Saving the world one coffee at a time

We all want to leave the world a better place than when we arrived, but when you're struggling to juggle work, family and exercise, it's hard to find the time for philanthropy.

Many of us feel helpless in the face of climate change, poverty and pollution but Sarah Johnson, the Australian Conservation Foundation's national sustainability and energy program manager says it doesn't have to be so hard.

“People think they need to make a grand gesture such as buying a (Toyota) Prius or installing solar panels, but every choice is an opportunity to do something positive,” she explains. Here are five ways to help the planet without really trying.

Switch up your consumption

New not-for-profit Melbourne bar Shebeen allows you to feel even better about your after-work beer by serving brews that finances projects in ther country of origin. For example, buying Ethiopian beer will help farmers in Ethiopia increase their crop yield.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to be philanthropic in their everyday lives,” says Simon Griffiths, one of the entrepreneurs behind the bar. Until a Sydney version pops up, you can do your part by drinking local alcohol and buying beer in a bottle, as cans take about twice the energy to make.

In the morning, use a reusable coffee cup to reduce the one billion take-away coffee cups and lids wasted in Australia every year.

Boost your workout

Initiatives such as Responsible Runners help the environment by encouraging joggers to pick up rubbish during their run. Justin Bonsey, a sustainability consultant who started the first group at Bondi Beach explains, “If you're going for a run anyway it doesn't take much effort but you'll feel empowered afterwards.”

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And whenever possible, exercise outside, says Johnson. It burns more calories and reduces your carbon footprint - treadmills consume the same electricity as around 15 old-fashioned energy-sucking light bulbs turned on at once.

Spend money (wisely)

You don't have to give up your worldly possessions to help the environment – according to Johnson, men should actually spend their money on quality items, such as bespoke suits, rather than buying lots of cheaper ones.

“Quality products are generally produced more ethically,” she explains. Buying pricier items also encourages people to keep them for longer, reducing waste.

When it comes to the home, there are plenty of great products that benefit the environment. In addition to Shebeen, Griffiths has started a toilet paper brand appropriately named Who Gives a Crap, which spends 50 per cent of profits building toilets and improving sanitation in the developing world.

Shop at farmers markets

Farmers markets are a great way to buy produce that hasn't travelled frozen across continents, as much supermarket food has. Just don't forget a reusable bag – Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags yearly, and with a soupy plastic island around twice the size of Hawaii floating in the Pacific Ocean, we desperately need to cut back.

Johnson also suggests ordering local and fresh produce to your office or home from a food co-op (Google 'food co-ops' to find one in your area). For around $20 a week you can get fruit and vegetables delivered from nearby farms – without plastic packaging.

Relax!

The main thing to remember is to keep things simple, says Johnson – you don't need to do more to make a difference. An hour of technology-free time every week won't only reduce stress, it'll also cut down your carbon footprint.

And instead of eating lunch out of a takeaway container at your desk every day, relax and actually take a lunch break to reduce packaging, suggests Bonsey.

One of the easiest tips is to turn your heating down one degree in winter and air con up one degree in summer, says Johnson. “You can save hundreds of dollars every year.”

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