What can one person do?

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01 DEC

We waste a lot. We all know it. We need to do something about it, yet we struggle to create the sense of urgency we need – mainly because ‘climate change’ is slow and not immediately tangible. (Some, shockingly, still deny it even exists). That’s why it’s good to see the WWF trying to illustrate this urgency with their new ad.

I don’t watch much tv. So I counted myself very fortunate to have seen the new WWF advert during a recent (rare) occasion I was watching.

And what an excellent advert it is. I’ve always had a guilty soft spot for good advertising – and even seriously considered a career in it during university.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no soft spot for the adverts that soullessly, bluntly push something you neither want nor need. With a shrill tone and underlying air of desperation. I enjoy the ones that are genuinely amusing, creative or compelling – sometimes for their artistic merits alone. (Yes, they can be works of art).

The WWF one certainly scores well for the ‘compelling’ criteria. It’s refreshing to see a different approach from the standard shock & sympathy tactics of the “please give £XX a month”.

A call to arms

One hopes that, with it’s call to arms rather than call to donate, it’ll have a better chance at galvanising an apathetic population into even the smallest change.

For that is what the message is here. “We can win the biggest battles, in the smallest moments” the narrator says. And it’s true. Too often the excuse made for showing little concern, for refusing to change even one habit, is along the lines of “but what difference does one person make?’

The answer? All the difference in the world.

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Scale

There’s a reason businesses with economies of scale do better than those without. It’s because, small things, when added together, really do make a large impact. Have you ever heard of compounding too? The eighth wonder of the world, according to Einstein. Its essentially based on the notion that small changes (or amounts really), over a long period of time, can add up to something quite significant.

It’s a shame people can’t see this clearer, or they’d likely be far more motivated to make the changes necessary.

But even the most rudimentary, napkin-based impact-calculations show how quickly this adds up. Let’s take an easy example.

The global experiment with an N of 1

You, as 1 person, stop buying drinks from plastic bottles, and instead use cans (you recycle), or glass (you recycle) or refillable containers (you legend!). And lets presume you already buy only one bottled beverage a month anyway. This would therefore save 12 bottles a year from being wasted – a seemingly inconsequential contribution. However, if just 1% of the world’s population did the same, that would save 840m plastic bottles annually. Which is quite a lot.

So you see, the smallest change makes a massive difference on the grand scheme of things. Because, not only is less waste being generated, but the producers will notice the shift in demand and change their production habits too – so over time, the benefits will compound.

The smallest changes are the easiest to make too – requiring very little in the way of sacrifice – if you’re being honest with yourself. So what changes can we make? The advert suggests two areas to start “the food we eat” and “the things we buy”.

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The food we eat

The global environmental damage caused by the food we eat is among the biggest crimes of our time. It’s a surprisingly well-hidden impact, a combination of strong lobbying by producers, advertising (and confusing labelling) by sellers, and wilful ignorance by the population at large. Thanks to the internet, it’s far easier for people to come face to face with the impact of their choices, the next step is education about what to change.

You can pick one or two (or more!) of the easy food changes to make. For instance; don’t buy anything with palm oil in (read the label), buy one item from the ‘reduced’ section (before it gets thrown out), buy only what you will eat (to avoid waste), eat from smaller plates, re-use leftovers, change one item for an organic version (you can afford at least one), have at least one meal a week without meat, buy better quality meat & fish, buy items with less packaging, or that come in recyclable packaging, I could go on.

Not only will many of these save you money, but can help with weight loss too (if you’re in the market for a bit of that!). Also, many of them fall under the next area suggested in the WWF spot ‘the things we buy’.

Purchasing Power

Again, this is also really easy to make small changes that will add up. For instance: just buying less in the first place. Do you really need that new shiny plastic thing? Or has someone hijacked your thinking through marketing & persuasion tactics to create that need? If you waited just one day before buying it, would you still feel the same need? The added benefit of buying less is you’ll have more money to spend on better things, or yourself!

Other things you can choose to do include: buy things in ‘eco’ packaging (and recycle it), use rechargeable batteries, things made from recycled materials, buy second hand items, take it away in a reusable bag, combine multiple deliveries in to one, take the bus to the shops and buy better quality goods from independent producers – including zero waste ones.

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Start somewhere, start yesterday.

Admittedly, many find it hard to do the latter for a number of reasons, including the relative difficulty of finding truly sustainable or zero waste alternatives. And the common perception that buying these kinds of goods means a sacrifice in quality, luxury or durability. We know because we thought the same once. But when we realised there were better options, we wanted to do what could to help make it easier for people to choose them.

We’re starting this with the first Zero Waste Christmas Market in London, where were bringing together the best of London’s Zero-Waste brands, food & drink producers, and speakers for a day of guilt-free festivity. Helping see the high quality alternatives that are out there and just how easy it is to win the biggest battles in the smallest moments.

Because in the end, as they say in the advert, this is a choice.

So choose wisely.

 
Mel Fisher