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10 Little and Big Things You Can Do to Make Change: Story of Stuff Continued…

   /   Jul 20th, 2012Uncategorized

Recently, we ran an interview with Ann Leonard, founder of the Story of Stuff.   Leonard and co-director, Michael O’Heaney compiled a list (though lists are just the beginning of change) of little steps to make an impact.

 Image From The Story of Stuff Project/ Leonard and O’Heaney

We’re often asked for advice on how to get started making positive change. Lists of “Ten Simple Things to Save the Earth” abound. The truth is that incorporating such simple green acts into our daily life is a fine place to start, but a terrible place to stop. Real change happens when we aim higher, join with others and take bigger bolder action.  Here’s 10 ideas from The Story of Stuff Project to get started with the small stuff, but then keep going to achieve big change. So, let’s go!

1. Power down and then, power up! By now, we all know that reducing energy use is a top priority – for the climate, for public health and for environmental well being. There are many opportunities for each of us to do our part at home: drive less, fly less, buy local seasonal food, wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle. All these things save energy and save money and are good things to do.  But industry, transportation and buildings consume the bulk of energy, so improving the policies that govern these sectors makes far bigger change than we can ever make as individuals. Let’s use our citizen power to oppose dirty coal plants and Tar Sands development, demand stronger standards for energy efficiency across the board and shift public support from fossil fuels to clean energy and public transportation. Now, that will make a difference!


2. Waste less. We’re using and wasting too much stuff and it’s stressing the planet’s limits. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in our home, school, workplace, church, and community. This takes developing new habits that soon become second nature. We all know the list: carry our own refillable water bottle and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace, get off junk mail lists.  All these are good to do, but household waste is just the tip of a very big iceberg; in the U.S., household waste accounts for less than 3% of total waste. Reducing that other 97% requires better policies and business practices, and to do that, we need to use those same citizen skills we need to reduce energy use: gather, write, lobby, protest, vote.


3. Use our voice at home and beyond.  We can’t solve these problems unless we start talking about them – at work and school, in the neighborhood, in line at the supermarket, on the bus. Then, reach beyond your immediate community to turn the volume up on this much needed public conversation: write letters-to-the editor, blog on issues you care about, draft petitions, get on the speakers list at City Council meetings, call your Congressperson. Each of our voices matter, but only if we use it.


4. DeTox your body, DeTox your home, and DeTox the Economy. Many of today’s consumer products – from children’s pajamas to sunscreen – contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren’t necessary and usually aren’t even disclosed. Research online to avoid inadvertently bringing extra toxics into your home and body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they’re using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials why they are permitting this practice. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure they don’t get into any home and body.


5. Unplug (the TV and internet) and Plug In (the community). The average person in the U.S. watches over 4 hours of TV a day. Four hours per day filled with messages about Stuff we should buy. That is four hours a day that could be spent with family, friends and in our communities. On-line activism is a good start, but spending time in face-to-face civic or community activities is even better. Spending time together strengthens the community and many studies show that a stronger community is a source of social and logistical support, improved economic resiliency and greater security and happiness. Strong communities are also critical to having a strong, active democracy.


6. Park your car and walk…and when necessary MARCH! Car-centric land use policies and lifestyles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction, conversion of agricultural and wildlands to roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet. But sometimes we don’t have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with others to demand sustainable transportation options. Throughout U.S. history, peaceful non-violent marches have played a powerful role in raising awareness about issues, mobilizing people, and sending messages to decision makers. Sometimes, we’ve just got to fill the streets to be heard.


7. Change your lightbulbs…and then, change your paradigm. Changing lightbulbs is quick and easy. Energy efficient lightbulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than conventional ones. That’s a no-brainer. But changing lightbulbs is just tinkering at the margins of a fundamentally flawed system unless we also change our paradigm. A paradigm is a collection of assumptions, concepts, beliefs, and values that together make up a community’s way of viewing reality. Our current paradigm dictates that more stuff is better, that infinite economic growth is desirable and possible, and that pollution is the price of progress. To really turn things around, we need to nurture a different paradigm based on the values of sustainability, justice, health, and community. Together, let’s rethink what matters and what we want our economy to prioritize.


8. Recycle your trash…and, recycle your elected officials. Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately, many cities still don’t have adequate recycling systems in place so recycling can be a real hassle. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you’re lobbying your local government to support recycling citywide. Also, many products—for example, most electronics—are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to spur innovation by prohibiting toxics in consumer products. Product Tack Back laws, which hold producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, help inspire cleaner design and safer materials use too.


9. Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less.

We know we can’t shop our way out of today’s environmental mess, but when we do shop, we should ensure our dollars support businesses that protect the environment and worker rights. Look beyond vague claims on packages like “all natural” to find hard facts about how the product was made and what it contains. When possible, buy local products from local stores, which keeps more of our hard earned money in the community. Buying used items keeps them out of the trash and helps avoid the upstream waste created to make new stuff.  But, buying less may be the best option of all. Less pollution. Less Waste. Less time working to pay for the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more.


10. Flex our Citizen Muscles On each of these issues, and many others, citizen engagement is the key to making real progress. Unfortunately, many of us have gotten disillusioned with the political process and checked out. The result: half of eligible votes don’t even bother, super PAC money determines election outcomes, and we end up with duds in office who care more about their corporate donors than real people. It’s time to gear up to get our citizen muscles back in shape! Let’s dust off our civic values and make a plan to get our citizen muscles – and our democracy –working in top form again!

8 Responses

  1. Suzanne Burke says:

    you can add #11. Shift to a plant-based diet. According to One Green Planet, “A 2010 Report from the UN International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management strongly urges a global shift to a plant-based diet to both feed a hungry world and greatly reduce environmental impacts like global warming.” Read the full article here:

  2. Kiva says:

    I believe #10 needs to be expanded on. Citizen engagement means a lot more than voting for someone. Can you blame people for checking out of the democratic political process. Just about every action we make is political in one way or another. We just have to think for ourselves and act accordingly without being confined to what society demands of us.

  3. carmen says:

    great! the mass has to wake up!
    just i don’t agree with the point 7! energy saving bulbs need so much energy to get produced, contain mercury, never last as long as they say and they are a toxic waste = /

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  5. Aaron says:

    This article shows us how to do little things to will make a big impact if we can get enough people on board. The San Diego community that I live in seems to do a pretty good job at doing it’s part to preserve the environment.

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  7. Leama Vallely says:

    We need to stop trying to industrialize our food system! Stop GMO’s (it’s killing our bees and our people), stop the growth hormones, stop large conglomerate food stores that ship an average of 3000 miles per food item, stop reinforcing nutritionally cheap fast food, and stop wasting land to grow corn to feed to our livestock that cannot digest it when we could use that land to allow them to graze the way they would in nature. Let’s get back to basics and educate people to get food conscious!