The Boba Lobby is Anti-Environment

As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m a boba freak. As I write this post at 10:30 AM, I’m already craving a boba (a.k.a. “pearl tea”), and I know I am not strong enough to resist it – later this afternoon I will probably be drinking one, only the first of two or three I’ll have this week.

Aside from the extraordinary sugar levels and suspicious nature of the tapioca that constitute the “boba” balls, my obsession is concerning mostly for the following reason: it makes me culpable of something that I rarely considered prior to watching this video a few years back. With horror, I realized I have been inadvertently contributing to and promoting the harm of marine life via the increase in single-use plastics.


I want to point this out because, despite writing this blog series, I can’t claim to be a model environmentalist. I certainly do try – outside of countries where bottled water is mandatory for avoiding water-borne illnesses, I estimate I’ve discarded fewer than 10 plastic water bottles in the past 8 years. Even when I treat myself with an Odwalla chai (another huge spike of sugar, but good for camping trips), I try to save the bottles and reuse them for smoothies. I’m able to do this because I almost never leave the house without my carabiner-equipped water bottle, which can clip onto even the tiniest of purses, and therefore never have to succumb to using these pieces of junk (ugh, screw Nestlé, right?).

But look, I understand that there’s a general resistance to adopting eco-friendly practices, either because the uninitiated are uninformed about the ease of incorporating simple modifications in their daily life (don’t worry – I got you!), or because of accusations of hypocrisy amongst high-profile environmentalists like Leonardo DiCaprio. Therefore, I wanted to highlight an instance of waste that I myself participate in, and suggest alternatives for reducing my (and maybe your) impact in this specific

A Boba Fanatic’s Guide to Reducing Environmental Impact

  1. Reduce consumption of other single-use plastic containers. In an either/or situation, would you choose boba over, say, coffee? In that case, minimize your footprint in other ways by bringing a reusable mug to your local coffee shop. (Actually, just do this in general – I’ve been using a screw-top mug for the past two years and have found that it keeps my chai warmer for longer, prevents spills when I’m biking and/or carrying it in my bag, and saves me $0.50 each time since I’m charged for a small. And, you know, saves the planet.)
  2. Drink less boba. A companion to the previous point, this is one that can be pretty tough to accomplish these days with boba shops aggressively popping up in urban areas. For example, near San Francisco’s Union Square, you can find seven cafes in a two block radius, and all of them have crazy long lines! If the proximity is not a prohibiting factor for you, I’d recommend meditating on a hatred of lines.menuboba1
  3. Patronize cafes with glass bottles. Again, this relates to the first point of reducing waste. From a quick Yelp search, Plentea and Boba Delight seem to be the only two in SF that offer mason jars instead of the typical flimsy plastic cups, but I’ll be doing some research this week to determine whether it’s possible to bring your own. Stay tuned. (Shoutout: 500 Startups’ welcome package included these handled mason jars with lids and straws, which I now use for smoothies. Also could be a good alternative for boba!)
  4. Cut your straws lengthwise prior to disposing. My boyfriend recently gave me a super thoughtful gift: a serrated pocket knife. Not only am I more prepared to cut fruit in the woods, protect myself from a potential mugger, and open beer bottles, I can also now slice my boba straws on the go! While the plastic of the straws might still end up in the esophagus of a poor sea turtle, I hope this process will destroy the straws’ structural integrity and prevent it from jamming up an innocent windpipe.seaturtlestraw
  5. Eliminate single-use straws. If you watched that heart-breaking video above, you probably feel the same way I do about straws: they’re pretty evil. However, they’re also a necessity when drinking boba, so what can be done? According to Amazon, there are a ton of options for steel or glass extra-wide straws, complete with cleaning brushes. Though the idea of carrying around a sticky straw isn’t very appealing, this problem can be easily resolved by matching it with a recycled plastic sleeve – complete with cute anime characters or poop emojis, whatever is most popular at the moment.

I dream of a future in which we buy only bulk items, use cloth grocery bags and glass jars, and prepare everything with purely organic, sustainably-harvested materials. However, considering I can’t even kick my boba habit (and the fact that we’ve exceeded 400ppm), I know there’s a lot of work to still do. Hopefully this article showcases some of the small ways we can begin to dial back our reliance on limited resources and foster a more eco-friendly mindset, both personally and socially.

Now excuse me, I’m about to bike to the boba shop with my mason jar and reusable straw to suck on that sweet, sweet poison: boba.


About A26Z: Good by Design

A26Z: Good by Design is a year-long project promoting actionable sustainability practices in various industries. I started this personal “capstone project” to commemorate turning 26, and will release 26 new “exhibits” until the series concludes one day prior to my 27th birthday.

If you liked this post, please make it official by clicking the “like” button below! Of course, comments are welcome – I’d love to learn more about what companies and individuals are doing to address this problem, and am open to suggestions on future topics. To stay updated on upcoming topics in the A26Z: Good By Design series, please subscribe. Thanks for reading!

The Case Against Schwag Schwag

schwag (US informal)

  1. noun. products given away free, typically for promotional purposes
  2. adj. term to describe anything that is low grade.


Tell me if this has happened to you.

You go to a conference and return with, let’s say, three types of bag clips, seven pens, a plastic piggie bank, and an umbrella. It never rains in California anymore, everything’s online, and you typically wear a backpack – but it was free, so now it’s yours.

I’ll be honest; that list isn’t random. It’s just a few of the things I walked away with when participating in a Women in Business conference a few years ago. In addition to the things I did want – or thought I could use somehow – I also ended up with a stack of papers: some advertisements for some services targeted for an older demographic, some promotions for office supplies, and nothing I’d ever looked at again.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 7.18.57 PM.png

Also spelled “swag.” Jane the Virgin agreesalmost everyone views these bags as generally useless.

What’s the problem?

What I described above is the experience of just one person at one conference. Compound that by the reportedly millions of conference-goers annually, and you end up with a lot of wasted material. As this Bartizan article notes, “When it comes to printing materials for trade shows and conferences, think about whether having a physical copy will benefit the potential customer and your brand. Will anyone read the material you’re providing? Is there a better way to present it?” To be fair, the marketing industry has come a long way in embracing and experimenting with new media, but the old standard of print-based advertising and cheap knick-knacks has deep roots – and for reasons that are pretty easy to understand.

A small gardening service, for example, might prefer to print fliers to stick on homeowners’ doors, a direct marketing tactic that allows the business to evaluate a potential customer’s need quickly by just looking at their yard. Referrals need to start somewhere, and outside of Yelp, Angie’s List, and local neighborhood message boards, it can be difficult to get visibility otherwise. However, these services are typically on a much smaller scale than, say, a well-funded startup that allocates marketing spend on glossy cardstock fliers to stick under wiper blades and branded T-shirts to hand out at hackathons. What happens to the 90% of fliers that end up on the ground or in the trash? What was the ROI on the 10% that survived?


Does size matter?

I think I speak for everyone when I say yes, size matters. Conferences, marathons, graduations, and concerts – fertile ground for useless junk – are dangerous because of their scale. Make an error in one date, and you have to throw out thousands of brochures. Spell a name wrong, and you have to reprint hundreds of commemorative T-shirts. Think about those championship T-shirts for losing teams – I doubt there are enough ironic hipsters to buy up all of the 2016 NBA Champs paraphernalia that flooded the underground market after the Warriors (tragically) lost the Finals.

Conservation Tip #1: Follow Toyota’s example of lean manufacturing by only producing what you need at the moment. Not only will you catch mistakes faster due to smaller batch processing, but you can get iterative feedback on what works and create a continuously improved product. For printed material, that can mean keeping only one or two copies on hand and providing a link to an online version, or creating a virtual “folder” that pools all selected collateral into one set of files that’s emailed after the event. For physical material, that can mean reducing the number of schwag that’s given out and making products more generic so that they can be re-used in other circumstances. Tl;dr: Reduce, reuse.

Startup Stock Photos

Who’s the audience?

Another issue at large events is a lack of understanding of what the average attendee actually needs (and doesn’t already have). For example, it’s safe to assume that basketball fans would enjoy a free door-mounted hoop, enough to ignore a little corporate branding splashed across the backboard. It’s not safe to assume that they’ll appreciate your HR company’s logo across the chest of a low-quality T-shirt, even if you give it to them for free. Why? Because they came to the game for a sports-related experience, and your shirt doesn’t fit into that narrative. Of course, many people will take whatever freebies they’re given even if they never plan to use them (I’ve been guilty of this myself), so it’s the responsibility of the ethical marketer to control the brand image and spend by ensuring that the right products end up in the right hands.

Conservation Tip #2: Do some market research to understand what products or information your target demographic would rep the most enthusiastically. Produce only high-quality material, whether it’s a well-designed interactive pamphlet or a creative customizable magnet. This must-read Brafton article summarizes it well: “Content marketing is not, as a colleague put it, an all-you-can eat buffet. But some companies treat it that way. The more-is-more mentality only works when there are enough resources and time to invest in each individual piece.”
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: you should be proud of your work. Anticipate what other vendors might be distributing, and try to make your offering unique and most importantly useful. (For instance, I’d be much more likely to use one nice ballpoint pen than ten rollerball pens, and would use that ball-point way more often. Bigger ROI for the company, more enjoyment for me, less junk for the environment.) Your company and your career will thank you.


Who’s really in charge?

Without a steady hand on a company’s marketing budget, paid advertising can quickly balloon out of control. There are three ways of circumventing this problem: slow or stop paid campaigns, default to cheaper materials or methods, and/or find a sponsor or partner to cross-promote.

In the vein of the third option, I recently received a package of branded magnets as part of a StickerMule promotion. The magnets were of high quality, exactly as I have come to expect from StickerMule products, but I don’t have any use for them. Why would I put up a Chrome orb or a MailChimp monkey on my fridge, mailbox, or anywhere else? What am I supposed to do with these useless magnets? Most importantly, how do I recycle them?

It’s easy to understand StickerMule’s strategy – hit up existing clients with diversified brand offerings and offer goodies to both test quality and make consumers feel like they owe the company something – but there must be a way to improve it. What happens before, during, and after the user experience of engaging with these materials, and how can companies and individuals reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating or recycling these attempts? Here are a few suggestions.

Conservation Tips #3 – 5:

  • Reduce: Send one customizable magnet that users could color in or otherwise decorate themselves.
    However, if Facebook, Google, and Dribbble had indeed paid StickerMule for the promotion, there’s less financial incentive to limit the number of magnets given away for free. This is a tricky situation because StickerMule doesn’t have its own branding on these magnets (good for consumers, bad for marketing), so they only benefit when they distribute the goods themselves. Even so, sending just one or two, rather than six, would extend their available stock and expand their audience. 
  • Reuse: Provide a return envelope for any unused magnets.
    Admittedly, this would increase the amount of waste if the envelope is pre-printed, but would be a net positive for the company who could reclaim precious marketing assets. 
  • Reinvent: Include sticky sheets so recipients could tape over magnets they don’t plan to use.
    The downside of this is that cross-promoters wouldn’t be happy about consumers modifying their magnets, but users already have the ability to do much worse, so it’s literally out of the marketing manager’s hands.


How do you change the channel?

Technology might hasten the human race’s ultimate demise, but eschewing it in favor of exploiting limited resources will have the same result. The big question is, how do we use technology to reduce the burden on the environment, and how can we rethink traditional models of communication to be more sustainable?

Most people are familiar with eco-friendly materials, like recycled paper or soy-ink printer cartridges that you can send back to the manufacturer. These are great initiatives, but in order to flip the script and combat growing deforestation and pollution, there are still several other shifts in perspective needed. Outside of reducing resource waste on products or assets that no one needs, the marketing industry needs to hold itself to higher standards, rallying mom-and-pop shops and multinational corporations alike to establish basic green guidelines.

This might take the form of agencies taking on more ethical work (or refusing to work with companies who have a proven track record of human rights violations or environmental abuse). ACT Responsible, whose vision is to “inspire, promote and federate communication on social and environmental responsibility,” is a comprehensive resource. It could result in industry leaders establishing sustainable development goals – UFI (the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry) has provided an excellent model for the conference space. Perhaps companies have to limit the types of resources used, or curtail excess when a production reaches a certain size. Maybe it’s as simple as creating a CSR department which audits and measures campaigns’ ROI and impact, so that teams are forced to think more closely about their strategies.

Clearly, there are no simple solutions, and no assurance that companies will even follow these rules. But it’s a start, and we can’t get anywhere without starting. As anyone who’s interacted with a teenager knows, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The marketing industry is well aware of this adage – now it’s time to start living by it.

Exhibit A (Schwag) Image

About A26Z: Good by Design

A26Z: Good by Design is a year-long project promoting actionable sustainability practices in various industries. I started this personal “capstone project” to commemorate turning 26, and will release a new “exhibit” every other Thursday until the 26-part series concludes the day prior to my 27th birthday.

If you liked this post, please make it official by clicking the “like” button below! Of course, comments are welcome – I’d love to learn more about what companies and individuals are doing to address this problem, and am open to suggestions on future topics. To stay updated on upcoming topics in the A26Z: Good By Design series, please subscribe. Thanks for reading!

Today’s Custom News Hour: 11/5/15


Persian Gulf May Become Too Hot For Humans via CBS News

What you need to know: Regardless of whether you agree with the idea well-founded scientific consensus that humans have influenced climate change, it’s undeniable that global warming is happening. Proof: the Persian Gulf, home to desert countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, is quickly becoming inhospitable even to people who’ve adapted over years to accommodate the extreme heat.

Why does this matter: There aren’t many places on Earth that are completely off-limits, outside of polar regions, African Sahara, and the Australian Outback. Expanding hot zones will put more pressure on other regions, both environmentally and politically, and will heighten the resource crunch that a booming population with dwindling arable land is likely to face. If nothing else, the prospect of a mass migration of Muslims should galvanize conservatives to invest more in sustainable solutions, as the brown wave seems the only future they fear (despite the fact that constant immigration has underpinned American society for…ever).

Greenland is Melting Away via New York Times

What you need to know: Holy new media, Batman! The New York Times’ interactive pieces, as this August 22 piece on Palestinian shantytowns illustrates, truly takes journalism into the modern day. This article is a deep dive (no pun intended) into the process of collecting scientific data to measure rising sea levels, and is complete with looping video, reactive zooming, and unique storytelling narratives. Though I can’t say I fully understand the science behind the story, it’s still enjoyable to learn about the trials and tribulations of remote field research and the complications that arise from accepting governmental grants.


What Began as a Get Together for Bernie Fans Has Become a Three-Week Dance Party Called Bernie Man” via The Stranger

What you need to know: “Local promoter/real estate broker Cody Morrison didn’t set out to create a massive series of political dance parties. A few weeks ago, he just thought he’d throw a little get-together where friends listen to records and chip in a few bucks to that yelling candidate with the fizzy hair. Cody started pulling together the event, friends RSVPed, then a few more people caught wind of it, and within a few days there were thousands of people interested in attending.”

Why is this important: Aside from the hilarious name, the concept of creating cultural experiences around politics is critical for engaging young, disinterested voters. I had a particularly exciting induction into campaign politics, since 2008 turned out to be a universal watershed moment. However, the stark difference from past campaigns motivated me to write my thesis, “Why Youth Don’t Vote,” which has now made me acutely aware of the ways media and culture disenfranchise young people.

The article doesn’t note that the event is occurring in Seattle, where Black Lives Matter protesters famously interrupted a Bernie rally to encourage him to address systemic racial inequality. His reply, publishing a thoughtful multi-pronged approach on his website, showed his commitment to taking citizens’ issues seriously, but was received with a mixed reception. Some said that his quick turnaround showed an effective call-and-response attitude emblematic of a true representative, and others said that it’s concerning that he didn’t already have such a platform. I’m still voting for him, but I’m curious as to see what happens during the rallies.


#distrosnack via 500 Startups

What you need to know: #distrosnack is a short digest of growth-related articles and tips, curated by the 500 Startups team. As I’m learning, newsletters are surprisingly one of the most effective ways to parse the deluge of industry news. For example, in one recent #distrosnack, 500 partner Tristan Pollack summarizes the four key lessons e-commerce companies can learn from viral marketplaces like Silk Road, the notorious dark web hub for illicit activity. While my company is B2B (business to business), not B2C (business to consumer), there are always insights to be gleaned by evaluating existing functions through new perspectives.


Hip-Hop and the 1977 New York City Blackout via Columbia Journalism

What you need to know: The author posits that the 1977 NYC Blackout played a pivotal role in cultivating the East Coast hip-hop scene by expanding access of turntables and other electronics to aspiring DJs (through albeit questionable means). While a direct correlation can’t be confirmed, the notion that hip-hop as an art form gained traction from looting is both an ironic and deeply meaningful idea.

Notorious RGB via Tumblr

What you need to know: An entire Tumblr exists to exalt the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and now the authors have taken the next logical step and released a book. Although it’s hard to track back to the original posts prior to the book release, I recommend pursuing the Tumblr anyway as an opportunity to unearth an enormous amount of material about this inspirational and powerful woman.

“Marty Was Always My Best Friend”: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Love Story via Jezebel

What you need to know: Martin Ginsburg, RBG’s college sweetheart turned husband of nearly 60 years, passed away from cancer five years ago. This sweet tribute to their relationship, released in the aforementioned Notorious RBG book, is a behind-the-scenes story that probably will make you cry. Read at your own risk.

‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airways via New York Times

What you need to know: “This American Life” host Ira Glass is responsible for one of the most popular and poignant radio shows on air today. Since radio relies entirely on vocal inflection and tone to communicate emotion, it would seem that Glass’ signature speech patterns would be one key to TAL’s success. Not so much, according to NYT’s Teddy Wayne, who argues that the tone in fact comes across as disingenuous. “How could I be deceiving you, the catch in the voice, the exposed seam in a sweater or the actor cracking up during an outtake asks, when I’m vulnerably baring my … flaws?”

Why is this important: It’s not, really, and the article doesn’t give much credence to the idea that maybe Glass (and other “colloquial” hosts) are onto something with this new type of speech. While it’s interesting to note the departure from traditional (often male-dominated) manners of speaking, journalists should be pushed to describe what consequence results from what they report. Otherwise, this click-bait just wasted one of my ten free NYT articles of the month (previous link re: this NYT editorial).
That being said, this clip makes the same case as Wayne, but in less than a minute, far more successfully, and actually funny even to an NPR fan. Fire, meet fire.

Conversation Starters v.1

1. I think the reason that people speak to children and dogs in the way that they do is because they feel that these creatures don’t understand through words alone that the adult is conveying love. Through facial expressions and intonation, they ensure that the creature receives the love, or at least strongly feels something positive.

…Which makes it interesting when you hear adults speak that way to one another. I wonder if relationships that incorporate a lot of baby talk actually have an issue with low self-esteem (assuming that only a child-like person would date them) and a certain lack of respect of the partner (for the same reason).

2. I also wonder whether presidential campaigns should exist. Imagine there were no chief executive or president, but rather multiple people in charge of multiple decisions, dissecting the president’s role into its constituent parts, then relegating those to the heads of the committees responsible for dealing with specific issues. Sure, there might still be several president-like positions emerging in the absence, but those roles will be more localized and thus more responsive to the demands of the people.

It seems wasteful to dedicate several years (nearly half of our political careers, since campaigns begin two years out!) to merely deciding the next person who can get things done. Let’s just get things done every day. At the end of the evening, we might not know who will lead next, but at least we’ll have accomplished something, making the existence of a president a fading necessity.

3. Is it time for a revolution? Gun violence, environmental catastrophe, sexual health, incarceration rates, education – everything seems to be under attack. I understand that conservatives, who currently control the most important legislative branches in the country, are doing everything that they can do to undermine the government (as is the rallying cry of their party). But even to build their own case, they have to draw the line at what “success” would look like.

What constitutes a valid governmental action? Is it providing the groundwork for a safe, healthy, and educated population and the infrastructure necessary to help that happen? If so, why are we bailing out banks and privatizing healthcare and defunding education programs and allowing legions of Americans to live in food deserts? I don’t understand how things got to be so dire in the States, but considering the whole world has ignited into revolution, we’d be ignorant to think there’s not a more dramatic scene yet to come.

Use these conversation starters at your next dinner party, date, or business meeting and let me know what happens!


4 Quick Tips on Staying Water-Positive (a.k.a. “El Niño Won’t Save Us If We Don’t Save Ourselves”)

An El Niño winter is good news for California, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to solve all of our problems. In fact, due to the fragility of dehydrated root systems and crumbling soil, we’re at an increased risk for flooding, wind damage, and mudslides. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to manage water flow and dispersion.

  1. Make sure your building has at least one large rain barrel. If you live in a single-family home, two or three is even better. If set up correctly, they can replace tap water for several indoor and outdoor purposes throughout the year (reducing your water bill in a time when utility companies are trying to figure out how to use economics to punish water-abusive behavior).
  2. If you can, strip concrete in your backyard and/or driveway and replace it with bricks or other porous material. This will allow more rainwater to enter the underlying aquifer, meaning a larger buffer against future droughts.
  3. Plant trees! I understand the hesitation to landscape while in a drought, but the upcoming storms downplay that concern. Done correctly (i.e. establishing simple homemade drip irrigation and support systems), planting trees and other organic material can help keep the ground from becoming oversaturated, and yields benefits when California is again covered in trees!
  4. Continue to limit water consumption throughout the winter. If we keep treating water like a feast-or-famine commodity, we have to prepare ourselves for the consequences of running out of water within our lifetime. I’ve severely limited my water consumption already, so it’s extremely frustrating to witness others leave taps running, take hour-long showers, and in general ignore the fact that we’re in crisis and TOGETHER need to take serious steps to mitigate our impact on the earth.

This, combined with my earlier tips on reducing your carbon footprint, can be read as a cheat sheet at sustainability. So flex your power – knowledge! – and do your part to literally “save the world.” I can promise you (unless your job is related to solving major humanitarian, medical, or ecological problems) this is a necessary and fundamental step that underpins any future developments, and we won’t get anywhere unless we cover the basics first.

10 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Save the Planet

We’re in a four-year drought, and while the extent to which we are is up for debate, it’s best to resort to worst-case scenarios when the climate is at stake.

Last year, KQED posted a article called “How Much Water Do Californians Use and What Does A 20 Percent Cut Look Like?” In it, they compiled some very handy statistics, namely the 2011 average for household water consumption (360+ gallons a day), the split between average external and internal water usage (53% – or 190 gallons – on landscaping, car washes, etc; 47% – or 170 gallons – on showers, toilet flushes, food preparation, etc.), and an in-depth breakdown of percentage usage for various functions.

If you need more convincing that climate change is both real and of immediate concern, check out the Stanford Roundtable on Climate [video]. One important point from the all-star panel was from Bina Venkataraman (director of global policy initiatives of the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard), who noted that wealthy residents in Hillsborough account for three times (on average, per capita) the energy consumption as compared to individuals in the working-class neighborhood in East Palo Alto. This relates to a larger issue about cap and trade politics, which I’ll discuss in a future post, but the statistic alone highlights the troubling obsession with conspicuous consumption as a status symbol. Only when the symbol of wealth becomes scarcity, something I think is becoming more likely with the nouveau riche’s minimalist design sense, will any change occur amongst the biggest wasters.

There are a few obvious solutions that come from this data:

    1. Stop washing your car. If you’re worried about how your car will look, start taking public transit. Public transit is not only good for the environment and the government, but it also encourages citizens to reduce their driving and legislators to extend transportation routes more widely.
    2. Replace your lawn with drought-resistant crops. If you’re set on having a green lawn, there are a variety of drought-resistant grasses that are relatively easy to install. But if you’re interested in taking your open space one step further, consider planting a small garden with rotating crops. These serve to fertilize the ground, provide free groceries, and foster more appreciation of the food cycle.
    3. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” I have to admit, I’m still not a huge fan of this initiative. But considering nearly a fifth of residential water usage is dedicated to toilet flushes, it seems wasteful to use between 3.5 – 7 gallons of water every time you think you have to pee. (That being said, if you’re somewhat stinky in the restroom, consider changing your diet and drinking more water, so at least it’s going through you instead of the septic tank directly!)
    4. Use a bucket to collect your cold shower water. In this drought, even taking a three-minute shower makes me feel guilty, and it’s partially because of all of the water I let go directly down the drain while I wait for the shower to heat up. No longer! Putting a bucket under the faucet helps offset water consumption by providing clean water to water plants, wash dishes, flush the toilet, and – depending on your level of comfort – use as drinking water.
    5. Turn off/down your shower while soaping up. This is fairly obvious to most people, but upon witnessing my friend’s roommate regularly taking hour-long showers full blast with no break (in an apartment with only one bathroom, no less!), it bears repeating. Yes, it might be cold. Yes, the shower is a great place to think. I’d recommend in that case making your shower quick, putting on a warm robe, and meditating – you’d be doing the planet and yourself a favor (plus excessively hot showers can lead to yeast infections, so..).
      Alternatively, consider heating your water on the stove and taking a bucket shower – they’re surprisingly satisfying and extremely water-efficient, and a step up from Burning Man-esque sponge baths (which we might have to resort to next).
    6. Check your equipment. (Not that way.) 18% of residential water usage stems from leaks, so do an extensive check of your dwelling’s plumbing and fix broken items immediately. If you have the ability to do so, change out your low-efficiency appliances for energy-saving models (refrigerators, toilets, washing machines, shower heads, etc.).
    7. Stop washing your clothes as often. I’m not sure if I’ll be revealing too much here, but here goes: I only wash my clothes/sheets once every 3 – 4 weeks, meaning I only use the machine 13 – 17 times a year. As a petite (relatively) sedentary woman, I do have smaller laundry loads than the average 6’6″ basketball player, so I understand the occasional need to do laundry somewhat more frequently. But if you’re doing your laundry any more than twice a month, you need to reconsider your habits and/or the knee-jerk reaction to put anything you wore once directly into your washing machine.
    8. Soak your dishes, then completely scrub and wash before rinsing. The following (horrifying) pattern is all too common:
      1. Run water full force with nothing underneath;
      2. Pour detergent directly into dish while water is running;
      3. Put dish under running water;
      4. Scrub under running water;
      5. Rinse thoroughly, essentially re-washing the dish by brute force;
      6. Put dish into dish dryer while the water is running;
      7. Chat with someone / eat a sandwich / leave the room completely while the water is running.

      Everything about this is wrong. The best way to wash your dishes is actually much simpler:

      1. Clear your dish-drainer to make room for new dishes.
      2. Quickly run some water over your dishes; leave them to soak for five minutes. (Water should be off.)
      3. Put a small amount of detergent on a sponge. (Water should be off.)
      4. Fold the sponge in half, then run a small amount of water over the sponge. Squeeze it to generate suds. (Water should be off.)
      5. Scrub your dishes thoroughly, using both sides of the sponge if necessary. (Water should be off.)
      6. Pile all dirty dishes in one area of sink or countertop. (Water should be off.)
      7. Using a low flow of water, rinse all dishes in one swoop, and load into dish-drainer.

      Bam. It’s that easy. Tell your friends.

    9. Use fewer dishes when cooking. Whenever possible, try to use the same cutting boards, utensils, and pots and pans to prepare your food, and make a lot of leftovers. I’ve never been one to make a big messy meal (I’m the opposite of a gourmand), but this lesson was never more applicable than when I was washing dishes during my shifts at Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man. At the latter, the lack of water made my one-woman task even more frustrating, and the cooks’ reluctance to use fewer dishes surprised me during a festival centered around the principle of “Leave No Trace.”
    10. Get a carabiner for your metal water bottle. Don’t have a metal water bottle? That’s your first step. I’ve had a Klean Kanteen since my freshman year of college, and as bruised and battered as it is now (it has been to more than 20 countries!), it has beautifully saved me from using several plastic bottles over the years. I made it easier for myself (and therefore more appealing to carry) by putting a carabiner through the top loop and attaching it to bags, belts, and backpacks. Drinking water is the first most noble use of water, so cherish it while you can!