Some actionable ways to do your bit
Before last year, I struggled with coming to terms with the fact that my behaviour towards our planet, my health and those around me were less than ideal. Before, I genuinely didn’t care about how much plastic and other stuff I was using and throwing away. I didn’t care about the impact of my diet nor about fostering positive communities around me. Believe it or not, all those things have a common link — an attitude towards a sustainable future.
For me, my mindset began to shift when I first watched the BBC TV series ‘Blue Planet 2’. In particular, watching the behind-the-scenes, seeing the shocking environmental footage, all of the human-made waste that was polluting our oceans. I felt guilty. It was heartbreaking to see the habitats that had filled me with such fascination as a child turn into great garbage patches or even worse, ocean dead-zones.
I know it can be tempting to fall into this thought trap — I did for a fair while:
“The world is just so huge, and there are so many people trashing it, how can one person make any difference?”
But I saw the same argument being used by people who were showing signs of some hard-core cognitive dissonance on the flip-side.
“It’s just one straw (or plastic bottle, or meat-heavy meal or flight etc.) how’s that going to make a difference?”
This collective attitude has contributed to the crises we see today. So yes, individuals can make a difference, and it’s our job to form a new cooperative approach that thinks differently about the role we each play in the bigger picture.
So the question then becomes “what can I do to live more sustainably?”
I’ll admit, I’m no environmental scientist, my education is in marketing (people treat it as a dirty word, but it has incredible potential for helping). However, I have researched the subject as well as taken these steps myself to check out the level of effort required and self-experiment with what is genuinely manageable at an individual level.
I’ll start with what I feel is the most natural step to take, then move into the ones that require a bit more effort:
Use your democratic vote
Really. If you want to see a change in the world around you, you need to exercise your democratic right and vote for it so that the institutions can hear your voice. Pay attention to what your current preferred politician votes for and against in your government. That way, you can see where their real interests are, not just what they tell us during campaign seasons. If their votes don’t align with your values, look for those who do. This point is applicable across the political spectrum since sustainability affects everyone. The environment is becoming a front and center issue that politicians can no longer ignore. So at least here, you should give your vote to the party who you believe has the best methods of making and achieving sustainability targets.
Similarly, vote with your wallet
Voting with your money is in the middle of the effort list because you’re spending money anyway. In this case, a lot of the time it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out if a company you’re buying a product or service from is ethical or sustainable, or if they’re making an effort to curb their carbon footprint at all.
This point is more of a call towards returning to shopping local and supporting small businesses because it’s challenging for a multinational company to be sustainable in reality. That way, not only do you support your local economy, providing livelihoods and fostering community engagement, but you also help towards a more sustainable future. For example, do you need to buy a packaged lunch on your way to the office? Or could you make your lunch? Do you really need that thing from Amazon or could you perhaps find something similar down your local area, better yet, borrow one from a neighbor?
If you can level-up your effort in this area, take a look into the supply chain of the places you spend your money, are their supplies air-freighted? Do they come wrapped in ridiculous amounts of plastic? Or do they consider the environmental impact of their supply chain at all? If not, find somewhere that does, a quick Google search can do that for you.
I have found that a straightforward way of being more sustainably focused on my spending is to buy things second-hand or reusables if they are needed. That goes for clothes, containers, furniture, and gifts, etc. I have also adopted a ‘minimalist’ approach to spending, which focuses on quality, long-lasting products. When I do buy new, I take the time to consider whether or not the purchase will add value to my life instead of just becoming something I need to store away.
Be mindful of your eating habits.
Changing people’s diets seems to be the most controversial step to take towards sustainability efforts. That’s despite the crazy amount of scientific research that says change isn’t just optional anymore; it’s a requirement. The critical point here is adopting changes that are sustainable in terms of “what changes can I make that I can stick to that contribute to a positive difference.”
One of the most meaningful changes an individual can make is to reduce their meat and dairy consumption (1, 2, 3). I removed all animal products from my diet entirely, because I can. I wrote about my experience of going Vegan in another article if you want to know more about that specifically.
Taking away animal products from everyone’s diet doesn’t appeal to the masses for various reasons. This step is asking to be mindful and commit to a reduction of meat and dairy — which is a practical solution that everyone can get behind.
It can be done in stages by say, having Meatless Mondays or something similarly catchy, then moving to reduce animal-based meals across the week. If you want a more direct action to start with, scientists recommend to cut red meat to an absolute minimum since it is the least efficient, then going from there.
Just add veggie variety to your diets, folks. The alternatives are getting better and cheaper thanks to this movement towards plant-based foods, so there’s not much excuse for not making this change. Though if you can level up this point, adopt seasonal whole-foods in place of processed alternatives, your body and the planet will thank you.
So those are three of the most meaningful steps you can personally take towards building a sustainable future. I realize that this is a profoundly complex issue; there wouldn’t be a global debate about it otherwise. Beyond that, there are a whole host of other things that we need to do to provide a better way of living for future generations. My aim here was to offer the first few steps we can all take and some practical actions towards that meaningful change.
If you only take one thing away from this, let it be this:
Be the change you want to see.