Welcome to 2019!
It’s the start of the new year. A concept we created with the construct of time and a place where you can have official fresh beginnings (we say you can have them the rest of the year too!).
Here’s our list of the top 19 actions you can personally take this year to help the environment (and thereby the world at large). These have been created with all the challenges we’re currently faced with, what’s most effective in combating certain problems and the scientific data and suggestions by other experts.
1. As Michael Pollan says, eat food, not too much, mostly plants
One of the biggest positive impacts you can have on the world right now is to drastically reduce your meat and dairy consumption. Agriculture contributes enormously to climate change, is a primary cause of deforestation and your meat is likely to come from cruelty and factory farming. If you need to start slow, start with meatless mondays and hold regularly vegetarian meals with your friends and family. You do not need to be 100% vegan, 100% of the time. Focus on asking, how can I make this meal vegetarian/vegan? Is it possible for this meal to be better aligned with my values and health? It works for other dietary things too!
Fact: We currently slaughter 70 – 120 billion land animals per year for food. That’s more than the entirety of deaths in any war in the world, ever, in one year. That is of course, completely unsustainable.
Listen: The Green Pill on the Ezra Klein podcast.
Read: It Could Be the Age of the Chicken, Geologically on the New York Times.
2. Reduce your plastic usage
Swap out your daily plastics for better eco-alternatives. Do the little things that cumulatively make a big difference. We’re facing an age where future generations may just find the remnants of billions of tons of plastic.
Fact: In America about 500 million straws per day are used. 1 million plastic bags per minute are used. Across the world 22 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown out each year. And every piece of plastic that has ever been created (unless incinerated) still exists.
Hint: We’re about to release a whole range of hemp and recycled linens to help with this. Be part of our giveaway when we launch in a few weeks!
3. Give away your money well
If you can donate a portion of your money each year to good causes, here’s my suggestion. Gift 70% of the funds to one of the most impactful, effective organizations in the world following the principles of effective altruism. You can use the Givewell site to pick this. Gift the other 30% to a cause or passion you are either really, really passionate about (i.e. it has impacted your life personally and you feel strongly about it) or that is a local grassroots organization.
Listen: If you’re thinking of even more ways you can make a big impact, and one that’s free, take a listen to this Future Perfect episode (the whole podcast series is excellent too).
4. Schedule in weekly time for good
Actually schedule in to your week, time where you’re dedicated to something outside of yourself and helping the world in the process. Research has proven that one of the reasons we’re getting unhappier in western countries is because we are so individualistic. Overcome that, loneliness and disconnect by doing something like this each week. You also get a break from your daily routines which is always good 🙂
Examples: Volunteer at a rescue centre, provide training of your skills to a local group, teach computer class one evening per week to kids or adults without primary access to technology, work at the soup kitchen, go hang out with seniors on a Saturday (double points if you bring scones I’m sure!) or spend an hour emailing your favorite brands with your environmental concerns (use the template here to do that).
5. Participate in government in a way you haven’t before
Find out who all your local members, senator, legislators and council associates are. Schedule in a weekly time slot for calling them. Press them on issues. At the least your call lets their staff know this is something you’re willing to change your vote on and that’s important. Remember that in democracies they work for us and it needs our constant attention. Attend marches and rallies. Bring your kids along so they see what activism looks like! Campaign for carbon tax and against new coal mines. Carbon taxes are one of the most effective measures when implemented seriously.
Read: This article on what a carbon tax is and why it works.
6. Avoid palm oil
As much as possible where accessible, cut out processed foods; it helps with your health too! It can take a little longer making fresh foods but we recommend batch cooking and freezing plenty so you can throw things together. Salads also work well for a quick chop. As you start to run out of shampoos, conditioners, body washes and makeup products this year, see if you can replace them with something eco friendlier (preferably without plastic too). There are also lots of cheap homemade options and slowly there are more and more plastic free, palm oil free hair products coming on the market too.
Read: This new 15 year fact finding mission on sustainable palm oil. It’s not so sustainable.
7. Avoid mass produced soy products
90-95% of soy is GMO soy, plenty of it stemming from Monsanto and comes with a mass amount of issues. Soy is also extremely heavily produced as feed for agriculture (meat), and soy production is terrible for our environment and a primary cause of deforestation along with palm oil. First up, drastically reduce your meat consumption where possible. Try and find a non-GMO tofu if you can (Japan has a couple of products found in some stores if that’s available to you) and source soy locally if you’re in the US, Brazil or China (where the majority of soy is grown). A lot of vegan substitute products (think fake meat) tend to involve lots of soy. Know that there are also plenty of versions on the market that don’t have soy so look for those!
8. Support conservation on your holidays
On a trip this year see if you can support local conservation centres or dedicate a whole trip around both holidays and education. This could be formally or informally. For example, I have gone to Black Rock Lodge in Belize for many years (for work). It is an eco-lodge in the mountains of Belize and they’ll help you organize lots nature activities. The place is famous for bird watching so you’ll learn a lot, see the toucans come in every morning, can do a tour of all the eco features they’ve implemented, canoe down the river with a fairly friendly crocodile and spot all the iguanas. Africa also has stunning eco lodges with conservation activities. For something more dedicated companies like Wild Mob will take you to islands around the world working with conservationists and seeing the most stunning places on Earth.
When you’re on trips always, always check the animals you’re visiting and seeing and consciously spend your money on local organizations doing amazing work on the ground such as Wildlife Alliance Cambodia. In many, many countries animals are being abused for tourism so do plenty of research into this. Your money can either support positive causes or enable environment and animal trauma.
Tip: Millions of people visit Bali. There is pretty much no good animal conservation work or sanctuaries there; it is all created for mass tourism and it’s awful. One bright spot is the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre. For anything else check out the Bali Animal & Welfare Association first.
9. Replace your wardrobe slowly
As clothes degrade and you no longer want them in your wardrobe consider if they’re still high enough quality to be donated or sold online. Make the next item you buy sustainably sourced that has been ethically made and if you’ve got an overflowing wardrobe remember two things go, for every one in. Sustainable clothing is generally much higher quality and more expensive so I like to save my money and buy the right thing in time. Try to think about the cost per wear of an item too and commit to buying only items you will wear at least 30 to 50 times. Create a small list of reputable brands you have thoroughly checked on environmentalism and ethics and shop with those. As much as you can, buy something that will last you for years & years and can be worn with lots of items in your closet (try a capsule wardrobe). The more you treasure your items, the longer you’ll love them and take care of them.
Action: Your clothes do not need to be all brand new off the shelf. Ebay has a fantastic range of incredible clothes users are selling that you can get much cheaper when near new. ThredUp is also fantastic for this. Your city may also have swap meets for clothing and you can also hold swap parties with your friends (also a good excuse for some bubbles!). There are more and more amazing second hand stores cropping up to.
Attending a big event? Try renting a piece online or borrowing from a friend as these are items you often rarely wear more than once or twice.
Fabric: Hemp is the best.
10. Connect with your neighbors & create a few really strong friendships
Be the person that brings people together! Start dinners in your home where everybody brings a meal. Host refugees and new people to the area. Head to other families for dinner. We are all acting so individualistic and need to reconnect more to our fellow stranger humans and the environment. Also, activism requires support and a good circle of people around you for all those devastating moments or depressing news (and all the actions are more fun to take together!) … and friends are also great to talk about other things too!
11. Compost & worm farms
Nearly everybody can have a worm farm no matter where or how small you live. We emptied out an old wine barrel we had, added a net screen to the bottom (for the high quality fertilizer liquid the worms create to seep through), added soil and then gently placed in thousands of worms! They save so much organic waste.
Make it easier: Check if your local council has organic food collection. We’re finding outside of Europe that most still don’t so petition them as part of your weekly government involvement! You can also check with your local community to see if they’d be up for creating a neighbourhood compost together. It could be used for the plants around the place or maybe there is even space somewhere for a vegetable and herb garden.
Tip: Our worms don’t get through all the scraps we have in a day (it’s a lot of fresh food!) so we freeze them to help spread it out. They’re happy with that!
12. Cut processed foods
This is a simple one. It helps with health, plastics and palm oil. As much as possible, make your own food, buy locally and in season, and your reduce food waste by freezing your extras, eating it for lunch, making lots of soups & smoothies with left-overs, and preserving your foods with pouches and bags properly so they last longer.
13. Pay for good investigative journalism and environment reporting
Journalists are pretty much the only thing that holds our democracies accountable and they also bring to light many issues we would otherwise have no idea of so find a reputable organization to support if you can. We pay for the New York Times for example and The Guardian, Nature Journal and The Conversation are also well worth supporting. This is one of the least expensive things you can do and it feels good!
14. Cycle, walk and take public transport
As much as you can grab your bike (you can often find bikes to do-up at your local tip/landfill too that just require some love and time), walk or take the buses, trams and trains. The more you can do this, the better your personal footprint on the world.
If you have to drive a car, move away from your fossil-fuelled car in line with EU country plans. For example, the Netherlands is due to switch first in 2025 with France following and Germany by 2040. Step ahead and switch your car over to a smaller, eco-friendlier version next time you’re in the market for a car (second hand is best and much better on your budget too).
15. Grow a vegetable & herb garden
No matter where you live you can at least have a few small pots of herbs. Even the tiniest of apartments and balconies can have this is you have a little amount of decent soil. Try looking into hydroponics or aquaponics too. There are small solutions for around the home these days or if you’ve got a big area or creating a new home you can install a great cabinet to grow your own food easily. Just having plants around will make you and the world feel good too!
16. Buy secondhand
So many amazing items for your home can be found at your local tip/landfill and can be refurbished to create something beautiful. Lots of people also sell their items on online exchanges – particularly when moving interstate or overseas or replacing their own goods with newer models. It’s rare to need to buy the new product when you are practised in searching these places!
Resources: Freecycle (Australia), Gumtree (Australia, UK), Craigslist (USA), Maarktplaats (Netherlands). Also, find your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook where you can easily take items off others in your neighbourhood.
17. Spend very, very consciously and consume less
Every dollar, pound, euro and pesa is a vote. Make it count for something. Do lots of research. Check transparency. Check ethical labor. Use our checklist each time you buy something (choose your most important ones). Know that you need nowhere near as much as you think you do … even if you really like stuff!
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want ―
18. Invest in and support renewables
Do the math on installing solar panels in your home if you have the opportunity to do so and check for local schemes in your area that might help you offset the cost of this. Support action for subsidized schemes as much as possible where you are as there should be plenty of incentives – it’s better for everyone. If you have some spare money, support organizations in developing communities and countries that help to install solar panels across homes and small businesses. Also check out new innovations like Power Ledger for Peer-to-Peer (P2P) lending on the solar grid etc.
19. Share your story
Talk to people about it. Share it with kids. Blog about it. Start up an Instagram account to detail it. As much as we can get everyone involved in the environment, and making changes, will create a huge public action group that recognize we live in a world we are a part of, not apart from.
Hint: Come join us on Instagram for a really thoughtful, intelligent community who are sharing their stories too.