Times are a-changing and people are increasingly aware of the challenges we’re facing as a species. As humans, we’re incredibly lucky to hold the ingenuity to create incredible innovations like the internet and shamwow, but also to solve problems on a scale beyond what often seems in our reach.
In the face of problems like deforestation, widespread air and water pollution, and climate change, now is the time to take action at the individual level to help prompt widespread social change.
The following list of actions is not all-inclusive, nor do I think they’re going to carry us into a sustainable future on their own, but they are clear-cut things you can do right now to begin having a positive impact on the planet.
After all, each of us has to start somewhere.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.“ - Margaret Mead
1. Cut your usage of single-use plastic use
Plastic is a problem. Not so much of a problem that we should abolish it from every aspect of our lives, but enough so that we need to talk about it.
Modern-day plastics have existed for less than one hundred years, but have since transitioned from being seen as a revolutionary substance which pushed humans past the constraints of what nature provides to serving up 8 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean every year.
Part of the issues stem from less-than-optimal waste management infrastructure in different parts of the world, but it’s mostly a concern because the volume of plastic created to package food and drinks is obnoxiously large and there’s no sign of slowing down.
If your bathtub stopped draining and started overflowing with water, would you try and funnel the water elsewhere — or would you just turn off the faucet? — an analogy I hear a lot
Making simple swaps in areas of your home like the kitchen and bathroom are great ways to get started reducing your own single-use plastic use before moving on to more energy- and memory-intensive habits like bringing your own containers to the grocery store or purchase grains in bulk.
Some of my favorite swaps:
- Bamboo toothbrushes
- Homemade cleaning spray
- Safety razors
- Cloth cleaning towels
- Bamboo scrub brushes
- Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs
Want some motivation?
It may be difficult to get used to at first, but I believe in the power of baby steps. Just find what is the easiest for you and it’ll likely cascade into further habit adoption as you realize that some swaps are far easier than you expected.
2. Buy less and shop from ethical brands
The topic of fast fashion has become more mainstream as brands like Forever 21 and H&M, among others, continue to perpetuate a culture of needing the “newest thing now.”
While clothing is just one of many industries that fuel our consumer habits, it’s a great example of how damaging the endless consumption of products can be.
Fast fashion is cheap, trendy clothing created to satisfy our immediate desires for something new. Similar to single-use plastic, it is not designed to last — in terms of both design and quality.
The negative impact is pretty clear: the pressure to consistently design and distribute new products according to consumer demand strips the Earth of valuable resources like water and usable crop land, pollutes ecosystems with dye and other chemicals, and near guarantees the unethical treatment of factory workers who earn ridiculously low wages and work in dangerous environments.
While I hesitate to put the blame on consumers —after all, the foundation of our society does not ensure businesses are held responsible for these negative externalities — I do believe we can start making an impact by buying less altogether and start investing in the sharing economy (libraries, anyone??)
For more on the topic of reducing what you buy to ultimately create less demand for new stuff, there are plenty of ways you jump on the “buy less, buy better” train by adjusting your shopping habits.
3. Eat less meat and dairy
Most people get pretty defensive when they hear me talk about this, but I promise I’m not here to turn you into a vegan. I’m just here to shed light on the seriousness of factory farming as it relates to human health and environmental sustainability.
While we don’t want to admit it, raising animals in the conditions in which we do facilitates the spread diseases, is ridiculously resource intensive, and is not something we can continue to feed our growing populations with for generations into the future. The bottom line is that we cannot continue producing animal products the way we currently are at this growing rate without it threatening our quality of life.
That being said, the most obvious action individuals can take is to reduce their meat and dairy consumption — whether that means incorporating meatless Mondays and adopting a more plant-based diet. While not the healthiest option, I’m also particularly excited about the rise of plant-based meats like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods (their burgers are DELICIOUS).
However, there’s also a lot of evidence that animals raised on farms using regenerative agriculture practices actually help the ecosystems and are better for the environment overall. One example of this in the South Texas region is a place called ROAM Ranch that raises bison, beef, goats, and poultry in a way that’s both sustainable and more ethical than factory farming.
So, if you’re interested and able to support growing industries in that arena, I highly recommend checking out your local, regenerative farming options.
To go deeper down this rabbit hole, I recommend:
- Watching documentaries like Eating Animals, narrated by Natalie Portman, and Forks Over Knives, which is currently on Netflix.
- Checking out YouTubers like Pick Up Limes’ Sadia Badiei and Avant Garde Vegan’s chef Gaz Oakley to be inspired by plant-based recipes other than salad.
4. Get involved in your community
One of the most underrated ways for individuals to make an impact is to get involved in community organizations where they can meet with other people interested in the topic of sustainability. We often forget the power of human connection and what it can mean for solving problems from the grassroots level.
Oftentimes, these organizations will also host educational and entertainment events to help foster a better sense of community.
Here are some organizations and resources that may be available in your local area that you can reach out to and get involved with:
One awesome event I’m personally looking forward to in my neck of the woods is called Elementz Fest, which is run by a couple friends of mine I met through other community events (funny how that works) who want to help make sustainable living and awareness of environmental impact the norm.
And, if there aren’t any active groups or planned events in your area, then start one of your own!
Wrapping Things Up
The bottom line is that, while these actions are great ways to have a positive impact on the planet, we can’t take on everything. It’s just not feasible for one person to try and adopt every new “eco-friendly” habit or activity on this list. Not only is it complex (and, dare I say, *impossible*) to determine which actions are the most impactful, but it’s also not great for our mental health to fixate on it too much.
Ultimately, the goal is to be aware of the challenges we’re facing as a species, talk about it with others, and do what you can in accordance with your own lifestyle and goals.
You’re not going to be able to take on plastic pollution, climate change, or deforestation on your own, but we can’t make positive change happen without you.
Thanks for reading! Leave any comments or questions below ❤