Sustainability Starts at Home: 5 Eco-Influencers Share How to Live Greener

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated February 28, 2022
Woman picking flowers in field
Photo: West Cliff Creative

These five influencers will be your eco inspirations

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With so many tasks dominating your to-do list each day, it’s only natural that a few things end up finding themselves rolling over to the next day over and over. For many of us, these tasks can include things like making time to become more sustainable. Though this may seem like a monumental task, making a few changes every day to better our planet can be much simpler than you might realize. 

Need more convincing? Look no further than these influencers, who have all made living greener and teaching others to do so a huge part of their lives. We spoke with five different online creators, each with their own talents and niches, about their work, how they found a passion for living greener, and how you can make small changes every day that benefit the planet. 

Make the Switch to a Reusable Mindset

Ashley Renne Nsonwu — @heyashleyrenne 

Woman holding s potted plant
Photo: Ashley Renne Nsonwu

When Ashley Renne Nsonwu was working as a travel influencer in 2015, she traveled across the world to pristine beaches and dusty deserts and posted about her experiences on Instagram and Youtube for her thousands of followers. But it was a trip to Bali where she ventured off her vacation resort to explore a local beach that completely changed her perspective on how she impacted the environment.

“The local beach was littered with trash—piles and piles of plastic,” she says. “I couldn’t take a step in the sand without stepping in plastic.” 

Nsonwu said her friend traveling with her was less surprised by the inequalities between the resort and local beaches and began educating her about water pollution. 

“My mind was blown; I was so unaware,” Nsonwu says. “I didn’t see water pollution where I lived or traveled, so I didn’t think about it from a larger context, especially how I was part of the problem.”

Nsonwu returned home to Atlanta feeling motivated to learn about lifestyle changes she could make to reduce her personal waste and impact on the environment. Over the next few years, Nsonwu buckled down on her sustainability commitment by going vegan, buying an electric car, and building a solar-powered smart home featuring an electric vehicle charging station and a composting station. In 2019, Nsonwu gave up her career in travel influencing to reduce her carbon footprint and shifted to educating her followers about sustainable living.

“I changed my entire brand with the goal of teaching people relatable ways to transition to a sustainable lifestyle,” Nsonwu says. “I’m trying to show how sustainability is not only sexy but doable for the average person, especially for people of color.”

Woman speaking at convention
Photo: Ashley Renne Nsonwu

Since then, Nsonwu has made a name for herself as a sustainability influencer by filling her feed with helpful content about zero-waste living and veganism. She’s amassed nearly 90,000 Instagram followers, who she enjoys connecting with by showing them simple, gradual ways to become more sustainable.

“You don’t have to make a big change overnight—you can start by adopting some of the easy tips I drop in your Instagram feed,” she says. “I like to find approachable ways of educating people because that’s how you create change.” 

Nsonwu also uses her platform to educate her followers on environmental racism and the many ways in which minority communities are affected more severely by environmental issues. According to a 2021 analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency, racial minorities living in the U.S. will be disproportionately affected by climate change’s negative health and environmental impacts, including flooding and extreme heat. 

Nsonwu says she feels a responsibility as a sustainability influencer to help people understand environmental issues through the lens of a marginalized group. 

“Once we get out of our ‘bubbles’ and start following people who don’t have the same experiences, we can see the wide breadth of environmental problems as they pertain to everyone, not just people who look like you,” she says. “You start to learn how these issues impact the entire world, not just your community.”

To start living a more sustainable lifestyle, Nsonwu recommends shifting from a disposable to a reusable mindset. She frequently posts “sustainability swaps” that people can make with household or beauty products to transition from single-use to reusable products. She recommends starting with an easy swap like finding tote or shopping bags around your home and using them to carry your groceries.

“Start using reusable bags every time you grocery shop, and think about how much plastic waste you’re diverting from a landfill,” Nsonwu says.

Nsonwu believes that making simple lifestyle changes—like switching to reusable bags or a bamboo toothbrush with plant-based bristles—can help jump-start your sustainability journey. “Ultimately, my job is to create a safe space for people to realize that even though you’re an individual, you can make a big impact by being part of a collective effort to be more sustainable.” 

Sustainability Swaps That Work for You

Emma Reed — @emmareed_writes

Family walking in open field
Photo: Emma Reed

Emma Reed’s shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle started with her discovery of reusable baby diapers and wipes. In 2017, Reed was pregnant with her second child and posting regularly on her namesake blog about her honest tips and tricks for navigating parenthood. Through her blog and her self-published book “Your Teething Baby!,” she became part of an online community of parents who helped each other through the messy and wonderful aspects of raising kids.

So when Reed came across a parenting account with information about the benefits of reusable diapers and wipes, she made her first sustainability swap.

“After discovering what the disposable [diaper] varieties contain and how many hidden plastics there are in products,” Reed says, “I decided to go down a more eco-friendly route once my baby was born.”

As she began filling her nursery and home with more sustainable products, Reed shared her reviews on which swaps worked well and which didn’t with her blog and Instagram followers. 

“I quickly realized that my readers were really interested in this new journey, and my blog naturally took a different path to cover eco-related topics,” Reed says. “I started my blogging journey because I wanted to help other parents through teething, and now I can help people make changes in their lifestyles that not only benefits them but also our planet.”

Emma Reed sitting on floor holding rolls of toilet paper
Photo: Emma Reed

Since then, Reed has taken her followers along as she started composting, switched to plastic-free water filters, began using refillable cleaning and bathing products, and much more. Reed says the biggest learning curve has been accepting that not every sustainable product or swap will work for her and her family. 

“I remember throwing myself in a bit too fast in some areas and feeling deflated when the product wasn’t quite right for me—shampoo bars and deodorant being two significant ones,” Reed says. 

That’s why Reed encourages people who are beginning their sustainability journey to start small and pace themselves to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of non-toxic alternatives. Similar to how reusable baby products initiated her interest in sustainability, she recommends focusing on one area of your life or home at a time.

As her eco-parenting posts continue to reach more people, Reed says she’s learned that while some people may critique aspects of her parenting or sustainability efforts, there’s no such thing as eco-perfection.

“Once you get your head around this aspect, it makes being more sustainable not only less pressured, but much more enjoyable again,” Reed says. “I feel that I can now go easier on myself, and I frequently encourage others to as well.”

Through her blog and Instagram posts, Reed continues to educate her followers on her progress in sustainable parenthood and encourages people to find their own ways to incorporate eco-conscious decisions into their everyday lives.

“I am a huge advocate of the saying, ‘small, sustainable steps,’” Reed says. “If everybody took small steps towards reducing their household waste, plastic use, and carbon emissions, it will soon add up.” 

Going Green Doesn’t Mean Doing Less

Emily Murphy — @passthepistil

Woman holding a bowl of vegetables
Photo credit: West Cliff Creative

Gardeners know their plots are more than an extension of the home; they’re an extension of nature, a way to feel more connected to the planet. Plus, there is nothing more satisfying for many than cooking a meal or arranging a bouquet made of the blooms you grew right in your own backyard. Emily Murphy, author of the books “Grow What You Love” and “Grow Now: How We Can Save Our Health, Communities, and Planet—One Garden at a Time,” knows this feeling well, and has made her passion for cultivating gardens of all sizes a blooming career.

Murphy is a plantsperson, designer, educator, and photographer trained in ethnobotany, environmental science, and garden design. She found her passion early. She was raised with a family of gardeners and growers, including her paternal grandfather, who had a farm in Sonoma County, CA, and her maternal grandmother, who lived on a homestead. After learning the ins and outs of gardening young, she continues to share that knowledge and passion with others.

Murphy blends many aspects of her background into her work, focusing on topics including regenerative organic growing, garden-based climate activism, and rewilding, the process of letting nature take its course to repair ecosystems. Her advice rings true no matter if your garden sprawls for acres or fits on your apartment balcony. 

As Murphy points out, not only can gardening and growing reduce stress and become a satisfying hobby, but it is also a great way to see all of the ways nature affects our lives and the food we eat firsthand. And for Murphy, seeing so many people connect with nature through gardening, especially in the past few years, has been particularly fulfilling. 

“I think now people, especially with the pandemic, are reinvigorated and remembering how important the connection is to nature and foods,” she says.

“I think there is a revival and a reinvigoration of the simple act of growing and the benefits of it. And that's what I’ve experienced my entire life because I had an early introduction. And now we know that simply looking at plants brings joy, elevates mood, reduces stress, and we know there's a reason why we feel good after we work in our gardens. One of the things I like to say to people is, ‘when you were a kid, I'm sure you played in the dirt. Why did you ever stop?’”

That connection, Murphy says, can be especially valuable, as it can lead us to small acts that improve not only our lives, but also the health of the planet. 

Woman holding plant while walking through garden
Photo: West Cliff Creative

“​​When we look at large issues like the climate crisis and species extinction, it's really easy to become complacent, to turn off, and to just not know what to do and feel helpless,” she says. “And a little bit of curiosity and a little bit of guidance [can turn] into ‘Hey, you can do this simple act, and it's good for you, and it's good for the planet.’ Then there's this kind of wonderful synergy that happens that I think does bring hope because it's something you can do every day.”

When many people speak about being eco-friendly and living greener, they talk about all the things we should do less of or stop doing. But Murphy says she likes to think in terms of the positive changes we can add to our lives to make a greener future and “grow more good.” 

“We’re asked to drive less, pollute less, waste less energy. Inherently, then, that implies that we are bad. And it doesn't feel good. When you think about ‘oh, I have to do less bad.’ It's not really something that gets me excited,” she says. “In fact, it makes me feel kind of defeated. But when you turn that around, and you say, ‘Oh, how can I do more good?’ You think ‘oh, okay, I can do more good.’ And you get a skip in your step and you’re ready to go.”

And while many of us have probably had big dreams of growing gardens full of larger-than-life pumpkins and perfectly ripe tomatoes, Murphy encourages those who are new to growing to give it a shot at their own pace and not be afraid to make mistakes. From there, you can learn and evolve your skills—even if you end up with a few mishaps along the way. After all, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing the fruits of your own labor (pun maybe intended).

“You have the opportunity to say ‘I did that. I did that. I grew that, I grew this food that I'm cooking’ or ‘I grew this plant’ or ‘I'm taking care of this plant that these hummingbirds love so much, and I love watching hummingbirds come to this plant,’” she says. “And there are these immediate everyday joys that we get from growing.”

Turning Old Treasures Into New Ones

Joanna Munoz - @paintingbythepenny

Woman leaning against bookshelf
Photo: Joanna Munoz

Whether you just moved into your dream home or have been creating memories there for a while, chances are that you are consistently on the hunt for equally dreamy furniture to fill the space. And while browsing your favorite furniture store is certainly a fun hobby, some of the best pieces could be hiding right under your nose—if you’re willing to put in a bit of time, effort, and love into them. 

Furniture refinishing is an art form that Joanna Munoz, blogger and creator of Painting by the Penny, knows exceptionally well. She’s built a following of thousands over on her Instagram @paintingbythepenny and her blog by sharing not only her impressive creations, but also tips for how others can give furniture refinishing a try for themselves. 

Scrolling through her feed means feasting your eyes on gorgeous completed projects like bold and colorful end tables, a revived cedar chest, and even some beautiful tablescapes to show how she brings these renewed pieces to life and puts them to use in her home. In many cases, you can follow along on the process that Munoz employs to upcycle this furniture and marvel at the differences in the before and after looks. 

Munoz says her journey with flipping furniture and this account got started after she, like so many homeowners, went searching for that one perfect item to pull a room together:

“After purchasing my first home, I spent months looking for a TV stand. I didn’t want just any TV stand. I wanted something unique, well-made but also inexpensive,” she says. “After months of research, I finally decided to purchase a $25 solid wood dresser from Facebook marketplace and convert it into a TV stand.”

Today, you can scroll through post after post of Munoz expertly sanding, painting, staining, and refinishing pieces to give them a whole new look. As she took on more furniture upcycling projects, Munoz also learned to love interior design and mastered the art of pulling a room together beautifully. 

And while the aesthetic aspect of refinishing a beloved older piece of furniture and turning it into your new favorite conversation piece is hugely valuable, Munoz points out that giving these furniture pieces some love can have another important purpose: sustainability. 

Joanna sitting on top of chest
Photo: Joanna Munoz

“[I love] the good old saying ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’” Munoz says. “What someone may consider trash can easily be saved and upcycled. So many people throw away perfectly good furniture all the time. I’ve picked up many pieces from the curbside that someone has thrown out. I’m saving those pieces from ending up in a landfill.”

No doubt you’ve spotted a few stray armchairs or cabinets hanging around in your neighborhood, too. And whether you left them behind and regretted it later or they’re sitting in your garage just waiting for you to start, Munoz offers some helpful tips so you can begin your journey with confidence:

“Start with a small piece of furniture until you get comfortable. A lot of people are afraid to start but once you do, it's so easy,” she says. “There are so many great resources online on how to paint furniture. My best advice is to do your research and know the necessary steps to take in order to get a great and ever-lasting finish on your piece.” 

Not only has flipping furniture and decorating spaces taught her more about the craft itself, but Munoz also explains how it’s instilled an even deeper appreciation for the meaning behind our favorite pieces: 

“What I truly love the most is the fact that clients are wanting me to refinish pieces that have been in the family for years,” Munoz says. “I’ve had a client bring me a piece that belonged to her mother who had passed. Another client had a piece that belonged to her grandmother and wanted it refinished to fit her style after purchasing her first home. This is more than just refinishing furniture. There's so much meaning behind it!” 

And if you want to give reupholstering or refinishing furniture a try yourself, but you’re still feeling a little wary of trying, a local furniture refinishing pro can take on some of your more complicated pieces to start, and even give you some tips for DIYing in the future.

Sustainable Living Starts in Your Refrigerator

Kira Simpson — @thegreenhub_

Kira holding a bag of peanuts in super market
Photo: Kira Simpson

If you scroll through Kira Simpson’s Instagram grid, you’ll see colorful photos of her plant-based meals, engaging graphics about sustainable living, and videos of her explaining composting facts. While this Australia-based influencer is now a sustainability resource for her nearly 40,000 Instagram followers, her own experience with environmentalism started with a few simple sustainability swaps.

After learning about environmental issues like climate change and plastic pollution during her university courses, Simpson decided to start living “greener” and switched to reusable water bottles and mugs and jute shopping bags and found ways to use less plastic packaging. These small shifts snowballed into larger lifestyle changes, including composting and reducing the amount of dairy and meat she and her husband, Dave, eat per week.

“The more I did, the more I became aware of how our choices have the power to create the kind of world we want to live in,” Simpson says.

As she progressed in her sustainability journey, Simpson says she found success by focusing on making smaller, day-to-day changes instead of feeling overwhelmed by the larger picture. She learned that some lifestyle changes were easier to make than others, but the most important thing was to keep trying, and that’s the same message she spreads to her followers. 

“I love hearing from readers and followers on social media who tell me they’ve tried a tip I’ve shared,” Simpson says. “I get really excited because the more of us making these changes, the bigger impact we can have. Together we’re creating this positive, hopeful movement, and while our individual actions may not save the planet, the culture shift we’re creating will.”

Kia sitting down and potting a plant
Photo: Kira Simpson

Simpson encourages anyone interested in making entry-level sustainability switches to begin with the food they eat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted globally, amounting to about 1.3 million tons per year. 

To start reducing food waste, Simpson recommends making a grocery shopping list and sticking to it while keeping track of what doesn’t get eaten by the end of the week. She also says that making additional efforts to help food stay fresh longer will help cut down on thrown-away food. 

“As soon as you get home from the shops, make it a habit to prep your food by washing, cutting, and storing in containers, jars, or damp tea towels,” Simpson says. “Place leafy greens into airtight containers with a paper towel or a tea towel to soak up the moisture and keep it fresh and crispy. Pop carrots in a jar of water because they can last up to one whole month stored this way.”

Simpson also encourages people to live by the mantra that almost anything can be frozen, which preserves perishables for longer periods, and organize the refrigerator based on each item’s expiration date. 

“Store food that needs to be eaten first in one side of the fridge crisper,” she says. “If you have kids, you could even have a little box in the fridge that says ‘eat me first’ so they know.”

Whether you start your sustainability journey by switching to reusable bags or creating a compost bin, Simpson believes everyone has something unique to offer the environmental movement. 

“The world needs more of us talking about the issues facing the planet,” Simpson says. “It needs more people who care and want to inspire others to care as well.”

20 Sustainable Swaps

  1. Reuse empty glass jars for food storage

  2. Opt for paperless billing

  3. Use gray water and rain water to care for flowers

  4. Make meals designed to use food you already have 

  5. Put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat

  6. Try a no-buy month where you only purchase the essentials

  7. Avoid doing laundry until you have a full load ready

  8. Research efficient appliances, light bulbs, and other household items

  9. Clean with washable cloths and old T-shirts instead of paper towels

  10. Carpool when you can

  11. Swap books, movies, and clothes with friends rather than always buying new

  12. Try composting

  13. Be mindful of buying products with excessive packaging 

  14. Keep reusable bags, straws, and cups handy

  15. Donate used clothing and other items to a local charity

  16. Make an effort to walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation 

  17. Freeze your leftover meals and produce to avoid food waste

  18. Turn off your devices at night to limit energy usage

  19. Recycle your old or broken electronic devices

  20. Turn off the sink while brushing your teeth

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