Small actions by many people accumulate into large action.  Collectively we then influence multi-nationals and governments, and create positive change on a broader level.

Anyone can take these steps, they are just small adjustments to things we already do, and they can actually enhance your lifestyle.

Tip #1: Switch to environmentally and socially responsible products – you’ll reduce pollution, rainforest destruction and exploitation.

The first and easiest thing people can do is switch to environmentally and socially responsible products, and in doing so you’ll reduce pollution, rainforest destruction, and exploitation.  The greater the demand that we create for these products, the more likely it is that companies will switch to producing them, rather than the polluting or destructive alternatives.

Products include:

  • Reusable shopping bags, coffee cups and water bottles – you will reduce a substantial amount of pollution by using these on a regular basis. Some people are anti town water but having worked with them, I can tell you that water treatment professionals are dedicated to providing you with safe, good tasting water.  There’s no need to buy bottled water.
  • Fruit and vegetables – buying locally grown fruit and vegetables reduces food miles and puts money back into the local economy. You can go to local markets, which I really enjoy, or if you are in the supermarket, check the packet. You can usually find the locally grown variety right there on the shelf.
  • Organic produce – there are a number of reasonably priced organic products available, like tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, beans and lentils, tea and coffee, vanilla, and olive and coconut oil. Reach for those.
  • Environmentally friendly cleaning products – our wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to take nitrogen, phosphorous and chemicals out of our sewage. Nitrogen and phosphorous are growth nutrients for plants, and when there is too much discharged into a river, it upsets nature’s balance.  We get algal blooms which starve the water of oxygen and cause the fish to die.  Some chemicals found in cleaning products affect frogs, fish and mussels.  I’m a fastidious cleaner, I’ve been using environmentally friendly cleaning products for 20 years.  They work and they cost the same as other cleaners.
  • Environmentally friendly skincare – there are a number of reputable brands available.
  • 100% recycled, or PEFC and FSC paper and timber products, including printer paper, toilet paper, stationary, napkins and furniture – these certification schemes have been set up so you can identify products which are made from recycled or sustainably sourced timber. Check the packaging for the symbol, and if it doesn’t have it, you are buying a destroyed forest.  The ABC recently reported that Australia is the largest market for Vietnamese manufactured outdoor hardwood furniture illegally logged in Cambodian national parks.
  • Fairtrade, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance tea, coffee, and chocolate – these products are farmed sustainably, the workers are paid a fair wage for harvesting them, AND they taste just as good as the alternative….maybe even better!
  • Hybrid and electric vehicles – electric vehicles are only less polluting when the electricity they use is generated from renewable resources, which is why it is a good idea to invest in….
  • Solar panels – renewable power incentives are available in some areas, so it’s worth checking out.

Tip #2: Shift your investments to ethical companies and funds – recent research shows they have outperformed their counterparts over the last 10 years.

This is a great tip, because you can make money and help the planet at the same time!

A lot of people have money invested, either directly on the stock market or through investment funds, in companies that don’t have great environmental and social practices, or make destructive products like weapons.  Make a conscious choice to only support companies that are doing the right thing by people and the planet.  If you love share trading, then investigating each company’s practices will be fun for you, but for everyone else, it’s probably easier to invest your money through an ethical investment fund who have done all the research for you.  Recent research shows that Australian ethical funds have outperformed their mainstream alternatives over the last ten years.  This really debunks the myth that the only way to make money is by exploiting workers and destroying the environment.

Tip #3: Only buy the food you need, and then eat it – we throw away 30 – 50% of what we buy.

This is another tip that’s good for the environment and good for your hip pocket. Commercial and subsistence farming is responsible for 80% of global deforestation.  30 – 50 % of the food we buy ends up in the bin.  So forest is being cleared for food that we are not actually eating.  Most of our wasted food goes to landfill where it the methane gas it produces contributes to climate change.

Here’s what you can do to address this:

  • Plan your meals, make a list of the ingredients you need, and only buy the things on your list, in the quantities you need to make your meals.
  • Then cook it and eat it. If you’ve cooked more food than you need, freeze it and eat it later rather than leaving it in your fridge and throwing it out.

Tip #4: Only spend your travel dollars in countries that respect human rights – slavery is never ok.

Use your tourism dollars to make a stand against slavery when you travel.  If you are looking for some sun and sand and a unique culture when you get away on holiday, look past Thailand and Cambodia.  The child sex trade remains rampant in both countries, with local authorities doing very little to combat it.  If you think it doesn’t matter or has nothing to do with you, think how you would feel if the child was part of your family.  There are plenty of other beautiful places in the world where you can have the same kind of holiday, without the local serving of child abuse.

All the glitz, glamour and shopping you look forward to when visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comes at a human cost.  Trafficked workers from Indonesia, India, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal work in slave like conditions as domestic workers and to create those buildings.  New changes to the law to protect migrant workers are poorly enforced.With all the money in the UAE from oil and business revenue, you have to wonder why this situation has persisted for so long.  Choose other airlines, as both UAE airlines are state-owned, and discover somewhere new.  You don’t need all those things you were going to buy anyway…..

Tip #5: Buy less stuff – you don’t really need 30 pairs of sneakers (yes, that’s a real example).

This is the third of my tips that’s good for the environment and your bank balance.

When we compare human demand on nature with the earth’s ability to regenerate, we use the resources and services of 1.7 earths.  Obviously we don’t have 1.7 earths, we only have one.  Australia is the third worst offender in the world, the USA is the fifth. If everyone in the world used resources like we did, a year’s worth of resources would be gone by March 12 – 14.

I have a friend, a regular guy on a regular income, who has 30 pairs of sneakers.  That’s one pair for every day of the month, if he chose to rotate them, which he doesn’t because a lot of them are sitting in his cupboard, still in their boxes, unworn.  Does this sound familiar?  We are all guilty of buying things that we don’t use, and that we don’t need.

My partner and I decided we were wasting money on clothes, so we didn’t buy clothes for a year.  The only exception to the rule has been essentials, like socks and jocks, and we’ve only bought them when absolutely necessary.  What can you cut back on?

Tip #6: Replace the time you spent going shopping doing life enhancing, fun things – like picnics, bushwalks, sport and museums.

Shopping is a social activity and a habit for many of us, a way to pass the time with family or friends.  So if we want to reduce our impact on the earth, we need to replace shopping with other fun activities – like going on a picnic, playing sport, getting out in nature, going to museums, or exploring your city on foot.  If you like online shopping in your room alone at night, go watch tv with your family instead. By doing this, you’ll replace things with life enhancing experiences that will fill your heart bank.  Through them you deepen your relationships with others, get fit, broaden your knowledge, find new passions, breathe fresh air and appreciate our beautiful world.

Tip #7: Spend your time and money helping others and the environment – replace the shopping high with a warm and fuzzy glow that lasts.

Some people shop for the high they get when making a purchase.  The thrill of having new things is very real.  But to keep getting the high, we need to keep buying new things, and we’ve established that’s bad for the planet.  To break the shopping habit, we need to replace the high with something else that lasts and is good for the planet.

Giving your time and money to help people in need and the environment creates a warm, fuzzy glow that lasts and lasts.  If you are time poor, you can give money to any of the very worthwhile charities.  Creating peace in the world isn’t just about ending war, it’s also about exploitation and oppression.  I’ve sponsored children both in Australia and overseas.  My contribution helps keep those girls from becoming child brides or being forced into the sex trade because their families are shown how to make a living and the girls are getting an education.  It breaks the cycle of poverty.

If you want to replace your shopping time with something really worthwhile, volunteer with your favourite charity.  I’ve tutored refugee children, and I’ve worked with others to replant forests.  There’s nothing like the satisfaction of helping someone in need, or seeing bare ground become a forest.  What could you do?

Tip #8: If you really need something, buy second hand – save money and the environment.

Some people turn their nose up at second hand goods, but I promise you, there is some really good quality stuff available at a fraction of the retail price.  When we moved, we needed furniture for our home office.  I bought second hand furniture from Gumtree (which is like Craigslist) or from friends.  When people see it, their reaction is, “wow, it’s so beautiful”.  It is the room in the house that I get the most compliments on.  Only two of the paintings are new.  The desks, the chairs, the rug, the bookcases and one of the paintings are all second hand.  You don’t need to have new things all the time.

Tip #9: Recycle everything you can – a little more sorting goes a long way.

Some people think that recycling is a waste of time and they couldn’t be bothered to do it, but it really does have an impact.  Recycling ensures that we reuse materials rather than destroying our earth to get more virgin material.  Each tonne of recycled paper saves 13 trees. Glass can be recycled and reprocessed infinitely. Recycled aluminium, steel and plastic products require less energy to manufacture than virgin products.  8 million tonnes of plastic – the equivalent of the contents of one garbage truck per minute – is dumped into the ocean every year, where it kills seabirds and marine mammals.  Recycling it is a better way to deal with plastic waste.

Depending on how good the recycling scheme is in your local area, it’s possible for an average household to send very little waste to landfill.  To recycle effectively, you can:

  • Put all recyclable material in recycling bins, rather than the general waste bin where it will go to landfill.
  • Compost your food scraps and use them to fertilise your garden.
  • Drop off used batteries, electronic waste and printer cartridges at collection points.

Tip #10: Ask corporations and governments why they aren’t doing more to stop the exploitation of people and the environment – your opinion really does matter.

This is another example where small actions by many individuals accumulate into planet saving action.

I’ve worked within corporations and with politicians, and I promise you, they are sensitive to the needs of their clients and constituents.  Without you, they won’t stay in business or in power, and they are very aware of that.

So if your favourite brand or store doesn’t have a commitment to socially and environmentally responsible practices available on their website or in store, ask them why.  Let them know you love their brand and you really want them to become an ethical retailer so you can continue buying from them in good conscience.  They need to guarantee that the raw materials have been sustainably farmed, the workers at all stages of the supply chain have been paid a fair price, and that they and their suppliers are not polluting the environment.

Similarly, ask your government representative why their policies and laws don’t do enough to protect the environment or people, and let them know how they can be improved.

We have to tell corporations and governments that we expect more from them now. If they don’t know, they are just going to continue down the same destructive path.