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The One-Minute Activist

Creating sustainable change

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The One-Minute Activist

Bringing about sustainable change in our lives doesn't require specialized knowledge. Lead by example and reduce your own personal carbon footprint.

Most of us look after our own health and seek eco-friendly lifestyles. Sometimes, however, the actions we take individually seem insignificant against the challenges we face collectively to ensure a healthy planet. We would all like to do more, but it is not always clear how.

Bringing about sustainable change in our neighbourhoods, communities, and workplaces doesn’t require specialized knowledge or much of our free time. We can all be successful and effective “one-minute activists.”

Action breeds more action

More and more, people are adopting the basics required to reduce their environmental footprint—by choosing more sustainable products and by reusing, recycling, and composting. Is it enough? How can more be done?

If you have ever felt that your effort doesn’t matter, remind yourself that living within the means of a single planet is the goal and that each action you take individually contributes toward achieving that goal.

A decision to buy an eco-certified product, for example, rewards a sustainable company. Positive action breeds more positive action.

Change is needed
Two planets would be needed by the mid-2030s, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2008, if business as usual is maintained. Most people in developed countries use more resources than the planet can sustain.

Going beyond your own footprint

Fortunately, it’s increasingly easy for people to take action that will have an impact beyond their personal footprint. Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com, notes: “Individuals can have an enormous amount of influence. They can obviously reduce their own impacts, and with only a little bit of extra thought and ingenuity, they can bring about much wider change also.”

Use the following ideas as a guide to expand your positive influence on the environmental issues that you find important, because these are the ones on which you will be convincing and effective.

Find the right entry points
If your neighbourhood coffee shop gives paper cups to clients who are staying to drink their coffee, it probably makes no sense to nag the baristas: many are just doing what they having been asked to do. It is also impractical—and possibly dangerous—for you to try to change behaviour at the level of each and every consumer.

Instead, ask the manager or owner to consider a policy of offering customers reusable

Our wasteful ways
114.5 million kg of paper cup waste—the equivalent of 22,900 elephants—is dumped into landfills each year.

porcelain mugs rather than the throwaway paper cups. They may well listen. They may also put up a sign to encourage people to ask for reusable cups.

Speak their language
Once you have found the entry point for an issue that matters to you (the coffee shop, for example), think about why others may wish to take action.

The environment may not be their biggest priority, but they may care about saving money, responding to customers, or creating a positive image. If so, make this case, and create win-wins. The coffee shop owner may appreciate saving money on cups and plastic waste.

Just ask
Many workplaces still use bleached, nonrecycled paper for their photocopier and printing needs—a wasteful and environmentally damaging practice given the harsh chemicals used in its production.

If this sounds like your office, just ask your procurement manager to consider sourcing recycled or postconsumer paper. Often, in the stroke of a pen, they can change the paper consumption patterns of many people, spend the same or less money, and look enlightened to boot.

Your workplace may already have green procurement. If so, make your “asks” somewhere else: if your local store carries something that is overpackaged, ask the manager for alternatives.

Sharing helps
40 percent of members of Zipcar, a car-sharing club, ultimately decide against owning a car. They also drive up to 50 percent less than they would otherwise.

Learn from others
Don’t let a lack of expertise stop you. There is plenty of credible research on the Internet:

  • Treehugger.com has advice on greening just about everything (treehugger.com).
  • Environment Canada provides guidance and sometimes advice on where to get funding (ec.gc.ca).
  • The One Planet Living initiative provides tools to help us live within the means of a single planet (oneplanetliving.org).

Use your power
Do you ever organize workshops, meetings, or parties? If so, use your influence:

  • Minimize paper use.
  • Encourage public transit use.
  • Ask caterers to use reusable plates and cups.
  • Don’t give out plastic tote bags.

Think of other areas in your life where you have power. There are many places where you have a say and can make a difference.

Always give feedback
Donella Meadows, professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, argues: “Quick, tight feedback promotes not only learning but responsibility.” Whenever you fill out a survey, provide feedback on environmental issues that can be improved. If your city, university, or neighbourhood store is doing something good—or bad—for the environment, give them feedback.

Recycling matters
55 percent of water is saved by producing recycled paper as compared to paper from virgin pulp. Recycled paper also takes 60 to 70 percent less energy to produce than virgin paper.

Spread the word
When you do something useful for the environment, share your ideas with people. If it is at work, put the news on the company website. Have you greened an event? Get the MC to mention it. Team up with like-minded people to multiply results.

There is opportunity beyond reducing our own footprint where each of us can make an impact. It lies in our workplace, neighbourhoods, apartment buildings, and communities. Options are endless.

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