Talking about sustainability is tricky — of course every individuals’ actions make a difference, but it’s hard to feel like we have any impact when large and powerful industries create the vast majority of carbon emissions. In 2017, only 100 companies were producing 70% of the world’s carbon emissions. Still, though, our actions and the actions we model for those around us, including our clients, our organization’s members, our students and our children can go a long way. Here are 6 ways to reduce your own carbon footprint and contribute to the movement for sustainability.
1.Drive less, walk more.
Reduce your carbon emissions by walking, biking or even taking public transit instead of driving. As the weather gets nicer, take advantage of the fresh air and get some exercise! Each of these other transportation modes eliminate some or all of the emissions you would create by driving. When you must drive, consider (safely) carpooling or combining different errands into one trip.
2.Reduce your meat consumption.
Being vegan is the “single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact.” I’ve been a vegan for 25 years now. First I cut out all the red meat. Next I eliminated all poultry and fish before going vegan. Having lived and worked in 23 countries I learned that Americans are among the highest in the world in terms of the amount of meat consumed. If you’re wanting to reduce your meat consumption but can’t eliminate it complete, consider only eating meat on weekends, giving up the most carbon-heavy meats (beef), or trying sustainably-farmed fish or seafood instead.
3.Put your money where your mouth is.
The way you spend your money has an impact! This is true whether we’re talking about groceries, furniture, or even stocks or retirement funds. When possible, buy from companies that take action for sustainability, and beware of greenwashing. When considering retirement funds or investments, look for fossil-fuel-free funds or other “impact” investments.
4.Reuse, regift, and upcycle!
These days, buying second hand is gaining popularity. When possible, instead of buying new clothes or other items, reuse what you already have. If you need to buy something, consider whether you could find it at a secondhand shop or on a community-resale platform like Facebook Marketplace or local “Buy Nothing” groups. When we slow down our consumption and move instead to sharing resources and using what we have until we can’t anymore, we help slow the flow of waste that enters the natural world.
5.The whole package
Consider packaging when making purchases. Depending on your budget and needs, consider choosing a brand that uses less packaging, recycled or recyclable packaging materials, or buy in bulk instead of in smaller amounts (less packaging per quantity of whatever you’re buying and fewer trips to the store). Sometimes this might mean choosing a different brand than you’d normally buy or paying a premium. When possible, making these choices can have an impact on the amount of waste you produce.
6.Dispose of disposables
Reusable straws, shopping bags, and coffee cups were all the rage before COVID-19 hit, and research is showing that using them doesn’t actually spread the coronavirus. When your local stores and coffee shops allow it, bring your reusable mugs and straws and bags and save yourself from plastic or paper waste. Pro-tip: keep clean ones in your car so you don’t forget! Look for reusable alternatives to the things you throw away most often: silverware and plates, q-tips, makeup remover wipes, paper towels, plastic wrap and plastic bags, all have reusable alternatives!
Climate change, natural disasters, and habitat destruction affect everyone around the world, and everyone should take a look at their own lives and practices to see how they can lower their carbon footprint. However, these issues disproportionately affect poor communities, communities of color, and communities in the Global South. Working towards sustainability is more than just a good thing to do for all humanity — at its best, it demonstrates particular attention to already-marginalized communities and contributes to the work of justice.
Organizations and individuals focused on sustainability must also be focused on issues of racism and poverty, and vice versa. Some of the ideas listed above depend on having the disposable income to be able to make these choices — and of course, people who don’t have the means should not be shamed or called out for not being able to make them. When we all do what we can with what we have, with a focus on reducing consumption and sharing with our communities, we will be on our way to a greener world.