mbg’s Sustainability Editor Shares What Makes Her Home Sustainable
I was the kid who’d rather decorate my dolls’ homes than play with them, and I much preferred HGTV to any child-tailored programming. As an adult, this obsession with interiors has stayed with me. I always want my space to be considered and put-together, without feeling stuffy or forced. And as someone who is passionate about sustainability, it’s important to me that the things inside of it are low-waste, made to last, and can travel with me from move to move. (I’m currently bunkered up in my third NYC apartment—and am about to pack up and head to my fourth!) These are some of my favorite items that make my current home a beautiful, functional, and earth-friendly place to pass the time.
Reusable food storage.
I cook a lot of my own meals, and haven’t quite nailed the whole “food shopping with restraint” thing. This makes leftovers a constant in my life and my fridge is always filled with half-eaten meals and produce. While I do keep plastic bags on-hand for storage emergencies, I go through them really slowly (I’ve had the same pack for at least two years now) and try to reach for reusables instead. My food storage cabinet is filled with glass jars for leftovers, reusable silicone bags for half-cut onions, wedges of cheese, and the like, and cotton mesh bags for keeping leafy greens fresh. I give myself a little pat on the back every time I can save plastic by using them, plus they make my fridge and counters look clean and organized.
An on-the-go kit.
Keeping all my on-the-go reusable items in one tote in my kitchen makes it easy to remember to pack them for vacations and longer trips. Mine has a collapsible cup for coffee, an insulated one for fruit and snacks, a reusable cutlery set and straw, and a cloth napkin.
I opt for natural fabrics whenever I can, since synthetics are made from unsustainable materials like petroleum and they release plastics down the drain (and eventually, into the ocean) when laundered. I also find that natural fabrics just feel more comfortable to the touch than synthetics.
Cotton in particular is a go-to in my house: It’s super soft on the skin, making it a great choice for sheets in particular. (I swear my sleep has improved since switching over to cotton sheets!) I also appreciate that it comes in so many different forms. Lighter, more breathable percale cotton sheets are perfect for warmer summer months and can be swapped out for cozier cotton flannels come winter.
Replacing your traditional bulbs with LEDs once they burn out is such a quick, easy way to make your home’s lighting up to 80% more efficient. In the bedroom, I’m partial to bulbs that let you choose your light’s color from an app on your phone. I opt for a soft, warm yellow light when I’m reading before bed or having friends over and switch to a more invigorating blue-tinted light to help me wake up in the morning.
I like to keep a more minimalist bathroom and only have a few products out at a time. Some things you’ll always find on my counter are bar soap, since it comes packaged in paper instead of plastic and works up to the same satisfying lather as a liquid product. I also look for lower-waste versions of personal care products, but they can be hard to find! The Loop refill delivery program is one that I love, and it has brought sustainably packaged hand soap, razors, and bath bombs into my life.
Cozy hand towels.
Back when entertaining was a thing, I became a little obsessive about making sure my hand towels were soft and clean for guests. Since quarantine started, my cotton towels have only been a gift to myself—but I still cherish them every time I wash my hands (which is a lot these days!). They’re so fluffy and never wear out or fade after repeated washes.
I’m always lighting clean-burning candles that have outdoorsy scents to make my apartment smell like whatever season we’re currently in. Living in NYC, the smells coming in from open windows aren’t always the freshest, but candles let me pretend that I’m surrounded by florals in the spring or spicy pine in the winter. I love the look and feel of more minimalist glass and ceramic candle containers, and once I burn through them I repurpose them as bar glasses or vases for plants.
I don’t own as many vintage pieces as I’d like, but I really cherish the ones I do have. I love how older pieces tend to be unique and infused with personality. Plus, the fact that they’ve lasted this long usually means that they’re really durable and well-made. While the perfect vintage piece can be hard to find, I know that the pursuit is well worth it.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.