Although it can often seem like the actions of an individual or a small group can do little if anything to bring about real positive change for the environment, this is far from the actual truth. Every movement in history started off as just one of many voices clamoring to be heard, but few if any will have as much impact as advancing environmental concerns across the chain of production into the heart of the commercial world.
Currently, it is no secret that big business by and large is contributing on a vast scale to many of the problems that have their origins in environmental degradation. Here’s just a few approaches all ethically minded consumers can adopt to help bring about some form of positive change.
Reduce Your Dependency on Plastics
Plastic has become such an integral part of all our lives, that it seems unthinkable that we should strive to minimize its use. Yet the impact that plastic has on the environment, on wildlife and marine animals especially, is both shocking and heart-breaking. It’s impossible to ignore the devastating images that we routinely see in the media of seabirds and marine mammals, like dolphins and seals, entangled in plastic rubbish, or with their stomachs filled with plastic items. Larger, visible pieces of plastic are hugely concerning, but there is another, perhaps more sinister danger lurking in our oceans, and that is microbeads, which are so small that they can easily pass into the marine food chain, and potentially into the human food chain too.
The current scale of plastic usage is simply not sustainable, and globally, we need to make dramatic changes to the volume of plastic we use and reuse. Bottled water as the most inefficient method of water delivery is one example of the scale of the problem, with consumers in the USA utilizing so much energy bottling and shipping water, that you could power 190,000 homes for a year!
Of course, some plastic use is inevitable. Where we cannot reduce our plastic usage, we should be able to recycle as much of it as possible. Better recycling facilities are needed, along with much-improved education for the public on what plastics can be recycled. The public has a key role to play in plastic recycling and needs to make much more effort to recycle consistently and carefully. The good goal, however, would be for much of the world’s plastic to be biodegradable and to move towards 100% recycling rates.
Use Your Green with Green in Mind
One way that we, as consumers, can make our voices heard on the issue of environmental action is by choosing to spend our money with those companies who are making the biggest efforts to combat climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. It might be naive to expect corporate giants to change their behavior of their own free will, but a little leverage in terms of which companies we choose to buy from could make all the difference. One example that makes for shocking reading is that in the UK for example, only 1 in 400 disposable cups are properly recycled. Pressure from consumers has however led to some chains starting to offer reusable cups, and to improve recycling facilities at their stores. It might be a small step, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
Coming at the issue of environmental responsibility from the opposite angle, certain UK companies have embraced the concept, and built their business on a model of sustainability and environmental concern. Lush, the cosmetics and soaps retailer, is the prime example of this, and the firm has built a solid reputation among consumers, particularly millennials, for environmental responsibility and ethical production. Other companies should look closely at the concerns and aspirations of the millennial generation too, and adapt their environmental approach accordingly. Some firms have already reaped the benefits of having tailored their approach in this way, for example numerous travel firms now offer ‘eco-tourism’ getaways that combine seeing the world with environmental conservation programmes.
Source Food Closer to Home
Whilst many of us want to do more to reduce our own carbon footprint, we don’t often appreciate how buying locally could make a contribution to that goal. Yet, choosing to shop with local, small-scale producers can help in a number of ways.
Firstly, smaller producers are likely to use simpler methods of production, which don’t have high energy requirements and which don’t involve excessive packaging. Also, because the ‘food miles’ between producer and consumer are much lower, there are reductions to be made in transport-related emissions. Even a small drop in the volume of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) traffic on our roads is something to aspire to. We, as consumers, should again strive to influence greater change by spending wisely with local producers.
Supporting local producers goes much further than shopping at the independent stores on the high streets of the UK’s towns and cities. In less developed parts of the world, small-scale producers often struggle to compete against regions that have received international aid. By supporting sustainable small-scale production and business development in the developing world, we can help build a more sustainable future for the entire planet. Check out local farmers markets in the North Florida like those hosted by Dig Local.
The Importance of PR as Leverage
Gentle tactics like choosing to spend money with ethical companies are to be commended, but is there a place for taking tougher action on those companies that don’t face up to their environmental responsibilities, or who are reckless in their approach to pollution and sustainability? High profile campaigns aimed at making the general public aware of a company’s disregard for the environment may be the only recourse, on occasion.
It might seem like a David and Goliath task to take on a corporate giant, to try to persuade them to change their ways, but there are some high-profile success stories to draw encouragement from. Back in 2010, John Lewis was persuaded by a public campaign to change their sourcing of wool, to ensure that they no longer used wool that had been obtained by the unethical and inhumane practice of ‘mulesing’ of lambs. As a result of the campaign, John Lewis’s Australian supplier made a multi-million dollar investment to find an alternative, acceptable method of wool sourcing. All this was achieved through small-scale, grassroots activism.
In conclusion, whilst such a struggle can take time, real and sustainable change can be achieved by people together from all over the world working together. Whilst the odd sacrifice may have to be made and some goods may cost more, we will be repaid many times over if we can reduce the environmental burden on our planet. It may be a lofty goal, but if the will to act is there among the consumer market, then big business will have little choice but to give the people what they want.