When I talk to friends about their feelings toward environmental issues, the one thing I hear over and over again is they either feel powerless, guilty or apathetic. I rarely talk to someone who feels like their choices are making an impact.
I hear them, and before I started EarthyB, I felt the same. In fact, it's the reason I started the site. It started out as more of an experiment than anything. I thought I'd run out of things to write about after a few posts and move on. But the opposite happened. I ended up with too many things to write.
Conscious Consumers Are Powerful
There's overwhelming evidence to show that consumers and business are a big part of the solution to almost all environmental problems.[note]Sustainable Consumption Institute. "Consumers 'Key Part Of Solution' To Global Warming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 December 2009.[/note] That's also because business and consumers are a huge part of the problem, but dwelling on that won't change anything. Instead, we have to look at what's working.
So if you think you have no power to create a healthy planet, I have some good news for you. You do, and you're probably already a part of the solutions already in effect. You just might not have noticed, because progress happens slowly. Here are a few examples of what's already working.
I'll start with beef. Not because I have a problem with beef, I love a good burger and steak. However, shifting toward a more plant-based diet[note]Drawdown.org[/note] is a top solution to ending climate change. For years I've been leaning into cooking healthier. That means less processed food, more local and seasonal veggies and smaller portions of meat. I'm not the only one. Beef consumption was down 19% from 2005 to 2014 according to the NRDC. [note] NRDC [/note]
People like us are making different choices, and it's creating new business opportunities because the craving for a good burger hasn't changed. Enter the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat. Meatless meat for people like me who like the taste of meat but don't need their burger to come from cows.
Then there are clothes. I don't like shopping, but a new dress is instant happy! But for years, retailers like H&M used materials like viscose and rayon made from ancient and endangered forests. Pressure from organizations like CanopyPlanet.org and shoppers who care have changed that.
"Nine of the world’s top ten rayon-viscose producers have now publicly committed to end all sourcing from ancient and endangered forests – they represent 70% of global production," according to CanopyPlanet. [note]CanopyPlanet[/note] Again, pressure from people like us worked. We didn't stop buying clothes or shopping at H&M. Instead, retailers listened to their customers and manufacturers listened to their clients.
Although electric cars are only about 1% of car sales today, Bloomberg estimates they will be 54% by 2040. Most car companies now have their own line of electric cars, and electric cars could become cheaper than gas cars by 2024.[note]Bloomberg[/note] That's a big change since Tesla released it's Model S in 2012.
"Compared to gasoline-powered vehicles, emissions drop by 50 percent if an EV’s power comes off the conventional grid. If powered by solar energy, carbon dioxide emissions fall by 95 percent," according to Drawdown.org.[note] Drawdown.org [/note]
Which brings me to renewable energy. Again, where we spend our money and who we vote for is making a difference.
In California, solar power makes up almost 18% of the state's electricity, and a law was recently passed requiring new homes to include solar panels. [note]NYTimes.com [/note] In Denmark where the sun doesn't shine nearly as much, 40% of the countries energy comes from wind. [note]Denmark.dk [/note] Hydropower generates 70% of the electricity in Washington State.[note]Climate.nasa.gov[/note]
Nature and National Parks
Then there's how we treat nature.
Although the world’s forests continue to decline, the rate of net forest loss has been cut by over 50% the last 25 years. [note]FAO[/note] That's not perfect, but progress.
Another fun fact. In 1990, 8.21% of the world's total land area was protected. By 2016, 14.38% of was protected.[note]World Bank[/note] That's due to a big increase in the number of national parks and wildlife habitats worldwide. One of these days I hope 50% of the planet's surface will have legal protection, but we need to take it step by step. [note]Sierra Club [/note]
The environmental movement is making progress.
Consumers Have Choices
So what does that have to do with me you might ask? I believe it has a lot to do with you, if you're one of the people who's cut back on beef, bought something from an earth-conscious brand, or spent time at a national park.
The problem for consumers these days, and almost everyone is a consumer now, is not that we don't have enough choices. It's that we have too many. I’m overwhelmed by what to buy every day. There are at least five types of “environmentally friendly” dish soap at my grocery store. I have to use the EWG app to figure out which one to buy, which is ridiculous. There are so many choices!
Choices are a pain in the grocery aisle, but a ton of pressure on businesses who want my money. Companies know I'm fickle and I want stuff that's not only better but also more sustainable. Lot's of other people do too.[note]The Guardian[/note]
We want to know our money isn’t going to companies making a profit on child labor, deforestation, and pollution. Outdoor retailers like Patagonia [note]Patagonia[/note] and REI [note]REI[/note] listen, and both have strong sustainability goals. Fast fashion retailers like H&M are equally ambitious. They’re not perfect, but they're moving toward a more balanced approach to nature and business.
So if you want to be a part of the solution to environmental issues, here’s what you can do:
Use and support public and national parks in the United States and around the world.
Support companies that do better
Find brands that set sustainability goals and then following through with them. There are low-priced retailers like H&M as well as high-end brands like Patagonia. Then there are B Corporations like Athleta. Don’t look for perfection. Look for progress. The progress is what I follow on EarthyB.com.
Find the good
It's hard to feel uplifted when we listen to the daily news cycle. Sometimes it takes a bit of perspective, and that's what I try to offer. We are not doomed to a culture or economy addicted to waste and bent on environmental destruction. If we want sustainability to win it can. But first we have to believe it's possible, and that we have the power to make it happen.