The Small Acts that will Create a Sustainable Future

Each of us can (and must) be part of the solution to a more sustainable society.

2020 laid bare the daunting challenges to a more sustainable, just, and equitable future. We suffered through a global pandemic and struggled with the ravages of injustice and lack of socio-economic opportunity.

Now is not the Time for Despair

On top of all that we still are dealing with the consequences of a rapidly changing climate, rising sea levels, wildfires, and a realization it will be more difficult than ever to slow the increase to the Earth’s temperature.

And, on top of all of that, most national governments have shown themselves incapable or unwilling to take the steps needed to address any of these difficulties.

While the natural reaction to all of this is to “check out” or assume the worst, there is hope.
In fact, there is a lot of hope to be found in each of us. As Howard Zinn, an American historian, once said:

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

howard zinn

In other words, the journey to a more sustainable future requires all of us to keep taking those small actions that eventually lead to something transformative. Those actions begin in our hearts and in our minds. They grow in our home and in our neighborhood. And eventually they multiply in our communities and among our networks of friends.

Scaling into Something Transformative – and Sustainable

I recently published a book – Transformative Markets – that looked at how we can accelerate the development of markets for sustainable goods and services.

We must remember that every one of the global markets of sustainable products we see today – electric vehicles, solar and wind power, and responsibly made fashion – started as a small idea and a concept that was nurtured over time.

What We Can Do to Help Grow a Sustainable Future

Some of the most successful and impactful innovations in sustainability came from a series of small actions taken by individuals, households, communities, private firms, and governments.

Eventually all the work comes together and creates something transformative – such as the global markets we see today and those that will emerge tomorrow.

To make the world more sustainable not everyone needs to be a billionaire innovator like Elon Musk or a change maker like Hazel Henderson.

Five things each of us can do to foster a sustainable future

1. Focus on Local Government

We tend to be consumed with the actions of national leaders such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Xi Xingping. But local governments are responsible for land use policies, affordable housing, access to public transportation and health care, and regulations for constructing buildings – all of which directly impact our lives and are critical to living sustainably.

2. Advocate for Good Local Governance

Good governance involves things like transparency, equitable and inclusive policies, allowing people to participate in decision making, and a commitment to the rule of law. If communities fail to maintain effective governance practices, they will not follow through on enacting policies needed to achieve a sustainable future.

3. Think Twice Before Shopping

All of us like to buy new things – clothes, cars, iPhones, and so on. But there is no such thing as a perfectly sustainable product. Everything we buy has a carbon footprint – the materials used in the production, the fuel used to transport it to your front door, or the packaging that ends up in landfills. The most sustainable purchase is the one that is avoided or delayed.

If you do buy something find those products that stand the test of time and bring real value to your life. Just one example: Consider that the water footprint of a single cotton t-shirt is about 700 gallons (2,700 liters). Thus, it is far preferable to buy a high-quality shirt that you will want to wear time and time again instead of buying a cheap shirt that will quickly fall apart.

4. Clean up a Local Park or Green Space

Picking up cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and plastic bags prevents them from seeping even further into delicate ecosystems. Yes, far better solutions are to use less plastic and smoke fewer cigarettes but, in the meantime, picking up trash needs to be done to safeguard the health of our communities. It really does make a difference. And, when other people see you doing it, they will join you.

5. Treat Nature with Compassion

I must admit that I have a hard time accepting that the nature in my back yard gardens is not perfect and, in fact, it is often messy. I am trying my best to not use pesticides or weed killers in the (futile) hope of achieving a beautiful garden. The weeds that I detest, the ants, the spiders, the mosquitos all are integral parts of a healthy ecosystem. The more we try to kill them, the more we hurt nature.

If you can only do one thing… grow and nurture a plant.
Even a single plant in a pot, sitting on a windowsill can be a home for one of Mother Nature’s creatures that will, in turn, benefit an ecosystem much bigger than you.

Most important, the plant will bring you happiness – an essential ingredient to a sustainable future.

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