Group of young activist for climate action Group of young activist for climate action


We can all live sustainably and help build a better world for everyone. But this means taking a look at how we live and understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us. We make hundreds of thousands of decisions during the course of our lives. The choices we make and the lifestyles we live have a profound impact on our planet.

In nature, there is no such thing as garbage. Everything in nature is reused or recycled. But we live in a throwaway society. We use something once, and then it’s garbage, ending up in landfills or in our oceans, lakes and rivers. And the wasted energy contributes to air pollution and climate change.

Current lifestyles are unsustainable:

Demand for natural resources is at an all-time high and continues to grow -- for food, clothing, water, housing, infrastructure and other aspects of life. Resource extraction has more than tripled since 1970, including a 45% increase in fossil fuel use.

The extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food contribute half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and over 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress.

The Sustainable Development Goals include targets (4.7 and 12.8) to ensure that, by 2030, people everywhere have the relevant information, education and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.

If the global population continues to grow as predicted, reaching 9.6 billion by 2050, it could require the equivalent of almost three planets to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

In high-income countries, the material footprint per capita – the amount of primary materials needed to meet our needs -- is more than 10 times larger than in low-income countries. And the Group of 20 major economies (G20) accounts for 78% of global greenhouse gas emissions.


Here’s where every one of us can make a difference




Electricity drives our lifestyles. Although some 790 million people in the world still lack access to electricity, for the rest, everything from a computer to a television to refrigerator needs energy. We don’t have to give up our appliances — but we can use them in a way that doesn’t waste energy.

By turning off your lights and using energy-efficient lightbulbs, you can reduce your energy consumption and save money. If people worldwide switched to energy-efficient light bulbs, the world would save US$120 billion annually.

The energy supply sector (electricity, heat, and other energy) is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for approx. 35% of total emissions.

Households consume 29% of global energy and contribute to 21% of resultant CO2 emissions. The most energy in households is used for heating and cooling.

Use the UN carbon footprint calculator to find out how much greenhouse gas emissions you contribute through your daily activities, such as using electricity, driving a car, or disposing of waste.

Increasing the thermostat setting from 24°C to 28°C during the cooling season can reduce annual cooling energy use by more than a factor of three for a typical office building in Zurich, Switzerland.

Energy demand for cooling is the fastest growing end-use in buildings, with ten air conditioners expected to be sold every second over the next 30 years.

Emissions from air conditioning and refrigeration are expected to rise 90% from 2017 levels by 2050.

By unplugging your electronics and appliances when not in use, you can save energy and money while reducing your carbon footprint.

Switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power, also means less pollution and new and better jobs. Currently, around 80% of global energy and 66% of electrical generation are supplied from fossil fuels.

Learn more:
What uses the most energy in your home?
5 Steps to make your home more energy-efficient



man riding a bicycle with the sun setting in the background

©Viktor Kern/Unsplash


The world’s roadways are clogged with vehicles, most of them burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels power the ships that carry trade and the airplanes that allow us to travel.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector have more than doubled since 1970, with around 80% of this increase coming from road vehicles.

Currently, the transport sector is almost completely dependent on fossil fuels. It contributes approximately one quarter of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

But we do have alternatives to driving that can make a difference. Walking, biking and public transit help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, only half the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport. And with the global car fleet due to triple by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from transport are growing faster than any other sector.

Switching to an electric car can help improve air quality and boost green jobs — if the electricity is powered by renewables. By achieving a 60% share of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road, more than 60 billion tons of CO2 could be saved between now and 2050.




Water is a precious resource: Less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh (drinkable), of which 2.5% is frozen in the Antarctica, Arctic and glaciers. And humans are misusing and polluting water faster than nature can recycle and purify water in rivers and lakes.

Using water smartly can help us ensure a steady flow of clean, safe water.

You can save water by taking shorter showers, turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, installing a low-flow toilet, and many other ways.

With one shower of about 10 minutes a day, an average person consumes the equivalent of over 100,000 glasses of drinking water every year.

Severe water scarcity affects about 4 billion people, or nearly two thirds of the world population, at least one month each year.

Agriculture is by far the largest water consumer, accounting for 69% of annual water withdrawals globally.

Learn more:
200+ ways to save water



plate with fresh vegetables and dressing

©Anna Pelzer/Unsplash


One-third of all food produced is lost, wasted, or spoiled. This amounts to a big waste of resources used in production, such as land, water, energy and other inputs, and unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing food waste, you can save money, reduce emissions, and help preserve resources for future generations.

Purchasing local foods that are in season can also help the environment, reducing the impact of shipping food. Local and seasonal produce also tastes better.

The world will need to produce about 50% more food by 2050 to feed the growing world population, assuming no changes occur in food loss and waste.

Shifting to healthy diets that include sustainability considerations can contribute to reductions in environmental impacts on land, energy and water use.

A diet that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods, has a lower environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions and energy, land, and water use).

Learn more:
Food loss and food waste



a woman looks through a rack of dresses

©Becca McChaffie/Unsplash


Being stylish does not mean being wasteful. Buying fewer clothes, shopping second-hand, or upcycling, i.e. creating new clothes out of old ones, helps save water and reduce waste.

The fashion industry (clothing and footwear) produces more than 8% of the greenhouse gases and 20% of global wastewater annually.

It takes about 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans -- from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store. 

85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated although most of these materials could be reused. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burned.

Some 93 billion cubic meters of water -- enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people -- is used by the fashion industry annually.

Learn more:
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action




Every year, an estimated 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide, and decay of the organic proportion of solid waste is contributing about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Where waste cannot be avoided, recycling leads to substantial resource savings. For every tonne of paper recycled, 17 trees and 50% of water can be saved.

Recycling also creates jobs: the recycling sector employs 12 million people in Brazil, China and United States alone.

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.

Using a refillable bottle, bringing your own reusable bag, and asking the restaurants you frequent to stop using plastic straws helps reduce plastic waste.

Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away.

From 2010 to 2019, e-waste generated globally grew from 5.3 to 7.3 kilograms per capita annually. Meanwhile, the environmentally sound recycling of e-waste increased at a much slower pace – from 0.8 to 1.3 kilograms per capita annually.