This blog is an adaptation of the podcast Uncommon Courage — which is hosted conversations, by author, speaker and The Digital Conversationalist, Andrea T. Edwards. Uncommon Courage features an array of guests each week and focuses on how we can come together to create the future we want for humanity.
For this blog, Andrea was joined by four passionate planet protectors
- Susanna Hasenoehrl, The Sustainability Speaker, who helps corporate leaders identify sustainability risks and realise opportunities to future-proof business amidst imminent ESG-challenges
- Michelle Mouille, founder of Sustainable Maikhao, with a long history of supporting green initiatives on the idyllic island of Phuket
- Tim Wade, motivational and business growth speaker who helps clients lead change, motivate staff, and develop leadership capability
- And our newest voice, the fabulous Joanne Flinn, who works with CEOs to make lasting change through strategic sustainability.
This time, we’ve got 40 tips and ideas for building a better future with a focus on how businesses need to make deep systemic change, as well as how our individual changes create larger change as a collective. So grab a coffee and buckle up!
To keep this short-ish, we’re sticking with just the facts, but there are some really wonderful conversations in the podcast so have a listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever your favourite podcasts are published.
Here are 40 ways to make an impact – big and small
#1. Slice and dice your containers | Michelle
An easy tip everyone can embrace is to cut the top off all our containers—whether it’s the toothpaste or the dishwashing liquid—so we can get to that little bit that’s always left at the bottom. Doing so can give us another two weeks’ worth of use before they hit the bin, saving us money and preventing extra waste. Also worth noting is that if we throw out a container that still has a bit of product in it, it’s less likely to be recycled because it can mess up the machines. Clean everything before putting it in the recycle bin.
#2. Bulk and zero waste shopping | Tim
Google ‘zero waste groceries.’ The result should be a list of companies near you where goods can be purchased in our own containers. The container will be weighed when empty and then again once filled, in order to figure out what to charge. If there’s no zero-waste grocer near you, and affordability isn’t an issue, buying in bulk helps reduce excess packaging.
#3. Increasing affordability of sustainable choices is a must | All
A key factor in moving global sustainability forward is to make green choices more affordable. For instance, transforming ALL supermarkets to zero-waste grocers where our own containers can be used.
On a larger scale, it’s not as expensive as one might think. Boston Consulting Group recently shared data at a conference stating it would only cost 2-4% more to produce consumer durables in a carbon-neutral way. While some companies may baulk at that 2-4%, anyone with a supply chain that feeds into Europe is soon going to face a 4% Carbon Border Adjustment for non-carbon neutral items. The 2-4% is inevitable, so let’s all do the right thing.
#4. Design redundancy has to go | Andrea & Joanne
We are choking on our own trash because we have been buying quantity over quality for years. And the quantity is made of cheap plastic. However, companies are also to blame for deliberately building in design redundancy so that items break and need to be replaced. They have also made things more difficult to repair, often requiring specialized tools that aren’t in the average toolbox. Let’s demand a return to quality, quit the quantity, and end design redundancy.
#5. Forgo plastic in favour of cans | Tim & Susanna
If all plastic bottles were banned in favour of cans (although they aren’t a perfect solution), we could dramatically increase what’s recycled—including the pull-tabs. With China no longer taking the world’s plastic to recycle, it’s ending up in countries where systems aren’t in place for plastic recycling to be done. Cans, however, are made of higher quality materials and are more easily recycled, so the next time we need a quick drink—choose a can or a glass bottle.
#6. Bring back the milkman—return to the returnable bottle | Tim
It was once commonplace in many parts of the world to have the milkman drop milk at the door in the morning and collect yesterday’s washed bottles to be used again. Now that most of us have home delivery for groceries, there’s no reason we can’t use glass milk bottles again, clean them, and leave them out to be collected when the next batch of groceries is delivered. The infrastructure is there, and the pandemic has already made grocery delivery a habit, so let’s bring back the milkman (or woman)!
#7. Yes, you can recycle Tetra Paks! | Michelle
The other drink package that’s becoming more commonplace is the Tetra Pak. While it doesn’t look like a great option due to the many components and the waxy bits, it can be recycled along with cardboard and paper. To add it to paper and cardboard recycling, just cut off the plastic lid and anchor, wash them out, and then flatten them out or cut them open. The plastic can be recycled too.
#8. Avoid mixed material packaging | Suzanna and Joanne
When looking at recyclable packaging, mixed materials are really problematic. Pringles, for example, and other snacks that come in a tube, may be advertised as recyclable but it requires difficult technical capacity to split the paper, plastic, and metal apart. So it’s really not done in practice. Whenever the munchies strike, look for packaging made from a single material.
#9. Darn it all—learn to mend everything | Joanne
Rather than chucking things out when they have a tear or a button falls off, learn how to mend and darn (tutorial here), so we can use our things longer and they stay out of the trash. Win-win.
#10. Co-ops, cool kids, and cleaning rags | Andrea
One of the revolutions we predict is that every shopping mall or community center will have a place where skilled people will form a co-op repair service. This service will enable all of us to extend the lifecycle of our items. (There’s a great business idea in there, so feel free to take it.) What’s more, we can make salvaging our clothes trendy by patching things with cool materials so our kids embrace the idea. Clothes can also be donated to seamstresses who can use them for repairs or make them into something else. When things can’t be mended, let’s avoid tossing them into landfills by cutting them up and using them for cleaning or giving them to a local mechanic, hotel, or animal shelter.
#11. Vinegar is your new best friend | Andrea
Rather than buying chemicals to clean your home, many of which have poisons that are permanently in our environment, use white or apple cider vinegar to clean almost everything, including clothes. To mask the smell, mix in some essential oil, and voila—you have a great, planet-friendly fabric softener. Buy the biggest bottle of vinegar you can and (then refill it) to clear out all those excess plastic bottles. For more tips and tricks on vinegar and laundry, click here.
#12. More lather, less waste | Michelle
Shower sponges (not sea sponges please!) help exfoliate and also make our soap last longer. If we combine extending the life of our body wash with cutting down on soap containers the result is using less soap, causing less water pollution, and creating less packaging waste.
#13. Weigh the pros and cons | All
The shower sponge tip created some robust debate in the podcast about the choices we need to make: do we use a plastic sponge that can’t be recycled but ultimately reduces waste, or use a natural loofa that won’t work as well but isn’t synthetic? With each decision we make, we must weigh the pros and cons and use our best judgment. It’s the reduction of waste that we’re going for.
#14. Reduce water waste wherever you can | All
While waiting for the hot water in the shower to heat up, we lose about five liters of water. If we direct that water into a 20-litre container, we can take it out to the garden and use it for watering plants, filling your mop bucket, or a million other things. Rain barrels in the garden to collect water for re-use are also a great investment.
#15. Own your part, but reject corporate guilt | Susanna & Joanne
There are many companies out there trying to push climate guilt onto consumers while hiding their own activities. The fossil fuel industry, in particular, has known about climate change since the 70s; but for decades they have denied it and spread misinformation. Now their strategy is to make us responsible. In fact, personal carbon footprint calculators were brought to the market by the PR agency of BP. Of course, we still need to be conscious and aware of our footprint. We need to own that data and make changes in our choices; however, in areas where companies are pushing all the culpability to us as consumers while not doing enough themselves—that is guilt that we need to reject and reflect right back.
Read: Big oil coined ‘carbon footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep them on the hook
Read: The creative sector is slowly owning up to its role in the climate crisis
#16. The line in the sand has been drawn— time to look ahead | Andrea
This is the point where we all, individually, need to draw a line in the sand that signifies we understand our climate impact. There can be no more ignorance, the next step is to move forward. Companies must do the same. We all know that if we don’t change now, it’s too late. To force the issue, some countries are insisting that the company director has civil and criminal liability for greenwashing. Finally, we’re seeing some accountability.
#17. Demand industry reduces tech waste | Andrea
The EU, as a united effort, believes they are on track for 3.2 degrees global warming. One way to turn this around is through introducing new laws, like the EU proposed standardization of mobile phone chargers to reduce tech waste, or when hardware providers stop including ALL country-specific electrical plugs with every product sold – regardless of country. Do you have a box of these plugs that you’ve never used too? Sure it will make assembly more expensive, BUT what is the cost to our planet of all this excess? This is just two examples of excess waste in the system. The system needs a big clean up and that job lands squarely on businesses, but we will pay the financial cost of change. We must be ready for that.
#18. Turn your tech off when not in use | Susanna
Devices plugged in and drawing energy but not in use, may consume more energy than you think. If you live in a country where you can turn things off at the wall, turn them off. If not, unplug them. Bonus fact, it’s better for our tech to take a break. Battery-based devices aren’t lasting as long because we’re often leaving our laptops plugged in full-time causing the battery to die faster and resulting in more digital waste.
#19. Waste not, want not | Andrea
To make effective changes, we all need to understand, monitor, and reduce our personal and family energy waste. We likely don’t think twice about sending 40 emails, yet that’s like driving a kilometer in our car in terms of emissions. Add to that the emissions from the food we consume, heating and cooling our environment, the creation and washing of our clothes, etc. There is loads of excess. In addition to turning things off, we need to upgrade to renewable energy when we can, fix leaking taps, and take shorter showers (pro tip: put a timer on your shower, especially for teenage kids who like to be in there for an hour). If enough of us do this (and enough = billions), it will make a difference and our electricity and water bills will drop.
#20. Buy a power consumption meter to get real data | Tim
To really see how much energy we’re using, we can employ a power consumption meter that plugs into the wall and whatever device we want to measure. The digital meter calculates how much power is going through the device and—voila—real consumption data that enables us to make informed choices. Once done with it, make sure to pass it on to somebody else, so we don’t add extraneous e-waste to the world.
#21. Shut the fridge door | Tim
One thing that’s guaranteed to light up your consumption meter is the refrigerator. So channel your grandparents’ energy and pass down their sage advice to your children: “Shut the fridge, you’re letting all the cold air out!” Only 22% of people in the world actually have a fridge, so it’s on those of us with fridges to clamp down on this. Perhaps we can also reconsider the need for a fridge in the garage, a wine fridge in the lounge and a deep freeze in the storeroom…. But definitely upgrade to the most energy and emissions efficient fridge.
#22. Return to the ‘Circular Economy Department’ | Andrea
Let’s use printer cartridges as an example. A printer cartridge is composed of a phenomenal amount of technology and packaging. While in some countries cartridges can be returned to the shop, the majority of these don’t make it back to the manufacturer. One idea is to package all our cartridges up and send them back to the manufacturers’ Circular Economy Department.
This is a department that doesn’t exist…yet. But if everyone did this – for all products purchased and every brand we buy – the manufacturer would have to take note! This responsibility needs to be put back in the hands of companies. Imagine if this was done with all our tech and our shampoo bottles, water bottles, and whatnot? If enough of us do it, we might actually get companies committed to the creation of a Circular Economy Department, because that is what we need. Whatever is created needs to be continuously used versus ending up in a landfill or trash or incinerator. The same applies to white goods. Instead of paying to dump them at a landfill, dump them on the doorstep of the manufacturer and make them take care of it.
#23. Work with providers who take responsibility for ‘next life’ of white goods | Joanne
When it’s time to buy white goods, we need to think about how we do this as global citizens rather than consumers. Ask what commitment the company makes to their products when they reach the end of their life. Will they repair them or collect and re-use them? If we all commit to giving goods back, and companies create a take-back process that generates enough volume, it makes it more economically viable for companies to strip all the viable components out and recycle them.
#24. Lease white goods and tech ‘as a service’ | Susanna
If available where you live, lease white goods through a service for a monthly fee so when they stop working, the company will repair it because it impacts their bottom line. But make sure to ask what they do with their goods when they reach the end of their life—we need to be aware of the waste cycle.
#25. Investigate where waste ends up | Michelle
We have to take responsibility for where our waste ends up. We can do this by investigating the afterlife of what we buy. Then we need to make sure that we either give it to the right person for recycling or reuse, or we need to send it back to the company that created it. When we expect someone else to do it, it doesn’t happen. We need to make it happen.
#26. Why do we trust the waste industry? How do we track our waste? | Andrea
For some reason, as a global society, we often trust in processes that shouldn’t be trusted, like the waste collection industry. Where there are recycling systems, it’s easy to assume that everything is being taken care of, but it’s not. We need to come together as a community and have eyes on it, to find the people that can follow the waste and see what really happens. Not everyone will want to do this because this is an industry that doesn’t want anyone poking around in its processes—but someone will want to know if that printer cartridge is actually recycled or ends up clogging a waterway in the Philippines, and we all need to know what that someone finds.
#27. Let’s push for waste tracking technology with the businesses we support | Tim
One possibility for tracking our waste is using technology like nanodots to trace things. Companies have used them before in car paint so in the event the car is stolen, you can identify the car’s manufacturing information by scanning the paint. Imagine if that technology was in plastic bottles, or laptops, or in anything that ended up in a trash heap in the middle of the Atlantic? The trash could be scanned to see who created it and then the cost for cleaning up the mess would be borne by them. Of course, no company wants to do that because they don’t want culpability. We will need lawmakers to pass legislation that despite companies arguing they can’t control where the waste ends up. It’s messy, but if we ignore the mess, nothing will change.
#28. Time for EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) to be regulation | Susanna
One of the key concepts in the context of culpability is the EPR—extended producer responsibility. EPR is being embraced by more and more regulators around the world, who are grappling with how to bring the responsibility for the entire lifecycle of products back to the producer. A lot of progress still needs to be made, but EPR is what will drive this, so we need to support it in order to make parties pay for the negative costs that arise in using their company’s products or services.
#29. ‘Sunwash’ your clothes | Michelle
We know that instead of using a dryer, we can dry clothes in the sun. But did you know you can also ‘sunwash’ once- or twice-worn clothes? Simply hang the items on hangers in a sunny spot with great airflow for a few hours and everything will be refreshed and ready to be worn again.
#30. Push for solar power when moving to new offices or homes | Tim
Dear facilities people, please take responsibility for ensuring solar power in your facilities is on the agenda, particularly if you’re about to move offices. If a new space doesn’t have solar, ask for panels to be installed on the building as part of your lease in order to help offset the office’s power consumption. It won’t happen if we don’t ask; so be an advocate for green within the office—and at home!
#31. What happens with your money? | Susanna
Approximately 7% of all pension fund money is invested in fossil fuels. Don’t be afraid to ask your pension fund what their policy is with regards to investing in coal and other types of fossil fuel businesses. If you don’t like the answer, take collective action. More and more people are telling their pension and investment funds that they no longer want to fund fossil fuels.
#32. ESG investing | Susanna
Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) investing is blowing up right now. A German asset management company, DWS, is currently being investigated for greenwashing its products by using misleading claims about supposedly responsible investments. Often, but not always, ESG funds exclude sectors like tobacco and arms, but not necessarily fossil fuel asset, like stock in oil and gas companies. So there is no clear definition what ESG investing actually means. The European Union taxonomy on finance is the most clear in terms of saying what is actually environmentally friendly or not in terms of an investment or financial product, however, some of its aspects are still hotly debated.
#33. Look for sustainable home upgrades | Joanne
When it’s time for home maintenance or upgrades, we need to make more sustainable choices. For example, double glazing windows—even in a tropical climate—is a more sustainable choice because it keeps the cool inside in hot climates and the warmth inside in cool climates. Review the carbon consumption and carbon sequestering that’s happening in the concrete of our buildings and see what other choices may be available. If you are involved at any level of the design, there are loads of smart design structures that can make a huge difference. Economically, these choices will pay off when considering the full lifecycle of a home and its resale value.
Read: These households are ditching gas, slashing bills and going ‘net zero’. Here’s how
#34. Rethink festive season waste | Andrea
The festive season means different things for different people, but all festive seasons create waste. For those of us in Asia, Deepavali in November increases waste by 30%. Just imagine the waste Christmas and Lunar New Year create around the world. And it isn’t just the “stuff” we buy either, copious amounts of food—around 30%—goes to waste as well. The time has come to reduce the “stuff” we buy and focus on the experience instead.
Pro tips: use newspapers for wrapping paper. Avoid the lure of re-theming and rebuying your Christmas tree decor each year. Buy good quality and have the same staff year after year—make it a family experience decorating the tree with memories. If your kids still need “something”, buy one high-quality big gift, but only on the grounds that they donate another good thing that they don’t want any more to a charity or to somebody who needs it.
Our mass plastic season consumption is what’s keeping factories all over Asia pumping out cheap plastic decorations that are then shipped around the world before they hang for a season and end up in landfill. Every single one of us can do something to change that.
#35. Wipe and re-use plastic bags, avoid cling wrap | Michelle
Clean and re-use plastic bags instead of tossing them in the trash—and not just shopping bags. Think about all the bags that your fruit and veg are packed and weighed in. Rather than binning them, untie the bag carefully, wipe it with a wet cloth, and hang it somewhere to dry. Once it’s dry, fold it up like a samosa and store it for another time. Also try to avoid cling wrap (single-use = bad) by covering soon-to-be-served dishes with another plate, or invest in Tupperware or glass containers with lids. There are also inexpensive silicone lid sets that cover juice glasses, salad bowls, and the like.
#36. Do you really need a car? | Tim & Andrea
Many of us still have an ownership mindset around cars. The sooner we accept that the whole idea of owning a car, taking it somewhere, parking it all day, and then driving it home actually provides no benefits (other than listening to a podcast), the better.
There are so many ways to get around in major cities now that it’s likely we don’t need to own a car at all. Electric car-sharing companies abound and there are even options that let you rent your own car out to others. There’s also good old-fashioned car-pooling or car rentals, all of which reduce the number of cars on our roads. In addition to reducing cars, we can also make our public transit systems better by putting pressure on our city councils to make sure buses are green or hybrid.
Pro tip: If you are going to take advantage of car shares and bus routes, a scooter is a great addition to your transport fleet. Grab one for everyone in the family (buy used) and scoot wherever you need to go—you will get to wherever the rental car is parked or to the bus stop quickly and with panache.
#37. Clothe yourself in quality over quantity | Andrea
Fashion is a critical piece of the green puzzle to which we all contribute. We can stop fast fashion in its tracks by buying fewer items of better quality. Better still, buy quality items second-hand. Set up a fashion swap community where you live, take advantage of each other’s wardrobes so you always feel like you’re wearing something new. Learn how to sew and repair, or find someone who can.
Never throw your old clothes in the rubbish, refer to tip #10. The fashion industry is contributing 10% of all of humanity’s carbon emissions, and it’s on us, because we’re the ones buying it. It’s also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water. At a local level, the cheap stuff we buy is being made in developing countries, where they are flushing toxins into the rivers and the land in those local communities. The people making our clothes are treated appallingly too. We must take responsibility by not supporting these business practices, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to our contribution. It’s time for us all to do better.
#38. Parents need to lead the way | Tim
When it comes to buying less and wearing things longer, parents need to be leaders for the next generation. We’ve been sucked into the fashion thing before, and now it’s happening to our kids. If we can give them the self-esteem to know they are powerful without changing their outfit— that they’re unique without having to look different every time—and teach them how to shop sensibly with stuff that mixes and matches in a variety of ways, we can break the cycle. Also know that if our kids do get teased about a hand-me-down or last season’s jeans, that experience is character-building and more valuable in the future than a childhood where everything gets handed to them.
#39. It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it | Michelle
When we have clothing that we are bored with or we feel is not fashionable, put it to one side of the closet and leave it there for a few months. When the urge for something new strikes, revisit that side of the closet and everything will feel new. Mix and match, add a different accessory, or swap with a friend to bring old clothes back to life.
#40. Be a ripple maker and believe in your power to make a difference | Tim & Andrea
Each one of us can make a ripple that creates change. It is something that both Andrea, in her book Uncommon Courage, and Tim has written about before: “One creates a ripple while the other holds pebbles. For a better world, be a giver, and create a ripple. Take action that expands beyond you and makes a positive impact somewhere else in the world, then encourage others to create a ripple too, because ripples dissipate unless supported. And support creates waves. And making positive waves gets noticed and motivates positive change. And positive change creates a better world. And that starts or continues with your ripple. And to do that, you’ll need to throw in some of your pebbles.”
Bonus idea: Share and share alike!
Please share this blog with your community, along with any other quality pro-planet information you come across. Please share your successes and failures. Learn from your community. Create conversations. It is so important that every single one of us believes in our ability to make a difference. While it may not feel like a single action matters, it does if enough of us do it. Often the biggest struggle we have is where to start. This blog and the podcast are about shining the light on small ways to get started.
If we all change how we buy, how we live, and how we shop, it changes the way businesses are run, which changes the way that they operate, which changes the trajectory that we’re currently on at the moment. Each time we share we create a ripple of change.
Be the change you are waiting for. Then tell everyone you know, so they can start too!
Joanne, Susanna, Tim, Michelle and Andrea, + Samantha Gayfer, who put this article together.
If you’re interested in the first three blogs, here they are for more ideas
1. 22 lifestyle changes you can make to contribute to a better world instalment one: a focus on food
2. 22 lifestyle changes you can make which contribute to a better world, instalment two: navigating our plastic problem
3. 22 lifestyle changes you can make to contribute to a better world instalment three: spreading the word and mindful travel
Uncommon Courage – my new book – is available
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