12 Principles for Living Sustainably

David Suzuki’s Green Guide cuts away the stress and confusion of living sustainably by breaking down the impact that our complex modern lifestyle has on the environment. Beyond the simple acts of reducing, reusing, recycling, and repairing what we have—here are David Suzuki’s top 12 principles to help you achieve the goal of living sustainably.

12 Guiding Principles of Sustainable Consumption

Excerpted from David Suzuki’s Green Guide

1. Remember the big picture. Spend less time worrying about plastic bags and disposable cups and more time thinking about where you live, energy use in your home, how often and how far you drive (and fly), and what you eat.

2. Don’t buy stuff that you don’t need. Among the three environmental commandments—reduce, reuse, and recycle—reduce is by far the most important. It is obvious that the planet cannot sustain 6.6 billion people consuming at the rate of North Americans or Australians, let alone the 9 billion people expected to be here by 2050.

3. Make food, not waste. Before you buy something, think ahead to when you’ll stop using it. Every product, when you’re finished with it, should be food for either the biological economy (readily biodegradable materials) or the industrial economy (recyclable or reusable raw materials for new products). If a product is a combination of both, then it should be capable of being easily separated or disassembled.

4. Buy local. The closer to home a product is grown, built, or made, generally the lower the transportation costs and associated pollution. You can also have greater confidence that local production methods will be safe for human health and the environment, as suggested by the spate of recent problems with imports from China.

5. Go for quality, not quantity. Select durable products and maximize their reuse through regular maintenance and care. Keep products such as clothing, sporting equipment, and kitchen goods in circulation through thrift stores and charities. Choose products certified as ecologically and socially responsible by an independent organization.

6. Support renewable energy. Seek out products and businesses that rely on wind, solar, geothermal, or other renewable sources of power.

7. Make healthy choices. Avoid purchasing or using toxic and hazardous products. Sometimes the danger is obvious—the product’s label says “Warning,” “Poison,” “Toxic,” “Flammable,” or “Explosive.” In the absence of these warning signs, watch out for long chemical names in the list of ingredients on a product. Chemicals that you never heard of or can’t pronounce are prime candidates for suspicion about negative health and environmental effects.

8. Look for a high proportion of recycled content. To fulfill the promise of recycling requires people to purchase recycled products. Sometimes you do this unintentionally, like when you buy aluminum cans or appliances made with recycled steel. Other times, the onus is on you to seek out products made from recycled materials, such as school or office supplies.

9. Demand better options. Green choices should be easy to find and affordable, but misguided laws and policies often favor unsustainable products. Individual actions can only go so far, and need to be complemented by strong, pro-environment public policies. The more people vote for environmentally informed candidates, speak up on behalf of innovative green solutions, and push for change, the sooner the shift towards a sustainable future will come about.

10. Encourage environmental leaders and innovators. Eco-entrepreneurs and green companies often face competitive disadvantages because quality materials and clean products have higher prices (even if their long-term or overall costs are lower). Be a leader yourself and give them your support.

11. Clean up your mental environment. To start reducing the constant stream of commercial messages urging you to buy more stuff, try watching less television, canceling subscriptions to catalogs, and limiting your Internet use. Protecting children is especially vital. Between 1980 and 2004, the amount spent on advertising that directly targets American children rose from $100 million per year to $15 billion. Children now see an average of forty thousand television commercials per year. Push your government to copy Sweden, the U.K., and Quebec, where certain types of advertising aimed at kids are prohibited.

12. Trade money for time. This may be the best deal you ever make, the personal equivalent of the U.S. buying Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867 (less than two cents per acre). People in Canada and the U.S. feel more stressed than ever before, and bemoan the fact that there’s so little free time in their lives. This isn’t surprising, considering the fact that Americans work about 350 hours per year (ten weeks) more than Europeans.

Tree: A Life Story

“Only God can make a tree,” wrote Joyce Kilmer in one of the most celebrated of poems. In Tree: A Life Story, authors David Suzuki and Wayne Grady extend that celebration in a “biography” of this extraordinary—and extraordinarily important—organism. A story that spans a millennium and includes a cast of millions but focuses on a single tree, a Douglas fir, Tree describes in poetic detail the organism’s modest origins that begin with a dramatic burst of millions of microscopic grains of pollen.

11 Inspiring David Suzuki Quotes

These inspiring David Suzuki quotes show that we have plenty to be optimistic about, from the miracle of life, beauty of nature, to what we have already done for a sustainable future.

Valuing Natural Resources: Gibsons Eco-Asset Strategy

Last summer, Gibsons, B.C., became the first municipality in North America to consider nature as an asset, and realize a huge idea central to David’s writings.


  1. Sawera Khan


    I think these are amazing ideas. Its helpful. We need to care for our environment.

  2. CanAmFam


    Given that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas production, it seems like a glaring omission that reducing or eliminating the consumption of animal products isn’t on this list. And it’s a super-easy thing for people to incorporate into their daily lives.

    • Katherine Moore


      I appreciate your comment and totally concur. I hope this sentiment becomes a much more talked about/considered topic in the environmental movement. I wish I understood the restrains/constrains being put on our ‘environmental leaders’, who surely are as aware of this omission as you and I, yet have not addressed it. Is standing up against ‘big agri business’ more dangerous than standing up to ‘big oil’??

    • Ian Black


      It is the practices of farming that make them an environmental issue. Chemicals, fertilisers, feed (corn & wheat) and grazing techniques that cause the issues. If done properly farming can be carbon positive. This is where your choice of purchase, buying local and knowing the farming processes used for the production of your produce come into play. If you have concerns with the environmental issues around your product, don’t buy it. This works as a much bigger idea.

    • Somewhere in Canada


      I thought the exact same thing! Why is it so hard for the David Suzuki Foundation to see that the elephant in the room is a COW?? Stop eating animals and their secretions people — the planet, the animals and you will all be better off!

    • Somewhere in Canada


      I thought the exact same thing! Why is it so hard for David Suzuki, his Foundation and his book publishers to see that the elephant in the room is a COW?? Stop eating animals and their secretions people — the planet, the animals and you will all be better off!

  3. Andrew Drouin


    Become a vegetarian. Not only will your health improve, but by exercising compassion through your diet, you will ‘get’ nature at a core level like nothing else.

  4. Diane C Nicholson


    I echo CANAMFAM’s sentiments and ANDREW DROUIN’s.

    I was so disappointed that the global warming talks did not include animal agriculture. And I’m doubly disappointed that Suzuki has not placed it, even the top 10, let alone at #1, where it should be.

    My husband and I became vegan overnight, 20 years ago. It was far more difficult than it is now. Options abound!

    Save the animals (who go through torture daily for your food). Save your health. Save huge amounts of water. Save the planet. Go vegan.

    If you don’t believe us, there is a great video on Netflix: Cowspiracy.

    • Katherine Moore


      Absolutely, and I don’t know what is keeping our environmental leaders from addressing this.

  5. C


    My favourite sustainable practice in my own personal life is to keep usable items in circulation via donation and/or re-selling. We can prevent many items from ending up in the landfill. Side note: an unfamiliar or difficult-to-pronounce chemical name does not necessarily mean it is harmful. Don’t be instantly intimidated by chemical names. For example, my facial moisturizer has Butyrospermum Parkiiin it, which is Shea butter.

  6. David


    I’m disappointed in this: “In the absence of these warning signs, watch out for long chemical names in the list of ingredients on a product. Chemicals that you never heard of or can’t pronounce are prime candidates for suspicion about negative health and environmental effects.”

    One’s ability to pronounce something, or the length of the word, has no bearing on its toxicity, to say nothing of the base principle that *the dose makes the poison*. There are too many people fearing “chemicals” with no understanding of chemistry. Everything is a chemical. Water is poison in the wrong dose. So is vinegar.

    Or here’s one; 2-Hydroxy-4-oxohenicosa-12,15-dienyl acetate. Anyone…? It’s a fungicidal toxin present in avocado. Pretty much unpronounceable, and toxic. But only in high doses, and nothing to be scared of.

    More education, less fear, please.

  7. Iuliana Bozkurt


    I am a big fan of Mr Suzuki and I was very disappointed because I could not purchase his book from Amazon Canada (Kindle version). They said the book is not available for Romania (EU). I think it would be great if this book were available in other countries too, not only in Canada…

  8. julain molnar


    According to the United Nations and the World health Organization, animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than any other factor, including the entire transportation sector.
    Why doesn’t this article(and many others) mention eating less meat and dairy? It is time this issue got the coverage it deserves.

  9. Olivier de Sousa


    Hi David. Thanks for your article. Coincidentally I just wrote an article on my blog that shows how my family has saved close to $2000 a year on energy costs when compared to the previous owners of our house. Simple stuff. It is on http://www.ideeahs.com.

    Cheers and thanks for all you do.

  10. CJ Hadley


    All looks good on paper, it is still tough to be a vegetarian if you live in rural areas. I turned vegetarian in 1990 but in 2010 went back to fish and chicken as it was impossible to work 12 hours a day drive 40 mins to work and again back and make healthy eating choices for meals and lunch…I ended up eating a ton of bread sandwiches and gained 40 lbs…so I opted to go back to fish and chicken.
    giving up a car again is simple if you live in a city but not in a rural area where there are no buses or trains. not paying 40 plus dollars a day for a cab to work.
    Flying??? I love to travel and feel one becomes more educated by travel than TV… I am pretty sure Mr Susuki doesn’t bike to all his venues.
    Sometimes his statements piss me off…I will totally agree with the 3R’s. I have not bought paper towels/paper napkins/kleenix in 20 years plus. I only buy local produce and mostly from farmers stands in the summer.
    I think many things are within our grasp and some not so much. people need to use their heads and not mimic what a celebrity belches.

  11. Morley Kowalishen


    Great ideas!
    Suggestion: (being a practical person), always give us simply ways/methods to apply these ideas.
    This is key to us making environmentally new choices and habits.

  12. Yvonne Hiemstra


    I agree with many comments concerning the impact of the cattle industry. It is a much greater problem than all the transportation issues combined. Becoming vegan is not a difficult thing for one to do AND it’s healthier. Why is the Suzuki Foundation not talking about this. Is it afraid of the cattle industry lobby as well? see http://www.cowspiracy.com for more context.

  13. MCroft


    Great article! Thanks for the tips. However, I think there is a typo here: Between 1980 and 2004, the amount spent on advertising that directly targets American children rose from $100 million per year to $15 billion

  14. Cate Rocchi


    Great stuff….practical, concise and important post. Keep them up. Thank you.

  15. Cate Rocchi


    Great stuff. Practical, informative and concise. Keep them up. Thank you.

  16. Melanie MacKarney


    Principle number one mentions being aware of “…what you eat.” I understand you are trying to appeal to a large audience and not alienate people and perhaps this is the reason you choose not to promote a vegan or plant based lifestyle as an important principle for living sustainably. You must be aware that animal agriculture is a huge cause, some say the number one cause, of environmental pollution and destruction. People do not want veganism shoved down their throats, fine, but, can you not at least say, “eat less meat and dairy”, “reduce your consumption of meat and dairy”, or “eat fewer animal products”? Since you won’t say it, I will, if you care about this planet, go vegan or plant based. At the very least, reduce your consumption of animal products and encourage others to do the same.

  17. Irma Teichert


    I would add the advice to buy – if possible – repair-friendly products. You can see it in the store wheather there are screws to open the item you are choosing. I myself lost a coffee machine more than 15 years ago because the controlelamp as itself was not working anymore. It was more expansive to send the item to the repairshop than to buy a new one.
    At the moment I have another battle because my printer bought in Canada does not work anymore with the ink cartridges I can buy here in Europe. As I see it international working companies do not supply international consumers.

  18. Brenda Erven


    Getting rid of t.v. commercials is easy–cancel your over-priced cable and get Netflix! $8/month, commercial-free. And teach your child about commercials, and how they are used to convince people to buy things they don’t need (usually stupid things).

  19. Jon


    Typical to hear the cow haters. Cows like humans are sustainable it’s what humans do that’s unsustainable. Glad Mr. Suzuki isn’t so backward minded!

  20. Amanda Sabean


    I am always very disappointed that you do not talk about animal agriculture and it’s profound effect on climate change! In fact it produces more emissions than the entire transportation sector! Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land. Converting to wind and solar power will take 20+ years and roughly 43 trillion dollars, but switching to a plant based diet can be done immediately and actually costs much less than eating meat and dairy which are heavily subsidized by our government. Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) water use ranges from 70-140 billion gallons annually. Animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 TRILLION gallons annually! How can you ignore these facts? The only way to live sustainably is to stop eating animals and dairy! You did put out that one article last year and that was great but please keep it coming! We don’t have time to beat around the bush. People need to know how their food choices effect the planet we live on. Thank you for all that you do.

  21. Nicole


    While I find many of these to be helpful tips, #1 really bothers me: disposable cups and plastic shopping bags ARE part of the big picture! If you have one cup of coffee every day and are using a disposable coffee cup, you will generate 365 coffee cups. That’s over 4 kgs of AVOIDABLE waste per person – just for your coffee! For the city of Toronto, if everyone used one disposable coffee cup per day, this would generate almost 10,500 METRIC TONNES of waste PER YEAR.

    And all of this is so that it can be in use for 30 minutes????

    This IS the bigger picture, and people should be encouraged to understand it and make better choices.

  22. Connie Yan


    Thank you for trying to make a start with these 12 “Principles”, but I will echo others here and ask why animal agriculture isn’t even mentioned? This is the aggressive cancer that is destroying the earth and spreading disease, malaise, and gluttony to all levels of society. Also, it is completely UNSUSTAINABLE at the current rate of meat consumption. Yet there is no mention that eating animals is the one thing that every man, woman, and child should reduce immediately if we are talking about sustainability. Surely David Suzuki understands this? Then why is it not mentioned? I find this embarrassing and quite confusing. It’s like a drunk stumbling around with a bottle in his hand and people are suggesting, “move the furniture so he doesn’t bump into it”, or “lay down cushions in case he falls”, or “give him some coffee”, or “take his keys away so he can’t drive” but really, the most important thing that needs to be done is take the bottle away and make him stop drinking. David Suzuki must know that meat consumption is mankind’s “bottle” and that we could buy local, recycle and shop at thrift stores ’til we’re blue in the face but it won’t outdo that environmental damage we are causing by consuming 3 meat and dairy based meals a day. C’mon, I dare you to rewrite the article!

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