Renter's Guide to Sustainability

Sustainability is not a complicated science, and it’s safe to say that most of us want to leave this world better than we found it. Whether it’s reducing our individual carbon footprint or creating programs and opportunities to help our community at a larger scale – we do what we can to improve the community and environment that surrounds us. 

Sustainability means something different from one person to the next. Depending on one’s background, cultural influences, financial capacity or education, making the environmentally responsible decision ranges widely. Sustainability isn’t about doing everything perfectly or reducing our footprint to zero, more importantly, it’s a process of incrementally improving our lives and our surroundings in effort to support the resilience of our community. 

When it comes to home improvements it can seem difficult, if not impossible, to make investments if someone doesn't own their home or apartment. Major upgrades can be expensive and oftentimes leases and agreements expire in 12 months or less. So, what can we do to improve our living environment, even as a renter? The City of Ventura Environmental Sustainability Division has compiled a list of measures specifically tailored for renters who want to green up their lives and lean up their bills. 

  1. Select a Sweet Location: WHERE plays a big role on one’s ability to live sustainably. 
    1. Some of the most affordable places to live are close to our downtown and mid-town areas. While living in a LEED Certified building may not be cost-effective for the average renter, a sustainable living situation is largely defined by its location since the biggest piece of our carbon footprint is associated to transportation. Living in close proximity to basic services such as a grocery store, school, or public transit, reduces the need for vehicle transportation. Utilizing a bike, riding a board, hopping aboard a bus, or taking a stroll to a local store is not only good for overall health, it’ll reduce expenses and help the environment too. 
  2. Participate in the Clean Power Alliance: 
    1. Installing solar is almost always cost-prohibitive for renters, but we know that electricity use is one of the primary contributors to our carbon footprint. This one is at the top because of its low-effort and high-effectiveness. Not every family in Ventura will select 100% renewable energy as their electricity source, but with 3 different tiers, CPA offers an easy solution with a big impact! Not to mention, there are low-income opportunities for families that qualify!
  3. Energy Efficiency: With a monthly bill of $100-$200, our electricity and gas use may be the quickest and easiest way to save money at home. 
    1. Lighting plays a huge role in our lives. As we emerge out of the world of incandescent and fluorescent lights, LEDs offer opportunities for increased efficiency and comfort. The cost per lamp has come down considerably over the years, and as long as the old bulbs are saved, they can be swapped back out for the LEDs when it’s moving time! Replacing the five most frequently used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified lights can save more than $65 a year in energy costs. Remember to always turn off your lights when leaving a room. Turning off just one 60-watt incandescent bulb that would otherwise burn eight hours a day can save about $15 per year!
    2. A programmable thermostat more than recovers its cost in energy savings in less than a year. Try increasing or decreasing the thermostat just to the point of discomfort. Go for a sweater or blanket in the winter or rock that bikini around the house in the summer. There are many ways to adjust your comfort level before smashing that thermostat button. We’re lucky to have a very temperate climate in Ventura, so go grab a nice fan before you consider installing a new air conditioning unit or install some shades to keep the sun’s heat out in the long summer days. Take it a step further by finding your air leaks around the house. During the winter months, the heat inside your home escapes through cracks in your doors, windows, and recessed can lights. By adding some weather stripping to your doors and windows, you can save money on your heating and cooling bills throughout the year while keeping your living space more comfortable. 
    3. For our energy-consuming appliances, ENERGY STAR is a key logo to look for. From TV monitors to computers and appliances, the EPA has identified products that perform 10% or better than their counterparts. When considering the life-cycle of your appliance, spending the extra money up front is going to save money in the long-run. Check out our website here! 
  4. Get smart about food waste: 
    1. From food scraps to recycling, making sure we are aware of how much we buy, and how much we toss, is a primary aspect of sustainable living. If you’re renting a house or somewhere with an outdoor area, it’s easy to use the yard to have a composting system for food waste. While some renters that live in apartments may not have the option to select the size of their trash bin, composting food scraps with a vermicomposting bin is a great way to reduce landfill-bound organic material. Shopping the fridge before you head to the grocery store can save you money and will likely reduce food waste altogether. If we’re super savvy, we may even be able to reduce the size of our trash can!
  5. Get Water-Wise: 
    1. Your high-flow faucet is a double-whammy with wasted water and energy use. Remember, it takes energy to pump the water and heat it up. Any time you see leak, imagine money getting flushed down the drain. Leaks are the low-hanging fruit of sustainability, so make sure to bring these to the attention of your landlord ASAP. 
    2. A quick and easy way to reduce your water usage is to swap out your shower head to one that is more efficient or install some low-flow aerators on your faucets. After all, you can bring your high-performing shower head with you when your lease ends. If you like to test your grit, taking short, cold showers has benefits for both your health and your pocket book. 
    3. From washing machines to low-flow toilets and high-efficiency water heaters, Ventura Water has some fantastic rebates and incentives for those who want to save some money on their next water-efficiency upgrade. Not to mention, these save money on gas use too! 
  6. Get some "Plantmates": 
    1. While human housemates will likely increase your utility bills, plants bring a multitude of benefits. Having houseplants helps to purify the air in your home, not to mention they add a dose of oxygen in your living space. Plants absorb carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, VOCs and dust particles among other harmful elements. Not to mention, you can take them with you when you move! Designing your home with biophilia in mind can improve your mood and mental health. If you live in a single bedroom apartment, bringing in some plantmates brings a dose of beauty while lifting the vibe of your home.
  7. Participate in the Share Economy:
    1. The share economy concept is simple; it’s an economic model of peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services. Think of things like lawnmowers, camping equipment, a barbecue, or a library of books. You can connect with your neighbors and those within your local community through Facebook groups or connecting face-to-face (this of course will be easier when isolation and quarantine measures are lifted).
  8. Buy second-hand home décor
    1. Most of us fall into the trap of drooling over shiny new things for our fresh new space. If you’re looking to get some ‘new’ furniture, consider buying second-hand from antique shops, thrift stores or trawling e-marketplaces such as Offer-Up and eBay. It may take a bit more time than going to a department store, but you’re likely to find some sweet deals that have you showing off your diamond-in-the-rough for years to come. Check out your local thrift store or Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store to support local businesses while sprucing up your home.  
  9. Grow your own food
    1. Despite common convention, you don’t need to live in a house with a big backyard to start growing your own produce. Think outside the box with vertical gardens or choose veggies that don’t require much space to grow and pop in a large pot on the balcony. If you’ve started a vermicomposting bin to process your food scraps, you’ll have nutrient-dense fertilizer to boost up your greens! If space is limited, grow a windowsill herb garden or grow herbs on a kitchen bench. While starting a garden is unlikely to save a bunch of money, you’ll be certain that no pesticides or herbicides were used! Plus, it doesn’t get any more local than your own back yard or balcony.
  10. Green Cleaning
    1. Everyone needs to clean at one point or another, and many of the cleaning products have harmful elements in them. Yes, it’s true that the “clean smell” you may be accustom to is actually not a good sign. Fear not, there are some great third-party programs out there that certify green cleaning products. Keep an eye out for Green-Seal, Eco-Logo, EPA and other certifications that help consumers make healthy choices for cleaning products. 


Bonus: Talk about larger improvements

  1. Bigger changes may be cost-prohibitive. The reality is, any investment to the home or building you live in, increases the comfort of its residents, reduces maintenance costs, and increases the value in the long run. 
  2. If there’s an idea that can save you and the homeowner some money in the long run, it’s a win-win on both ends. If you can articulate the benefits in an effective way, like explaining the long-term cost savings and increase in home value of installing solar, they may just give it a shot! Remember, your landlord speaks in dollars, but not always sense. If the answer is NO, ask if you can still make some upgrades for a short-term reduction in rent or some other way to recover your expenses.