Sustainability – You CAN make a difference as an individual!

Amelia Hodgson Open University

While government and corporations have a huge role to play in sustainability, we also have a responsibility to take ownership of our own significant impact too. Not only will this have an immediate impact in our own small way, but the message to corporations and government will be crystallised: sustainability is relevant and important. We need to buy less, share more, and redress our values.

Increasing the sharing economy

Cars are parked 95% of the time. Somehow this is a surprising statistic. But how many of your possessions have you actually used today? Or even this week or this month? The sharing economy offers an opportunity to collectively own our belongings, reducing the unnecessary duplication of each person owning one of each thing. This saves us money and resources and can come in many forms. With the example of cars, car clubs, taxis, and ride-sharing apps like Lyft are all ways to minimise unnecessary ownership while still being able to benefit from car use.

Tool libraries are arguably even more sensible, given a) how infrequently we use tools, and b) how expensive they are to buy. Tool libraries may also provide pockets of community and tip-sharing for the project in hand, highlighting the social case as well as the environmental case. By opting out of buying and opting into sharing we can easily reduce consumption and the wasteful ownership of items we barely use.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Can we consume less?

Cars and tools can be seen as essentials. But what about the items we consume that we don’t actually need? 81% of people claim they would consume fewer products to preserve natural resources. But with excessive and disposable consumption such an established part of our lives, how can we make sure this claim is reflected in reality? For starters we can be safe in the knowledge that consuming less won’t make us unhappy. Fewer materialistic values are associated with higher life satisfaction.

But consumer culture intentionally instills insecurity in us by emphasising the importance of external factors like beauty and status. By way of advertising, we are led to consume competitively to keep up.

Sustainable behaviours becoming the norm

Perhaps, combined with education and purposeful design, we can harness the power of the kind of psychology used in advertising for good. We tend to take our cues from those around us and, as the increasing rates of recycling show, sustainable behaviours can change for the better incrementally. One study showed that recycling increased by 25% in communities exposed to advertising that normalised recycling and depicted a non-recycler as being spoken of badly.

In order for us to take individual responsibility and action, we need environmental messages that are personal and fairly immediate. Ideally, we will be able to see non-sustainable behaviours as negative, while understanding that there are specific actions we can take that will have an impact. We need to connect the dots between our day-to-day decisions and their impact on the environment.