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  • Low-impact living - introduction

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    “If to change ourselves is to change our worlds, and the relation is reciprocal, then the project of history making is never a distant one but always right here, on the borders of our sensing, thinking, feeling, moving bodies.” – J K Gibson-Graham

    What is low-impact living?

    What is this ‘impact’ that we’re suggesting we reduce? It’s the impact that humans have individually or collectively on the rest of nature and on each other – ‘high-impact’ being destruction, toxification, exploitation and violence.

    So what does low-impact living involve, exactly? It’s a tricky one. Depending on who you listen to, you might hear that low-impact living is mainly about:

    • (relatively superficial) activities like recycling and turning off appliances when you leave the room;
    • being vegan;
    • voting for the right political party;
    • consuming less;
    • charitable giving;
    • offsetting your carbon emissions;
    • living in the wild, with basic, natural tools;
    • living in ‘smart’ cities, with driverless electric vehicles, nuclear power and GM food;
    • having fewer kids;
    • buying from ‘responsible’ corporations;
    • demonstrating and protesting;
    • meditating and becoming more ‘spiritual’.
    Fancy a gorgeous (maybe self-built) home made from local, natural materials, instead of a bricks & mortar box? Low-impact living isn’t about making sacrifices – it’s about improving the quality of your life.

    We’re more sanguine about some of the above than others, but we believe that low-impact living will involve:

    • for most people nowadays, living in an urban area, with everything you need within walking or cycling distance;
    • for some, living in small or medium-sized towns with strong communities, lots of small businesses, and hinterlands providing access to wilderness, food, fibres, building materials and renewable energy;
    • for a few, living on smallholdings, in the wilderness, in tents, cabins, or boats;
    • consuming enough for a healthy, happy, dignified life, but not an entitled life of excessive consumption and status-seeking;
    • gaining skills to prepare for (and help mitigate) potential collapse of supply chains / law and order.
    Meanwhile, in high-impact world: earn more, spend more, earn more, spend more…

    Low- vs. high-impact living

    First let’s contrast low-impact living with how most people live today. Many of you will own property via (and pay interest to), a bank – or pay rent to someone who does; most of your food, clothes, energy and possessions will be provided by corporations; you might have credit card debt; you’ll drive, and fly occasionally for holidays; you’ll be exposed to a lot of advertising, and your life will be more or less dominated by the corporate sector. Does this sound familiar?

    There are those who advocate taking this further – accelerating growth and technological innovation, to get off the planet and colonise the rest of the universe, in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable. We don’t think it’s wise to destroy the biosphere of the only planet we know for sure has one, in an attempt to get to other planets. But we’re not anti-technology either. We can choose the best of all ages – natural homes, local organic food, internet and solar panels. But we don’t need nuclear power, genetic modification, space travel and high-tech weaponry, which are not ‘convivial’, they promote growth, only benefit the few, and create more problems than they (are supposed to) solve.

    How about fresh, organic food straight from your garden or allotment? Hairshirt living? Not really.

    Imagine instead being able to walk to a local market, with locally-produced, organic food and craft produce; to walk or cycle to a local job – family businesses, sole traders, independent shops and restaurants; a strong, diverse, uncontaminated, environment that provides for us, keeps us healthy and nourishes us with its beauty. Imagine getting your energy and heating from small-scale, local renewables, without giant coal and nuclear power plants, or pylons snaking all over the countryside; imagine living mortgage-free in a beautiful, natural home; imagine authentic and mutually-supportive business and social relationships.

    We can have the best of all ages – you can’t beat a wood stove for cosiness, but you can read this on your laptop, powered by pv panels.

    Low-impact living is not enough

    Low-impact living is difficult within the current economy. A genuine attempt to live low-impact requires a move to a low-impact economy as well as changes in individual or household provisioning.

    Low-impact living and low-impact economy complement and require each other. We can’t have a low-impact economy if everyone wants to consume as much as possible and compete rather than collaborate; and we can’t live low-impact in a system that concentrates wealth and has to constantly grow.

    Shopping at local shops and markets helps protect the green belt, spreads the money around instead of concentrating it in supermarkets and big chains, helps your local economy and local producers – and maybe allows you to walk to them instead of driving.

    What are the benefits of low-impact living?

    • You’ll help your community cope with any breakdown in supply chains.
    • You’ll gain skills to provide things for you and yours, that could lead to a more interesting and satisfying career.
    • You’ll almost definitely be physically and mentally healthier, happier and more secure.
    • You’ll know that you’re contributing less to the destruction of the biosphere, by consuming fewer resources and creating less waste.
    • You won’t be crushed into corporate conformity.
    • You’ll be doing your bit to get humanity onto a better path.
    • You’ll inspire and inform other people you come into contact with.
    • You’ll probably meet some pretty great people, make new friends and help build stronger, friendlier and safer communities
    Cohousing projects of various kinds are becoming more popular. They make low-impact living easier, as they can allow sharing of facilities and equipment, give access to land for members to grow food, and reduce travel requirements.

    What can I do?

    We provide a bank of 240+ topics – arranged into 12 categories. This is a huge resource – ‘sustainability on steroids’ as one commenter put it.

    Some topics are foundational, before you start re-skilling and doing practical things.

    • Personal development: look after yourself physically and emotionally.
    • Philosophy: learn, read, discuss, question, don’t passively accept what’s served up by the corporate media – but don’t abandon critical thinking either.
    • Nature awareness: get into nature regularly – it’s good therapy.
    • Community: build strong, supportive social relationships.
    • Downshifting: earn and consume modestly, holiday closer to home, and stop flying (and be honest if you fly; don’t try to justify or ‘offset’ it).

    Then start gaining skills to provide things for yourself, your family and friends.

    Topics range from easy things that you can start to do immediately, to building your own home, harvesting your own energy or running a smallholding.

    For each topic we provide a range of resources: basic introduction; books; magazines; links to useful sites; relevant articles; course providers; product & service providers; and experts to answer specific queries. We’re also producing a ‘how to’ manual and an online course for as many topics as possible.

    We’re not promoting some kind of austere lifestyle. Quite the opposite – we think that the ideas you’ll find here will make you happier. After all, you can’t possibly be happy if you’re constantly craving more and more ‘stuff’. Let it go!


    If you want to learn to install renewables, bake bread or make pottery (for example), don’t just do it for yourself, do it for your community. The same goes for the production of timber, firewood, meat, eggs, utensils, furniture, herbal remedies, honey, cheese, beer, cider or wine, baskets, clothes or textiles.

    Once you have the skills and equipment, it’s a waste of resources to use them just for yourself. A community needs a bread oven / pottery kiln / blacksmith’s forge etc., not each household. But the household scale is perfect for composting, cycling, recycling, a few chickens, a fruit tree or two, fruit bushes, a herb garden, a DIY shed, making natural cleaning products etc.


    You don’t have to be a corporate drone. If you feel trapped in corporate employment, you could get out straight away by going WWOOFing.

    Reskill for a new career. After provisioning for yourself / friends, If you enjoy it and are good at it begin to offer products / services to your community. It could be the start of a new career, or a boost to an existing one, while playing a part in the new commons economy. Where possible, consume from other local people doing the same, and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

    Getting a smallholding, providing resources for yourself and your community, harvesting your own energy and building your own home is the ultimate dream for many. It’s not easy, but we’d like to help make it more achievable.


    We need to build a low-impact world via the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’. Micro is low-impact living, macro is low-impact economy – building the commons.

    Be a commoner. Help build the commons in your community. At some point, you’ll be able to provide and obtain goods and services via mutual credit. Local mutual credit clubs will have jobs boards for products and services that are required locally, but are not currently provided by members; local businesses or individuals can be invited into the club to provide them, and training can be provided if those skills aren’t available locally.

    Contact us if you’re interested in becoming involved with any of the ideas outlined above; or if you’d like to volunteer, work or collaborate with us, provide funding or help in any other way.

    Join our directory; donate or set up a monthly subscription; follow our blog, newsletter and social media channels. And of course we’d love you to send people our way in any way that works for you. Do you have any other thoughts or comments? We’d love to hear from you.

    Whilst you’re here, why not take a look at the other 25+ day-to-day living topics available? And don’t forget to visit our main topics page to explore over 200 aspects of low-impact living and our homepage to learn more about why we do what we do.

    The specialist(s) below will respond to queries on this topic. Please comment in the box at the bottom of the page.

    Dave Darby is the founder of Lowimpact.org. ‘Specialist’ is definitely the wrong word, as this is a huge topic, with many component parts. If you post queries on specific topics, we’ll try to get specialists to answer them for you. This page is for general comments and queries, and discussing how we encourage low-impact living generally.

    The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's


    • 1Brandon August 5th, 2017

      One aspect of low impact living that you do not consider is data usage. Every bit has a price, and loading your page costs 1.9 mb. Now, this is not a lot by web 2.0 standards, but I do find it funny that this facet goes completely unnoticed.

    • 2Sophie Paterson August 6th, 2017

      An interesting point. There are some interesting articles which explore these issues (and the impact of the hardware used to browse, too) on the Low Tech Magazine website, in particular http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/can-the-internet-run-on-renewable-energy.html and http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html.

    • 3Dave Darby August 6th, 2017

      I was going to add a paragraph about data, but I realised that that would increase the cost of opening the page, so I didn’t. Seriously though, you’re absolutely right – especially as computers were supposed to make paper virtually obsolete, which would have balanced things out a bit – but they’ve done no such thing. But the only reason that we omit any aspect of human life is that there are, unfortunately, zillions of other things that humans do that are damaging to nature, and there’s only so much time. We’ll get there though (interesting articles, Sophie).

    Leave a comment

    We welcome questions.

    There’s a crash coming – a slap from Mother Nature. This isn’t pessimistic; it’s realistic.

    The human impact on nature and on each other is accelerating and needs systemic change to reverse.

    We’re not advocating poverty, or a hair-shirt existence. We advocate changes that will mean better lives for almost everyone.

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