If you’re a renter, you might be familiar with the infamous landlord’s stamp of approval. We don’t blame you if you’ve given up on transforming your rental property into your dream home because you’re obliged to ask for your landlord’s permission before making any small changes. From fixing picture hooks, painting feature walls to installing air conditioning, the general rule is to err on the side of caution – or risk losing your bond. For the eco-conscious, this can feel particularly stifling, especially when sustainable living is met with a compromise since installing solar panels and water catchment systems usually aren’t in the works.

Fortunately, there are many ways to be sustainable that don’t involve radical home modifications. By rethinking your approach to sustainability, you’ll find that it’s entirely possible to significantly reduce your carbon footprint while renting:

Choose your location carefully

Before committing to a lease, think about whether your choice of location will enable you to meet your sustainable living goals. For instance, if you’ve set your eyes on a cute townhouse with promising housemates, you should consider if it’s the most convenient location. Is it a stone’s throw away from public transport? Is it within walking or cycling distance to your work (or classes, if you’re still studying), favourite haunts and leisurely commitments? Or does its location condemn your wallet and the environment to excruciating drives? By rethinking your transport options and picking the right location, you can reduce your contribution to greenhouse emissions and save heaps.

Let there be (less) light

Make it a habit of switching the lights off when you’re not in the room unless you want to do a major disservice to your energy bills (and mother nature). Swapping to energy-efficient bulbs like LEDs and CFLs can significantly reduce your energy consumption, especially if your rental property is decked out in halogen downlights, which are notorious for being energy vampires. Mood lighting is also the way to go – so if you can go without the overhead lights, opt for the humble lamp instead, which will probably be easier on the eyes, anyway.

Become a green thumb

No backyard? No problem. Indoor plants like devil’s ivy and snake plants are easy to care for and make a world of difference by purifying air pollution nasties and helping you breathe easier. Plus, they’re cute additions to your home décor. If you’re extra ambitious, why not try growing your own food? All you need is a windowsill or balcony for that dreamy herb garden you’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. It’s super rewarding, delicious and reduces your carbon footprint. You can also regrow vegetables from scraps such as spring onions, carrots, basil and potatoes.

Composting and recycling done right

As renters, it’s important to understand how much waste we produce and how to dispose of it properly. Since a large chunk of our household garbage is comprised of food waste that goes straight to the landfill, composting is a great option whether you have an outdoor space or not. If you have a backyard, consider setting up a compost bin to transform all those stray eggshells and veggie scraps into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your garden. If you’re an apartment dweller, you can treat your indoor plants by setting up a worm farm on your balcony or a bokashi bucket in your kitchen, which will treat your indoor plants to some potent fertiliser whilst reducing your food waste.

When it comes to recycling, getting organised by creating a system can make the process feel like less of a chore. It’s easy to make mistakes when there are so many exceptions to what makes a waste product recyclable. That’s why we recommend using separate bins for different materials, sectioning them off into kerbside recycling, soft plastics and hard to recycle materials like batteries and textiles that you’ll need to bring to specialised drop off points.

Rethink your water usage

If you’re looking to halve your water usage, it’s as easy as switching to a water-efficient, low-flow showerhead – a sustainable way to reduce your water bills and carbon footprint. To be on the safe side, ask your landlord for permission first and if they say yes, always keep the old showerhead in case they ask you to switch it back when you move. If your landlord isn’t up for it, opt for a flow restrictor, which you can snag for about $10 at your local Bunnings.

Of course, it goes without saying that we need to also re-think our water usage habits to be truly sustainable. This might involve taking shorter showers, only using the washing machine and dishwasher with a full load, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, and using grey water for your plants.

Shop green

It’s tempting to go all out and buy brand new furnishings when we first move into a new place, but it’s hardly the most sustainable, especially when that once-charming side table from IKEA will have lost one or all of its legs within the year. Instead, scour your local markets, antique stores, op shops and e-haunts for second-hand steals. If you must buy new, look for high-quality furniture made from FSC-certified wood. For appliances, go for energy-efficient models; when in doubt, check the Energy Rating label – the higher the rating, the less power the appliance uses.

Put your money where your values are

This might sound painful, but in the long-haul, it is the most effective. Homeowner or not, where you keep your money matters because it’s the difference between supporting a big bank that actively invests in fossil fuels and cares more about profit than their staff and customers, or an ethical bank that genuinely vouches for you and the environment.

You can use reputable sites like Market Forces, Don’t Bank on the Bomb and Responsible Returns to track where your bank lends their money. If their sustainability record and ethics don’t match your values, it’s time to break up with your bank and consider alternate banking options such as Teachers Mutual Bank, UBank and Bank Australia.

You might also want to look into your energy provider’s sustainability credentials and whether they offer green energy alternatives. If your rent comes with bills included, ask your landlord if you can be in charge of your own bills so you can pick a supplier that actually reflects your core values.

Another option is donating to non-profits and/or committing to sustainable subscription services like Ecologi, 8 Billion Trees and Reforest Now, which offset your carbon footprint by planting trees in Australia and beyond.

Still deciding on your ideal place to live and unsure if it meets your standards for sustainable living? Check out Liveable’s neighbourhood recommendations tool – personalised according to your preferences for affordability, convenience, commute and safety.


Also published on Medium.