Lifestyle, Travel
Comments 2

7 Ways the British Live More Sustainable Lives

Farm Field

I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to the UK twice in the last three years, most recently this summer for my beautiful sister in laws wedding in Kelso, Scotland. During our trips we have spent time all over Scotland, England, Portugal, and Ireland.

There are a few things I noticed on our first trip in 2012 relating to the environment that I never gave much thought to. They seemed like old fashion practices, not using dryers for example. Now that I have much more respect and awareness for sustainable living, I have to give British people a big thumbs-up and here’s why:

1. Laundry

Like I mentioned- there are very few dryers in the UK, in my experience. It is common practice to hang clothes on a line in the yard or on pulley systems hidden in the high ceilings. I even stumbled across a apartment complex in Edinburgh that had a clothes drying courtyard with communal clothes lines. Living spaces are smaller than in North America so drying clothes outdoors is a huge space saver. Now you might be thinking…”Shanna, it’s rainy and damp in the UK, how do they get dry?” Excellent question, I asked it myself. My husband’s Aunt just shrugged and said she’s never owned a dryer so she’s use to it and does smaller loads of laundry more often. Clothes typically dry in 1-2 days…unless you are in Portugal when they have the rainiest fall on record. Then it takes 3-4 days and you have to buy new underwear.

UK Neighbourhood and Cars

2. Eco Cars

In our most recent two-week stint in the UK I counted how many trucks I saw. Grand total of two! This doesn’t count “lorries” AKA semi-trucks used for transport, but there were only two pick-up trucks seen during our stay. Most cars are compact, run on diesel, and have eco functions such as turning off when stopped. We rented a Ford Galaxy which ran on diesel, had amazing gas mileage, and shut off when we stopped at lights or round-abouts. I was so excited about this car. These options are more practical for the UK’s typical narrow roads, but they are also more affordable. In North America it costs more to drive an electric or hybrid vehicle, just like it costs more to eat organic.  Why? I’ve got new clue, and maybe a topic for another day.

3. Eco Showers

We stayed in five different houses/hotels during our recent stay. In each place the shower had a low flow shower head or an “Eco” button. Not entirely sure what this eco button does, but it did lower water pressure so I assume it saves on water usage. They pay a lot for their water so perhaps that’s why most British people are more inclined to use less.

4. Wind Farms

While wind farms are still up for debate here they are all over the UK, using the most of their green rolling landscapes. Whether you agree or disagree with wind farms all I can say is at least they are trying to implement and use an alternate source of energy.

Wind Farm

5. Low Flow Toilets

All toilets are low flow, meaning they use less water. They also have options of half flush or full flush. I’ll let you speculate on what those are used for. Eco toilets are becoming more popular in North America but aren’t common place yet.

6. Grocery Practices

Like all other appliances, the fridges are small and compact. This means no trips to Costco and Walmart to stock your deep freeze, basement, or large double doored fridge. Mostly because most British households don’t have those things, but also because their shopping practices are very different from ours. The lack of urban sprawl in the UK means trips to the grocery store are a daily task either by bus or foot. Not only can the appliances not fit contents of the big weekly shop, but this way they buy only what can be carried or will fit in fridges, creating less waste and saving money. This is a practice our Mom has implemented to minimize her own food waste. I’ll admit this is an area of my life that could be more sustainable.

7. Frugal Habits

British people hate being told they are frugal or cheap, however, it is a stereotype for a reason. This is not a bad thing by any means. As an environmentalist I applaud the effort to fix something rather than toss it and buy something new. I see this a lot with my husband’s relatives and I love it. In a world where most electronics are manufactured for planned obsolesces I appreciate that his uncle still has a VCR and insists on using it because it still works and why should he buy DVD’s when he already has what he wants on tape.

The UK is ahead of North American in many ways including living sustainably. Hybrid cars, water conservation, and shopping practices are just a few things I’ve noticed in my recent travels. These practices come from how they’ve always lived, not necessarily out of concern about climate change but still we can learn a few things. Personally I’ve started using a clothesline to dry my clothes.

Lake District

What sustainability practices have you noticed in your travels? Tell us in the comments below!

Editors Note: We have been real quiet lately, a personal loss rocked our worlds and we had to take time off of our passion projects. But we are back dear readers and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for waiting for us!


  1. Maggie says

    Great article Shanna! 👍 I, as you know, use a pulley inside to dry most things. However, now the weather is better, it goes outside on a Lee Valley Clothes Line, hopefully not in my neighbours sight line but not too worried as they are British!


  2. Sheila says

    Enjoyed your article very much Shanna. My Mom also uses a clothes line,there is nothing quite like the scent of line dried clothes. I will have to share your article with her.


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