Effective July 1st of this year, the city of Seattle joined the growing global movement of banning single use plastic bags with a ban on plastic straws and eating utensils, whose execution is currently in progress. In August of this year, the US Court of Appeals blocked a 124-mile natural gas pipeline project from moving forward in New York State. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Hawai’i put a halt on the extraction of fish from coral reefs by the aquarium industry and ruled that there must be extensive impact studies done on Hawaiian coral reef ecosystems before the extraction of fish will be allowed to continue.
What do all of these environmental victories have in common? Each of them began at the local level when citizens of these communities expressed concern and took a proactive role in realizing change.
Getting active in our own communities
Think global and act local is more than just a favorite adage of activism; it also provides a very realistic approach to taking on the many issues facing humankind today. The jury is still out on whether traversing the country to Washington, D.C. for a few hours of demonstration, before returning home hundreds of miles away, is actually effective. Demonstrating or getting involved at the local level, however, does not have to be limited to just a few hours or a one-time event. It can continue indefinitely, led by people who live nearby and who won’t be “going away” after a short while of expressing themselves.
Activism at the local level is a way for those who have personal interest in an issue that directly affects them to express themselves to those in power. Officials at the local level are much more accessible than officials at the state and federal levels, so this is something that we as citizens can and should take advantage of. We can all get involved by attending public hearings where a dialogue with the city council can be created, drafting and signing petitions, and canvassing in order to educate the community about issues. We are responsible for shaping our communities, and for this reason, it is productive to shift our focus to local issues.
Voting with our dollar
While voicing our opinions and concerns to local government officials is effective, there is an even more local method of being a community activist. To many, the economy is the single most important factor in any city, state, or nation. Whether or not you agree with the system, money is perhaps the most influential tool that we have, so how can we use this to our advantage?
We know that our governments as well as corporations want us to consume as much and as often as possible. We must keep in mind that every single time we spend money, we are casting a vote for the world we want to see. By practicing conscious consumerism, we can have influence on a daily basis while simply going about our lives. It comes down to choice. Where are you choosing to spend your money? What products are you choosing to buy? Which companies are you supporting?
Just as an example, if you want to see plastic production decline, then use the power of your money to send that message. Refuse to patronize businesses who distribute plastic bags, and tell the businesses why you won’t be patronizing them anymore. If you think factory farming is awful, then support local farms or farms that are committed to sustainable agriculture. If you know that a certain company or industry has a track record for neglecting the environment and/or its employees, do not vote for their unsustainable and irresponsible model by giving them your money. Instead, vote for the businesses who are making the effort to operate sustainably — Certified B Corps are a great example of that.
Our power as consumers
As humans with a vested interest in being responsible inhabitants of the planet, it is on us to be the ethical compass for corporations and businesses whose only responsibility is fiduciary – that is, ensuring that their investors are profiting. It is only when unsustainable businesses and industries begin to lose profit that alterations will be made to their models. Whether or not they share our concerns about the environment, they want our money, and they will absolutely tailor their models to appease their customers.
Sustainability in business is the future. Amazon recently acquired Whole Foods because consumers demonstrated that organic and ethically-sourced food is profitable and in demand. McDonald’s has launched organic menu items in many parts of the world because continuing on without changing in response to consumer demand would lead to their demise as a corporation. Adidas is using plastic cleaned out of the ocean to make their apparel because they want to appeal to consumer concern regarding our global plastic crisis.
“Consumers make decisions based on the brands they prefer. Sustainability and innovation are two of the key criteria of selection. Successful companies in the future will be those where sustainability is well integrated in terms of core values, operations as well as consumer acceptance.” — Alexis Haass, director of sustainability at Adidas
Consumers are not without power and influence, and we should embrace this power and use it for good. Businesses going out of their way to do things right and operate responsibly are deserving of your money, something to keep in mind when you patronize a grocery store, coffee shop, bar, boutique, restaurant, etc. And get involved in making your community the best possible version of itself, whether that is in a political, social, environmental, or other way. It is only by coming together as citizens that we will affect any kind of positive, lasting change. The power is quite literally in your hands.
Written by Jenny Einzig
The 5th annual Ocean Guardian Contest is almost upon us! For the first five days of October 2017, you may enter your video of two minutes or less which answers the question, “If the whole world were listening, what is one pro-environmental action (that you yourself take) that you would tell people to make in their lives?” The grand prize is a surf and yoga camp for two people, as well as a bunch of cool products from environmentally conscious companies. Check out all of the details here!