is community solar. Here you subscribe to support a solar farm in exchange for a reduction on your electricity bill.
Local organizations can play a big role in supporting and promoting sustainability, as can joining local causes that focus on what’s best for us and generations to come. New York City has no shortage of environmental groups and causes that would likely welcome your help.
Making your apartment eco-friendly is another way to live sustainably. This involves things like being mindful of the amount of electricity and water you use, using green cleaning products, and choosing natural, certified and green materials for your furniture, flooring and furnishing.
With so many options at the ready, living sustainably in New York City is not difficult to achieve. In fact, you may already be doing it without even thinking about it.
You’re choosing sustainable practices every time you take the subway or bus instead of taking a taxi or your car, every time you opt for locally grown organic veggies, and every time you walk to the corner store instead of placing an online order from a faraway shop.
Even if you don’t necessarily wake up each day with the declaration to live sustainably, New York City makes it easy for sustainable living to come naturally.