We all know the planet is trending in the wrong direction. Climate change, ocean acidification, the mass extinction of species — one bleak catastrophe after another, right? So, it’s understandable to feel anything but fine about the end of the world. But before you despair, consider: many promising eco-friendly trends and developments have us fired up about the state of progress as we enter 2024.
From how we consume food to the way we get around to the places we call home, sustainable living has finally become more than a buzzword — it’s now a practical lifestyle choice. And we have the receipts to show there’s still time for all of us to make a positive impact. Read on for the eco-friendly trends that give us hope for 2024 and beyond.
Home sweet sustainable home
People aren’t just prioritizing sustainability in how they live, but where they live. One survey found 70% of Gen Zers would go over budget just to have a greener home with features like solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. According to the same poll, Gen Z and millennials are 27% more likely than Baby Boomers to seek out an eco-friendly abode. And that in turn has laid the foundation for more eco-friendly practices to be adopted from the ground up. That includes using sustainable materials like bamboo and reclaimed wood for home decor, integrating natural elements into indoor spaces, as well as turning to sustainable textiles for upholstery and bedding. Overall, there’s a growing desire to rely on locally sourced materials, which supports local artisans while also reducing transportation-related emissions.
Moreover, people are rethinking their approach to home maintenance, seeking eco-friendly cleaning products free of harsh toxins and chemicals. Eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets, for instance, offer a mess-free, pre-measured, and eco-conscious alternative to liquid detergents. Elsewhere around the home, owners are increasingly opting for energy-efficient appliances, smart thermostats, and LED lighting. To save water, low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets are nearly standard.
More plant-based food alternatives on the menu
Drop by your local fast food joint and you’ll see how far plant-based diets have come — from meatless burgers to non-chicken nuggets. Don’t expect that to change. Instead, look for people to seek flexibility as they reassess what they’re eating and how it impacts their health as well as the wellbeing of the planet. While we traditionally think of plant-based diets as strict — you’re either a vegan or you are not — one popular trend is the “flexitarian” approach, which sees people prioritize plant-based meals while still occasionally consuming meat and embracing sustainability by supporting local butchers and choosing free-range, grass-fed beef and chicken.
According to recent studies by the National Library of Medicine, a flexitarian diet can significantly reduce your environmental footprint compared to a typical omnivore diet. To put it into perspective, a recent report stated that by reducing meat consumption by just 50%, a person’s food-related carbon footprint could drop by more than 30%.
Landscaping that embraces nature
The fact is, having a traditionally beautiful backyard is anything but green-minded. So, it’s no surprise that a top landscaping trend is to conserve resources while exploring alternative ways of showcasing nature. Loathe mowing the lawn? Now you have the eco-perfect excuse to ditch it. Keeping your grass green wastes a lot of water, especially considering recent droughts. What do you replace it with? Xeriscaping is one option. This involves installing rocks or sand. If that sounds too drastic, you can opt for turf, which offers the benefit of requiring no water and, therefore, little work. Similar sustainable design principles are also popular. Green roofs are exactly as described — a sloping or flat space blanketed in vegetation that sprouts over a waterproof membrane. Among the benefits? It will keep your house cool in the summer and warm during the winter months since it provides additional insulation. Likewise, vertical gardening is gaining ground — literally — as a way to bolster air quality while also cutting back on noise pollution.
Sustainable urban mobility revs up
Cities across the world are paving the way for sustainable mobility options, redesigning traffic-clogged streets into pedestrian zones that support the health and lifestyles of their residents. While this pedestrian-first approach is nothing new — cities like Copenhagen transformed traffic streets into car-free havens back in the 1960s — we are now seeing sustainable urban planning as a trend revamping cities across the globe.
For example, Barcelona underwent major transformations in several of its most central neighborhoods, turning car-filled streets into bike-friendly, pedestrian zones with native plants incorporated into the developments. Other cities from Seattle and San Diego to Milan and Auckland have also become more pedestrian-friendly. Numerous studies support the benefits. Research published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that creating pedestrian zones leads to increased physical activity, social interactions, and local economic growth. Additionally, the World Health Organization highlights that these zones can significantly reduce traffic-related air pollution and contribute to noise reduction, resulting in improved air quality and quieter urban spaces.
Green tech powers up
The constant march of technology has often trampled the planet, consuming resources and damaging the environment. So, if you’re skeptical about “green tech,” we understand. Nevertheless, technology is now aiding humanity to make positive strides in critical ways. Consider how innovations in battery technologies are helping to store renewable but erratic energies like solar and wind. On the roads, electric — and soon autonomous — vehicles are pushing the combustible engine towards obsoletion. Even the oldest of industries, agriculture, is undergoing change thanks to the integration of AI, which can enhance eco-friendly farming practices, including vertical farming, in which crops are grown on top of each other, therefore conserving land and space.
Businesses go green
You’ve probably heard to make money you need to spend money. Similarly, these days, if you want to see green, you need to act green. Because whether it’s consumer demand or the expectations of their own employees, businesses — both big and small — are under pressure to adopt sustainable practices. According to research conducted by hygiene and health company, Essity, 51% of employees report they feel more eco-conscious now than before the pandemic. And a majority — 58% — believe their own office is “shamefully eco-unfriendly.” Moreover, as eco-conscious consumers switch from outdated brands to ones that more closely align with their values, businesses are faced with adjusting accordingly. That means employers and managers need to find ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency — from how much energy they consume to their purchasing practices. In the food industry, for example, restaurants are increasingly sourcing ingredients from local producers, which reduces their carbon footprint and bolsters the local economy.
Conscious consumerism makes an impact
Consumers who once only cared about price are increasingly aware of the environmental impact their purchases carry. Recent studies have shown a substantial increase in consumers actively seeking out sustainable and ethical products. For instance, a substantial portion of them, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are more willing to spend on brands that demonstrate a commitment to social causes and sustainable practices rather than spending less on questionable alternatives. Companies have also caught on to this shift and are responding by integrating sustainable practices into their operations, although sometimes this approach veers into greenwashing. As consumers become more conscious of their purchasing power, their choices are driving a profound change in the marketplace, encouraging businesses to adopt greener, more ethical, and socially responsible practices.
Do people and the planet still have a long way to go to reverse the ecological damage that’s been done? Absolutely. But if these eco-friendly trends are an indication, a shift is underway. People, especially younger generations, are making decisions that not only enhance the quality of their lives but also contribute positively to the planet. It’s the one environmental trend that we can all hope continues long past 2024.