The zero waste and low impact movements center mainly on individual consumer actions that lead to a more natural lifestyle and a more sustainable future. Although these actions do help the planet, they alone are not enough to stop climate change, clean up our environment, and prevent future destruction.
Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of the top 100 companies are energy companies (coal, fossil fuels, etc.), but this does not mean product companies are not also pumping toxins into our environment.
Pure Earth compiled a list of the 10 Most Polluting Industries. They list product companies at #9, chemical companies at #8, and tanneries (leather processing) at #4. These companies use many toxic and even carcinogenic chemicals during production which can harm workers and poison the surrounding environment due to the company’s irresponsibility with their waste.
As far as litter is concerned, Greenpeace sponsored a worldwide litter audit and called out the top 10 companies whose litter they picked up. Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle are the top 3. Greenpeace also started the #IsThisYours hashtag trend where you post photos of litter and tag the company it belongs to in an effort to hold them accountable for their packaging and material choices.
This post focuses on advocacy and activism which can help address our environmental crisis on a larger scale than individual actions. By advocating for a sustainable future, you can help create major change.
So what can you do?
Spreading the word and promoting change in your town, state, or country is an important first step in advocacy. With the internet and social media, you can reach a huge audience with a few clicks. Social media has evolved into an invaluable tool for dissemination of news and knowledge that can generate change. Share important environmental news articles, promote zero waste events in your area, and connect with organizations and companies (both those who are making steps toward sustainability and those who you’ll have to provide a little push in the right direction).
You can also use social media to create an online group that works to influence change. Share your knowledge with like-minded people from around the globe. Learn how others organized a trash cleanup or zero waste event, or brainstorm new ideas for solving today’s problems. These groups can inspire and motivate yourself and others to become climate action leaders.
Get out from behind the computer screen and volunteer as a climate change, environmental, or social justice advocate. Check out the websites of these organizations to get involved and/or find chapters in your area:
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby
- Marine Conservation Society
- Sierra Club and Sierra Student Coalition
- Tree People
You can also look for local organizations that promote environmentalism, animal rights, social justice, and more. Volunteer at a town litter cleanup or with your Parks and Recreation Department. Search online or your community for opportunities.
Specifically in Massachusetts, here is a quick list of environmental advocacy groups.
- Berkshire Natural Resources Council
- Boston Area Sustainability Group
- Environmental League of Massachusetts
- Mass Power Forward
- Sierra Club – Massachusetts Chapter
Industry and big corporations are the main cause of climate change, deforestation, and pollution. For decades they have tried to push responsibility onto the consumer as if it’s our fault they sell items packaged in unrecyclable trash and contract with factories with unethical labor practices. So what can you do to stop them?
First off, you can boycott the company. Refuse to buy items they sell and let them know what you are doing and why. This can be through social media or writing a letter to the company.
Here’s a sample letter for Snapple’s change to plastic bottles:
I used to love buying Snapple. Raspberry tea was my favorite flavor. I loved that you bottled your drinks in glass, but now that you have switched to plastic, I have decided to no longer purchase them and am encouraging others to join me.
Glass is a reusable material that is infinitely recyclable without a loss in quality. Plastic can only be downcycled once or twice before it must go to landfill. Plastics do not fully break down even after thousands of years. In addition, plastics are made from fossil fuels and their production releases toxins into the environment.
By switching to plastic bottles, you are taking a step back from sustainability during the most crucial years of human history. I am disheartened that your company has chosen convenience over the more sustainable option and the future of our planet.
So I will be switching to your competitor Nantucket Nectars, who still bottle their teas in glass.
Your former customer,
When you go the boycott route, be sure to do some research. Large companies may own a whole list of other brands. Nestle for instance owns many other companies like DiGiorno pizzas, Purina pet foods, and Gerber infant foods.
Contact Companies About Practices
If you don’t want to boycott a company, you can write companies about their practices. For smaller businesses, talk to a manager or owner in person. First, get their attention and let them know you are a frequent customer and enjoy their product or service. Don’t just complain about the problem; offer solutions AND show how those solutions make sense business-wise (i.e. will save money). Inform them about the consequences of their actions like pollution and harming wildlife. You can also explain why environmentalism is important to you and why a sustainable future should be important to them.
Here’s another sample letter for a restaurant using disposable eating ware:
I have been a customer at RESTAURANT for X years now, and I love getting your ITEM ON MENU. It’s so delicious! However, it bothers me that I have to use disposable cutlery and paper plates when I come to eat.
I care a lot about our environment, and disposables are a huge problem. They cannot be recycled, and many times they end up not even making it to landfill. Instead they get littered throughout the environment or make their way out to the ocean. Plastics never fully decompose and pose a huge problem for wildlife because the tiny pieces get mistaken for food.
I suggest you make the switch to reusable plates and cutlery. Although this has a larger upfront cost than disposables, over time there will be a big cost savings. Switching to reusables will also improve customer experience and elevate the first impressions people make of your restaurant.
I urge you to make sustainability an important part of your business model. Climate change affects all of us, and we should all do our part to help prevent it.
Vote With Your Wallet
Voting with your wallet is also a big way you can influence change in a company. Here are some ideas:
- Shop local
- Shop secondhand
- Buy organic
- Avoid palm oil or buy items with certified sustainable palm oil
- Buy items with less packaging
- Support companies with a strong environmental vision
- Support companies who are transparent about their practices
- Donate to non-profit organizations and charities
Next, call and/or write your government officials and let them know environmentalism is important to you. Voice your support or disapproval of current legislation and bills. Your elected officials work for you so it your duty to make your voice heard. It only takes a few minutes of your time. If you’re in the US, find out who represents you and how to contact them using the links on this website.
Voting in all elections, especially local elections, is an important responsibility as a citizen and a great way to influence change. In local elections, voting for activist candidates and for or against certain ballot measures can influence change on a smaller scale. But that change still affects your life and the lives of thousands in your area.
Join a climate strike to show your government you demand climate action now and support a sustainable future for yourself and your children. Paint up a sign and get out there with a group of friends. Our right to assembly is crucial in voicing our disappointment with the ways we are being governed. Actions speak louder than words, and a large crowd speaks louder than individuals.
If you’re feeling ambitious, run for office! There’s no better way to make your voice heard than being the one making decisions.
Lastly you can join or create a zero waste or environmentalist community group in your area. Not only will you get the opportunity to gain and share knowledge and experiences, but you will also become more involved in your community. You can plan and participate in various events and have your message heard by a wider audience than if you were just working alone.
Get some friends and neighbors together or start a local Facebook page. Ask to put up a flyer in your local natural foods store or zero waste shop to advertise. Put together an event to host at your local library or community center to recruit some new members and share your knowledge.
Individual lifestyle changes are important and DO help our planet. Every contribution to a more sustainable future IS worth it. But unless businesses feel pressure from sinking profits, new legislation, and protests, they will not change.
What ways have you gotten involved to raise awareness your community or online? What organizations are you a part of?