It’s Earth Day and, if you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of the worrying state of our planet. Recent studies have shown only 3% of the world’s ecosystems are undamaged. Furthermore, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now 50% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, according to data from the UK Met Office and the US Scripps Institution for Oceanography.
But as individuals we don’t need to feel powerless. There are several small steps each of us can take to help protect the environment, the climate and our welfare. Below are five potential ways to do your bit – no matter how small – to help reduce your impact on climate change and environmental damage.
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Know your own carbon footprint
Sometimes we know when we’ve bought something that’s bad for the planet. You may well have read, for example, about the ills of “fast fashion”. Purchasing a new gas-guzzling diesel-powered car is obviously not a green move.
Other times, however, it’s difficult to gauge how our everyday purchases are impacting the climate. What’s the environmental cost of a new piece or furniture? Or a train ticket?
Increasingly, consumers are being offered ways of monitoring this. Mastercard, for example, recently partnered with Swedish start-up Doconomy on a “carbon calculator”. It’s hoped the technology can be integrated into banking apps, allowing users to track the emissions generated by their purchases. Climate-related information – such as how many trees would need to be planted to offset a spending spree – will also be made available.
Additionally, less-technical solutions are being developed. Unilever, for example, announced last year it would put “carbon labels” on some 70,000 products to give customers transparency on the emissions used to manufacture and transport goods.
Set yourself a challenge
Let’s not pretend that sorting the recycling is fun. A few companies, however, are turning to “gamification” to encourage sustainable behaviour. Supermarket chain Lidl, for example, has installed reverse-vending machines at some locations, offering customers the chance to earn store credit by turning in recyclable materials – which in turn are used to manufacture drinks containers.
Setting your own recycling goals – and devising appropriate rewards if you meet them – could be a good way to incentivise reducing waste from day-to-day activities. Those willing to jump in at the deep-end could embrace the zero-waste movement, proponents of which have managed to reduce the amount of waste they generate to such an extent that a year’s worth can fit in a jam jar.
Seek out a sustainable menu item
Countless column inches have been written about how our diets – particularly in the West – are at odds with a sustainable future. Studies have shown, for example, that livestock accounts for 14.5% of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions.
Giving up meat and dairy completely may seem like an extreme option for some people, but even if you don’t plan on going full veggie or vegan there’s nothing to stop you exploring a growing number of meat-free alternatives appearing on menus.
Innovators have turned to ingredients such as algae and seaweed to create alternate products. Even fast-food giants are adding these items to their menus. “Meatless meat” has typically come at a higher cost than beef, chicken and pork, but its price is coming down, so why not let curiosity get the better of you next time you have a chance to try some?
Sustainable menu options don’t just feature in the entrée section. With pub gardens opening post-lockdown, why not seek out drinks created with the climate in mind? BrewDog, for example, recently introduced a lager produced from bread that would otherwise go to waste. The brewing process is also reportedly powered by renewable energy and uses one-third less water than traditional beers.
Buy for the long term
In 2019, it was estimated that over 40 million discarded electronic devices sit in UK homes. The same year, a report backed by the World Economic Forum estimated the world produces enough “e-waste” annually to build 125,000 jumbo jets. That’s a lot of old iPhones.
Electronic devices are manufactured using vital minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper. Mining these comes with a high environmental footprint and, at times, also involves the exploitation of workers needed to extract them. Many of the technologies needed for a low-carbon world – wind turbines or electric car batteries, for example – rely on these same materials.
Against this backdrop, it’s a shame so many devices containing these metals sit idly in homes. Rather than opting for a new device, consider whether your old one could still do its job if it got a little spruce up. A number of countries are introducing “right to repair” legislation, directing manufacturers to ensure parts are in stock to repair older goods in a bid to extend the life of appliances.
If you do need a new device (and, honestly, we all do sometimes) seek out a way in which your old one can be recycled so the vital elements inside can be retained and given a second life. Just make sure you take appropriate steps to protect your data before handing over your old phone. Alternatively, seek out one of an emerging number of “ethical” smart devices that make use of second-life elements and transparent supply chains.
Sustainability is a vast and complex topic. There’s a huge amount of information that even the most savvy and responsible consumer may not be aware of.
It’s also difficult to keep up with. Every week sees more studies, more editorials and more podcasts dedicated to the subject. Just engaging with a few of these, however, could help identify more ways in which you can make a difference through your personal actions. Signing up for educational apps around sustainability can also help raise your knowledge.