In many ways the pandemic has forced changes to our lives that have inadvertently helped the environment; air travel halted, visits to malls on-hold and the evaluation of how and where we source our food have all compounded to positively impact the climate.
Although putting a complete brake on climate change requires global emissions to get to zero, we did see what was possible through global changes to consumer behaviour; a sharp 7% decline in global greenhouse gas emissions year on year 2019 to 2020. This was the largest decline on record, however, researchers expect emissions to return to near-normal this year and there’s concern as to how we can turn this ad-hoc decline into something more sustainable.
As we’ve witnessed, when enough of us take individual actions to address our impact on the planet, real change can happen. So what changes can we adopt long-term to help our planet and future generations?
1. Eat and shop local
Some of us witnessed food shortages for the first time in our lifetimes, unable to get items we take for granted such as flour, butter and eggs. This led us to reassess our reliance on large, grocery chains, many of whom didn’t seem able to organize their supply-chains sufficiently to allay customer fears.
Sourcing seasonal local produce from farms and markets and shopping local stores for clothing rather than using the e-commerce giants are some easy ways we can ensure we get what we need without contributing to more trucks on the road just for the convenience of next-day shipping.
2. Eating less meat reduces planet heat
In an effort to boost our immune-systems, some of us would have used lockdown time to look at our diets and take steps to become healthier. This might have meant replacing at least some of the meat in our diet with healthier alternatives such as beans and legumes.
The impact of just one meat-free day each week can’t be underestimated. One plant-based manufacturer that just opened a cutting-edge facility in Calgary suggests that one less meat-based meal each week could result in an 8% reduction in emissions. This is something that surely most could commit to on a weekly basis.
3. Avoid non-recyclable and single-use plastic
If anything, our garbage situation probably worsened through the crisis as health and safety concerns took center stage. We reverted to a disposable mentality and now it’s not just plastic building up in our oceans, we’ve added masks and PPE to the list and single-use grocery bags which were all but extinct have resurfaced.
Going forward, we can be conscious about what we consume and choose not to buy that coffee that comes in a non-recyclable cup or children’s toys that are more packaging that play. Buying loose products from the store has many benefits, not just for the environment, but for our health too.
4. Composting food waste
Redirecting food waste out of garbage into compost has far too many benefits to mention but put simply, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions (less waste to landfill) and enhances food systems. Intensive farming and landfills result in pollution to soil, air and water and reversing this trend means better food quality, cleaner water and less land erosion through better ground water absorption.
As consumers, taking up composting can help us to reduce our waste and helps farmers to increase yields more profitably, ultimately reducing the cost of the food we buy in store.
Whilst there’s already talk of ‘revenge travel’ once vaccines take effect and the world of travel opens up to us again, that doesn’t do anything to help the dire global warming outlook. Perhaps as we’ve all managed to slow down and take enjoyment from the simpler things in life during the pandemic, some of this mindset might carry over into our vacation plans and we will hopefully consider vacationing more simply in the country we call home.
6. Collective consumption
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. That changed somewhat due to the pandemic with consumers not able to consume at the same rate and manufacturers seem to be on board with addressing sustainability as public interest sways from quantity to quality.
The ‘throwaway’ culture isn’t limited to fashion; owning less, re-using more and using more things as a collective means we don’t have to produce as much. There’s an entire sub-economy devoted to the sharing of items now. Swapping or buying second-hand or used clothes and furniture, upcycling and repurposing are all practical ways in which we can do our bit to reduce consumption.
7. Tackling transportation
The way we view travel needs a new approach; the vehicles we use contribute around 15% of Canada’s emissions but unfortunately cars are still the preferred method of getting around. Whether this is due to convenience, cost or something else, unless our preoccupation with our cars changes, there’s going to be one big hole in climate change policy.
We can all try and reduce our vehicle usage; walking and cycling more in the summer months and considering changing to a hybrid or electric vehicle. A study by National Interest for the UK calculated that the net benefit if everyone were to switch to an electric car, would be a reduction in carbon emissions by 12%. This is after taking into account the increased emissions that occur through the additional power stations required to run these cars, but still the effect is not insignificant.
8. Use energy cleverly
Simple changes around our homes all add up. Investing in energy efficient appliances, updating windows and HVAC systems and ditching the tumble dryer can all help to reduce our energy imprint and reduce bills. There are also various options to save electricity that won’t cost you a cent.
9. Vote With Your Feet
The largest corporations in the world generate the most emissions. The best way for consumers to ignite change is to make conscious decisions not to purchase from them or their subsidiaries. It only takes a little investigation to find out who the culprits are and if there’s really no other option, reach out and tackle them on what they’re doing about it.
10. Make sustainable investments
Quite often we’re making investments with our banks without really understanding where that money is going. If you want to ensure your money is going to fund a sustainable future rather than funding corporations intent on destruction, make sure you ask questions of your financial advisor so that you can make choices that best benefit the environment.
11. Carry on Zooming
We’re all more than adept at holding meetings virtually now and there’s little reason why this can’t continue. The pandemic has shown that virtual training and conferences can be more efficient than attending in person and saving on those car and air miles will make a huge difference to our climate.
12. Reduce your digital footprint
This one is not so obvious but every time we stream something or send an email, we contribute to global warming because it uses electricity, not to mention the electricity being used to manufacture the growing number of gadgets we’re using. There are several ways we can reduce our digital carbon footprint including switching to green suppliers of web hosting and email services, something which reset.org covers in detail.
13. Start conversations
It’s a fact that we trust the opinions of friends and family more than we would strangers on the internet so if you start making some changes in your lifestyle, you’ll likely find there’s a ripple effect with the people around you. You can also make it your business to find out what environmental policies are in place in your locality and spur others to do the same to encourage more substantial changes by local governments.
Working Together for the Greater Good
Although many of us working together can achieve change, we maybe shouldn’t fixate on personal behaviour because even if every individual changed some of their habits, it won’t erase the problem.
Some believe that by letting the conversation around individual responsibility take over, it detracts from global leaders taking bigger, more substantive actions against the corporate polluters that make up the lion’s share of emissions and have done so for at least half a century without repercussion.
If you want to affect real change as an individual, a developer or investor, we’ll coin the well known quote from Mahatma Gandhi - “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”