Whether this upcoming Earth Day (which is April 22) has inspired you to become more environmentally conscious or whether the imminent threat of global warming has you feeling some type of way, finding easy ways to help the environment is top of mind for many of us. To be fair, the push to “go green” isn’t new; from palm oil to microbeads, you’ve probably heard about all the ways your household goods are hurting the Earth. So, is the solution to stop buying products that aren't sustainable? It’s not necessarily that simple — but if you put in the work, making the right adjustments to your life can make a world of difference.
Even with the best intentions, conscious consumerism is tricky and not without criticism. Like this recent piece from Quartz points out, making individual ethical purchases doesn’t address the larger incentives companies get when they continue producing unsustainably. As Alden Wicker writes, “Choosing fashion made from hemp or grilling the waiter about how your fish was caught is no substitute for systematic change.” On the surface that seems disheartening, but changes at both a systemic and an individual level need to happen in order for any major societal shifts to occur.
Think about it in the context of racism. (Another complex and heavy issue, I know. But bear with me.) Are there larger systems in place that continue to benefit or disenfranchise people based on race? Very much so. But does that negate the importance in recognizing your own, individual racial biases? Does it mean we should stop worrying about saying racial slurs and feel free to judge people on the color of their skin as each of us sees fit? Of course not. When it comes to problems that impact people personally and humankind as a whole (from racism to environmental issues), the solution is always far from simple.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Far from it, in fact. Here are eight ways you can be more eco-friendly on both a small and big scale in honor of Earth Day and, well, the Earth in general.
1Acknowledge The Complexity of The Problem
Understanding the scope of a problem is the first step to helping solve it. Like YouTuber and educator Hank Green says in his video “How to Be Green Without Being a Prick,” individual change is important but it, essentially, only help you. Green references The Breathing Earth, a simulation that shows the carbon dioxide emissions of each country in addition to their death and birth rates. If you want context for climate change, check out that website.
This problem is big, and it is complex. But you know what you can do right now to help solve it? Watch Green’s four-minute video. Spend a few minutes with The Breathing Earth simulation. Simply working to understand the scale of the problem will help you realize why a solution isn’t as simple as just not buying certain products. Furthermore, it’ll empower you to recognize better solutions for smart consumption on both an individual and global scale.
2Donate to Organizations Helping the Environment
It’s no secret that buying “green” is often more expensive than purchasing non-“green” products. In 2017 alone, we’re globally projected to spend about $9.32 billion on “green” cleaning products. Imagine if we substituted or matched that money by finding environmental organizations to donate to.
Setting up monthly donations to places like the Environmental Defense Fund is arguably easier than understanding food labels when shopping for organic produce. Plus, supporting organizations doing work to impact environmentally-conscious policy helps enact change on a greater scale.
3Help Fight Your Local Food Deserts
In addition to reducing your own food waste, you can find ways to help end food deserts in your neighborhood. According to GOOD, food deserts are “areas where at least a third of the population lives more than one mile from the nearest grocery store (10 miles in rural areas).” By combating food deserts, you’re not only encouraging environmentally sustainable food solutions; you’re helping hungry people in your neighborhood eat healthier.
Check out this interactive map from The Food Trust to find out how you can get involved locally.
4Buy Sustainable Cotton and Paper Goods
On an individual level, you can learn how to read labels to make sure you’re buying sustainably. Then, see how you can swap out goods you regularly consume.
For example, next time you need tampons, check out Conscious Period. Not only are their tampons 100 percent organic cotton, Conscious Period is working to make sure everyone has access to period products. Your impact will be two-fold.
5Wear Out Your Clothes
People are tossing out clothes at an alarming rate. Our landfills have over 26 billion pounds of textiles. We’re polluting our oceans with millions of discarded flip flops. While finding places to donate your clothes is always a better alternative than throwing them out, that doesn’t address another key part of the problem: We’re buying a lot of clothes.
If you need an excuse to wear your favorite shoes until they’re riddled with holes, here you go: Conscious clothing consumption entails knowing when you actually need to donate something and when it can be repaired.
This is just one way to travel more mindfully, which we should all aim for. However, shopping online is arguably the easiest way to exercise that. By shopping online, you’re helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions and use less energy than you would were you to shop in person.
7Buy and Eat Less Beef
When it comes to small things with big impact, eating less beef has huge environmental benefits. If everyone were to give up red meat every once in awhile, it would reduce our carbon footprint more than cars. Just one more reason to give Meatless Mondays a try.
8Support Political Candidates Who Support Eco-Friendly Policy
Want to make your vote count for more? Support candidates working towards positive environmental change. See how your reps vote on environmental protection bills. Let your reps know their constituents support environmentally conscious policy by contacting them. Voting is one of the easiest things you can do to help enact change on a bigger scale.