Spring has arrived, that time of the year I not only spring clean my house, but spring clean my lifestyle. While I try my best to lead a low waste, sustainable life, it’s impossible to have no impact on the planet. This year, I’ve identified five habits I’d like to change. I am not perfect, so the list is not exhaustive.

Forgetting to switch off: I am clumsy and forgetful which causes me often to leave on lights and appliances. In South Africa we get most of our energy from coal, a dirty fossil fuel that guzzles water during its electricity production process. The more we save energy, the more we limit global warming and the more water we save.

Solution: The more I think about the connection between light and coal miner, coal power plant, my light bulb and convenient appliance the more likely I am to switch things off.

Driving (everywhere): I am fortunate enough to own a car. In South Africa, we don’t have a great public transport system, so getting by without a car is not as easy as it is in some other countries. Safety is also a concern. That said, I live within 5km of my office (in a pretty safe area). Yet I drive there every day. I carpool on days I can. But, in truth, I deeply value the flexibility that carpooling doesn’t allow. Cars emit greenhouse gasses, which contribute to global warming.

Solution: Buy a secondhand bicycle and cycle to work and other close-by places on fair-weather days. Plan carpooling to better fit into schedule.

(Oh) coffee! Not so long ago I gave up caffeine for my health. You’d think that would mean I’d give up coffee. Nope! I opted for decaf. I love the smell, the taste and the ritual of my morning cup of coffee. But a lot of coffee bean farming is linked to human rights violations and massive environmental impacts such as soil erosion, deforestation and high water consumption.

Solution: Swap out my daily coffee for a red (rooibos) cappuccino and keep coffee for the odd meeting or those Saturday mornings’ spent reading in bed. I will research the coffee I buy to find an ethical brand with a lower carbon footprint.

Being seduced by dairy (again and again): I really struggle with this one. I know commercial dairy is no good for me and I know the impact it has on animal rights and the environment. Dairy cows put pressure on natural resources and they (and their manure) produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. I have tried to cut it out completely. But it slowly creeps back into my life. At first with the little bit of feta cheese I tell my friend she can add to the salad and soon it cascades to me eating cheesy pizzas.

Solution: Stop treating ‘falling off the wagon’ once as an excuse to keep eating it. And stop worrying about putting others out when you know dairy isn’t for you.

Smoking: My dirty little (not so) secret. I used to be a daily smoker. I smoked rollies (rolling tobacco) and loved the excitement of selecting different flavours. I reveled in the ritual of taking time to roll. Despite knowing the unethical nature of the tobacco industry and the environmental impact of cigarettes, I haven’t cut smoking out of my life entirely. I still buy a bag of tobacco every few months and have a cigarette or two every now and then with friends.

Solution: Grow my own herbal blend for days I really feel like a puff. Dispose of it safely in my hot composter (a method of composting where the compost becomes hot and breaks down faster), use hemp papers and biodegradable filters. You thought I’d say quit? Hey, I know myself and I’d rather empower myself to, at least, do it better.

 I don’t believe in perfection and I don’t believe in berating myself either (although I often do). The purpose of making this list is not to make myself feel terrible. No. The point is to remind myself that sustainability is a journey, not a destination.

I’m just a well-intentioned, imperfect human trying my very best.

Image credit: André Harms/Ecolution Consulting