I wrote about the difference between individual change and system change earlier this year. I wanted to do some introspection to identify what individual actions I am taking in my own life to reduce my environmental footprint. I have grouped these actions into a few different categories below. These lists are not exhaustive, and will change and evolve over time.
I found collecting these lists helpful in looking at my lifestyle from different angles. Considering these different perspectives was perhaps more valuable than the exact items collected under each of the headings. Doing this also raised some interesting debates at home around what is considered reducing your footprint in the first place.
I am sharing these as a conversation starter rather than as a preconceived checklist for anyone else to follow, with the acknowledgement that all of this remains woefully inadequate given the enormity of the challenges we face.
This not intended to be sustainability theatre, virtue signalling, brag list or a shaming tool; many of the items are pretty simple and easy to do, however everyone’s life and capacity for action is different. Perhaps some of these will trigger thoughts or lead to some unexpected actions in your life; if so, please share back!
Please have a read through the lists of actions below first.
Can you see:
- what’s missing from these lists?
- which actions are tokenistic?
- where I could try harder?
- the kinds of actions I’m not engaging in?
- how privileged I am to need to – and to be able to – do some of this?
- how I am a product of my world view?
Obviously, in isolation, none of this is enough.
Even when shared with others, it is not enough.
Even us taking all these actions together would not be enough.
Also, remember that there is a cost to each individual action; an opportunity cost if you will. Each action takes time, care, attention, sacrifice or money – finite resources that could be used on something else instead. This is what Jane Morton meant when she said ‘Don’t wear yourself out doing individual things, when you could use that energy to win a big political battle’. Taking individual action can be a distraction from organising collective action, which has much larger scope and reach.
Individual actions can be a start but for any meaningful scale we need to quickly build beyond them. Choose your actions wisely.
- I buy and eat less meat compared to two years ago
- We avoid takeaway food
- We eat mostly home cooked meals
- We plan and buy groceries weekly and avoid in-between top-ups
- We have been taking the same set of reusable bags to the supermarket for over a decade
- We grow a small edible garden, including lots of fruit trees
Heating and cooling
- I only heat or cool the space I am in
- I respond to minor indoor temperature changes with clothing first, passive air flow second, and mechanical air conditioning third
- Our non-major electricity provider is increasingly sourcing energy from renewable sources and includes full emissions offsets, of which I remain critical
- We do not own a dryer and instead air dry our laundry
- We have a smart meter and I regularly monitor our electricity usage
- We have changed over from gas heating to reverse cycle air conditioning for the main living space in the past year
- We rarely use heating or cooling overnight
Shopping and physical goods
- I avoid scanning through services like eBay and Gumtree because it is always easy to come across something that you want
- I buy fewer material goods and have shifted my consumption towards information, books and experiences over the past two years
- I buy items such as clothes and shoes a couple of times a year, if that, as I can’t stand shopping centres
- I like to minimise the amount of stuff at home; no dustables, no collectables, very few ‘I might need this later’ items besides books
- I maintain a low credit limit on the credit card
- I try to maximise the life span of technology: I still use an iPod Nano for music, 10-year old computer speakers, Nokia 3G as a backup phone, an older flat screen TV, etc.
- I try to repair things before replacing them
- I try to sell things that I no longer need rather than throwing them away
- We regularly borrow things like tools rather than buying our own, and also lend ours to neighbours
- We sometimes create artificial barriers for treats, such as going on a long walk to get ice creams
- We try to avoid small disposable gifts at family functions e.g. Kris Kringle
- We try to minimise buying any plastic items, especially single-use ones
- We compost virtually all of our food waste using in-ground worm farms
- We usually only put a single bin bag in the landfill bin, in a typical week
- We recycle as much as we can
- We take soft plastic back to the supermarket for recycling
- I don’t use Uber for several reasons, and minimise the use of taxis
- I don’t drive to the office
- I have reduced my flying over the past year: no work-related flights, no domestic holiday flights, family visits only
- I try to work from home at least one day a week to reduce travel
- Most of my commuting is by bicycle, followed by public transport
- We aim for five car free days for the week, and often succeed
- We drive a few times each week, primarily for the weekly grocery shop and family trips
- We have good access to public transport and use it regularly
- We go for local leisure walks at least once a week
- We’ve gone from having two cars down to one in the past year
Avoiding manufactured convenience
- I avoid going to convenience stores; if I have to, my planning has failed
- I cut my own hair
- I limit my spending by never borrowing money for consumption
- I do not buy takeaway coffee
- I do not pay interest on everyday purchases
- I do not use any voice assistants in order to reduce digital surveillance
- I do not use automatic face recognition for my personal media; I don’t want invisible AI crawling all over my files
- I do not use cloud services for personal media so that I can better stay across the ‘weight’ of my information habits
- I do not use food delivery services
- I do not use any gig economy services or apps, with the exception of occasional Airbnb stays
- We do our own cleaning
- I do not drive for work
- I do not fly for work in my current role
- I do not travel interstate for work in my current role
- I ride my bicycle to the office as often as I can
- I try to avoid client work where the primary focus is selling more
- I make my own lunch rather than buying it, unless I’m meeting with someone
- I have slightly reduced my participation in the paid economy over the past two years, with a respective reduction in income and consumption potential
- I write and share content on climate and ecological breakdown
- I talk to others about climate and ecological breakdown
- I talk to others about money, needs and wants
- I occasionally give talks about these topics
- I attend events where others share and discuss these topics
The following are not necessarily directly about my environmental footprint but related attempts to reduce and disconnect from the system.
Media intake: unhijacking the mind
- I avoid popular media that includes heavy advertising and product placement
- I don’t use Instagram and avoid similar social media, which is specifically aimed for manufacturing needs
- I don’t keep my smartphone in the room where I sleep
- I have deleted most social media and shopping apps from my smartphone
- I invest a significant amount of time to educate myself about ecological and climate breakdown
- I limit exposure to online advertising using tools such as ad blockers
- I listen to a broad variety of podcasts to learn about the world from different perspectives
- I make time to read physical books
- I organise smartphone apps in a way that reminds me of their downsides
- I prefer reading and listening over watching
- I spend more time on content other than mainstream media
- We don’t subscribe to any paid video streaming services
- We have a TV but the aerial is disconnected. I’d rather not watch at all than pay the high price of force-fed advertising
- We make weekly trips to the library to borrow books and other media
- I try to understand the world and the various systems operating in it
- I try to look at things critically and with a systems view
- I try to think of ways to reduce my dependency of the system
Hero image: Never give up by James Pond.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed versions of this essay.