Can small habit changes make a difference to the environment?

Can small habit changes make a difference to the environment?

If you are like me, you probably wonder ‘can I really make a difference though my actions to make help the environment?’. And ‘How can one person possibly make a difference, when faced with the huge environmental impact of big corporates like the fossil fuel companies?’.

Do individual actions really make a difference?

Since I’ve started talking more about trying to live a more eco friendly lifestyle, I tend to get three main reactions:

  1. “Good on you – tell me more, and let me tell you about my ideas too”,
  2. “Wow, you are really passionate about this” (and I suspect they are thinking “you are a bit of a crazy hippie”),
  3. What is the point of you doing all these small things and making sacrifices in your lifestyle, because it won’t make a difference overall?”.

The first two reactions are welcome and fun, even if people think I’m a hippie. It’s still supportive, and they are usually keen to talk about these ideas.

The third reaction – you can’t make a difference

The third reaction is common. I’ve had this reaction from a range of people of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and other factors.

They tend to say something like: ‘what is the point of trying, as big business are the biggest polluters? Until they stop what they are doing, what’s the point in people taking individual action’.

People might also say, you are not perfect, what about the things you and your family do such as:

  • drive a petrol car
  • eat meat and drink milk
  • fly overseas
  • create building waste when you renovated your house

Can I make a difference on my own?

I might not be able to stop everything that I think is polluting the world. On my own, I can’t stop companies producing bottled water, or stop deforestation, or stop oil companies selling petrol, but…

I am not doing this on my own.

There are so many people who feel the same way I do about living in a more environmentally friendly way. Lots of people, doing small things, can add up to making a difference.

I’m in a few ‘zero waste’ online groups, some of them with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide. All these people are doing small things everyday to reduce waste, and reduce their impact on the environment.

Small acts quote - millions of people can make a difference
Photo credit: Kevin Russ

There are also many people don’t label themselves ‘zero waste’ people. But they are still doing amazing things for the world. People who:

  • grow some of their own fruit and veges,
  • walk or cycle sometimes instead of always taking the car,
  • take part in tree planting events,
  • business owners who make products and packaging in more environmentally friendly ways,
  • carefully recycle (I know recycling isn’t the first answer to the problem of waste, but it can help reduce waste to landfill, and recover useful resources for reuse).

All these actions have an impact, and are making a difference. Even if people don’t align themselves to a ‘movement’, this is just what they do in their normal lives.

These actions can inspire other people to do similar things too. When people see an idea they like and that works for them, they can give it a try too.

This seems particularly important for actions that can save you money and time, as many people feel that they are short on both.

What is the alternative?

It is disheartening when people say ‘we are stuck in a capitalist society, that values profit over the environment, and there isn’t much you can do about it’. It feels like we have no choices to do things differently.

However, if we all took that approach, then nothing would ever change in our societies. Many accepted ideas have changed over time, through the action of regular people like me and you.

In the past, people smoked in homes and offices (even on airplanes), petrol and paint had lead in them, and CFCs were used in refrigerators and air conditioning units. As more information and scientific research showed that these things were not great for people or planet, changes were made (eventually). It took some fighting, but things did change.

I believe that attitudes to our current environmental problems, such as excessive waste and pollution, are changing. The actions of groups and individuals can make a difference.

Margaret Mead quote that citizens can make a difference
Quote by Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist

What is the alternative for people like me who feel like we need to change? I can’t carry on doing the things I was doing, knowing that I am causing more problems for the earth.

I’m not perfect. We do have a petrol car (however we have also bought an Electric Vehicle which we use as much as possible). We do create waste when we buy unnecessary or short lived things sometimes. As a family, I know we still contribute to environmental problems.

But, I can’t accept that the problem is too big, or that it is not my problem to fix. I will do the things I can do, and encourage and support others to take action too. The alternative is to resign myself to a ruined world, without attempting to contribute to the solutions.

Maybe I’m idealist and out of touch with the reality for many people. I might be kidding myself that I can make a difference. But I have to try, and I encourage and support you to try too.

Resources for actions you can take today

There are some basic habit changes you can make to start to make a difference to the amount of waste you create:

One of the things you can do to overcome the feeling that you are not making a difference as an individual, is to sign up to actions through groups like 1 Million Women or Greenpeace

The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment has a list of actions you can take on climate change that are practical for people to do in their everyday life.

Do you think we can make a difference with small actions?

Love to hear your comments about things you do to live a more waste free life.

6 thoughts on “Can small habit changes make a difference to the environment?”

    • I feel that I want the system to change, but in the meantime, I can make changes in my life that will give small results. The alternative, of not doing anything, just doesn’t feel right to me.

  • People sometimes forget that companies create excess packaging because consumers are still buying them. If enough people refuse to buy these wasteful products then businesses have less incentive to produce them.

    There is power in numbers and each dollar is a vote.

    • This is a great post! And actually a good reminder to see that we have managed to change things before, I remember when you could still smoke in restaurants! I’m doing my best each day, currently trying to make everyone stop using plastic straws around me!

      • I know what you mean about smoking Hanna – that used to be a socially acceptable thing, but now that we have the truth about what smoking does to people, it is no longer so acceptable. I remember people used to smoke in offices, on planes, it was so different to what it is like now (at least in some countries, I guess).

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