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Blog | 22 Apr 2018

Baby steps count, each one of us can make a difference

The world is pushing for big changes in favour of sustainable development, embodied in the likes of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which act as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the plant and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Momentous occasions like the Paris climate change agreement prove that large-scale action and global collaboration is possible. Along with it however has come highs and lows with pivotal moments of solidarity (China and America co-ratifying the Paris agreement), times of absolute lows (America pulling out of the Paris agreement) and surprising shows of sheer determination to keep striving against certain odds (cities, states and companies around America sticking to deep emissions cuts despite President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement).

The science shows large-scale action is needed to turn the tide towards sustainable development. It’s not just climate change - many other environmental and social concerns such as resource scarcity, species extinction, growing levels of inequality and social injustice show how as a species we haven’t yet figured out how to live in harmony with our natural environment and with each other. 

While these towering problems feel too large for any one individual to affect, it is easy to say "yes I care, but what good will my contribution do?" and instead wait for policy and institutional change to create societal shifts. While it is coming, and sometimes in impressive ways, but more often than not in ways entirely insufficient to put us firmly on the track toward sustainable development - on the contrary there hides the greatest power within all of us together to make change and create a better world for ourselves.

We all have a critical role to play - we can all be change makers.

There is a certain amount of derision attached to focusing on individual action as if focusing on that is a distraction from needed policy and institutional changes.  Of course, large-scale change on these levels is absolutely crucial, but it doesn’t happen on its own, it happens when values-driven people fight for it. And if structural change happens without the support of people’s values, then they will resist or revolt against any change. 

There are incredible individuals such as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and the late Ray Anderson, the former CEO of Interface, that have put their industries on their head with sheer conviction, creativity and determination to change the way we do things for the better. While more of these visionary titans are much needed, each one of us also has a superhero strength to create change in our own way and help further the movement through small steps. That motto “small actions lead up to big impact” can feel a bit clichéd, but so much truth lies behind it. Of course, one person acting in a silo will not lead to the transformative change needed in the world. But indeed, we live within societies, families, and friendship groups - within systems where our actions have impacts and are interconnected with others. One passionate family member may inspire a family and then their friends and from there their friendship group, which in turn influences the marketplace which delivers products and services to respond to a growing set of socially and environmentally aware customers, and the domino effect goes on and on.

You don’t need to search hard to find headline articles in mainstream media on the issues we’re facing from mounting plastic waste to poor labor standards as a result of our consumer culture that demands fast food, fast fashion and fast cars. However, the unearthing of the negative side of our materialistic culture is awakening a desire in consumers to expect more from the products and services they buy and the companies that they work for, and as someone working in the corporate sector, companies are sitting up and taking note. When we choose sustainable products, for example through buying organic, or fair trade, we are voting with our dollars and we are signaling to our supermarkets we want more of this. For example, I was surprised that one simple email to management was enough to get communal recycling bins in my apartment block. On a larger scale, another friend told me a story of complaining to a well-known supermarket brand that items due to expire should be put at lower prices at the end of the day to sell off stock rather than throw it away – this was enough to change the approach of this retailer. Using our voices count and it can create change, in big ways and small. 

Often people want to help but they don’t know exactly how. Taking small actions isn’t always clear. There is plenty on the internet, but it can feel like a waterfall of information and sometimes overwhelming. On Earth Day today, how about we as readers decide to take one small step and be proud in knowing we together are making a difference. And over time take on another and another.

To bring some ideas to the table: 

Shop: 

  • Buy organic, local, fair-trade, local or sustainable - there are many eco-labels to choose from
  • Bring reusable shopping bags and cut out disposables wherever possible by replacing with reusable alternatives. 
  • Buy from brands that are trying to do their part to contribute to the society and the environment 
  • Install energy efficient appliances, look for an energy label
  • Be conscious about food waste, only buy what you need (the world throws away on average one-third of the food bought in supermarkets)

Consume with a lighter footprint:

  • Try plant-based one day a week - even one day as a veggie day counts for a lot. To illustrate: if all of Hong Kong went plant-based for one day it would reduce enough CO2 emissions to drive around the world 1780 times, save up to 4,161 acres of land and reduce water usage by 3,650 Olympic swimming pools. See Green Monday’s movement in Hong Kong.
  • Switch off appliances/lights/AC and spend a minute less in the shower. These sound like tiny actions, but if we consistently do it, it adds up!
  • Resell and donate items
  • Recycle and buy products labelled post-consumer which lets companies know that recycling is the way to go!

Educate & communicate

  • The internet is a wealth of information. Spend a little bit of time knowing more about better habits and understanding how we can do our part. Knowledge is power, the more you know the more we can do. 
  • If you’re not happy with something or believe there is something a company/community/city can do - voice your concerns, write an email, share on social media and discuss with your family and friends - people are listening and your voice can create the change. 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”, Ghandi.

About the Author: Written on behalf of Community Business by Rebecca Donnellan, Director of Sustainability at MGM MACAU