Individual actions might seem hopeless in the face of overwhelming climate change and the incessant rise of fossil fuels. But while turning down a plastic straw or recycling might be small fry when it comes to action, there are plenty of meaningful ways to actually make a difference – not least asking tough questions of employers, pension and energy providers and embracing the growing trends and apps for second hand fashion or sharing food leftovers.
Hosted by climate action group Business Declares, five experts shared tips on how to tackle climate in the five F’s: food, fashion, flying, fuel and finance.
While cutting down on meat and eating more fruit and veg will lower the impact of your diet, food waste is where we can have one of the biggest impacts as citizens, according to head of sustainable food at ethical meal kit provider COOK, Andy Stephens. Around 10 per cent of emissions come from food waste, and roughly a third of all food produced is wasted, Stephens said, who also pointed out how dramatically people’s food behaviours had changed during the pandemic. “Food waste fell by 43 per cent during the pandemic due to positive food waste behaviours,” he said. “Things like planning ahead, writing a shopping list, planning in takeaways so they don’t replace food in the fridge, and batch cooking.” Apps like Olio and Too Good to Go also help, suggested Stephens, alongside cutting down meat by around a third by 2030 and buying local, seasonal and from sustainable producers.
While fashion currently accounts for between four and eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, this is forecast to reach 26 per cent by 2030 thanks to the rise of fast fashion, with its use of plastic fibres, alongside heavy use of chemicals and water. Most worryingly, two thirds of that clothing is made from plastic – a core outlet for the fossil fuel industry, explained Safia Minney, founder of ethical fashion retailer People Tree and sustainability platform REAL. “89 per cent of emissions come from fossil fuels. Fashion as we know it completely relies on them – we need a total redesign.” There is some positive news. Minney, who said that while fast fashion is rising, so is the sustainable trend for second-hand clothes. “Second hand will be as big as fast fashion by 2030. Repair services will move into the mainstream,” she said, adding tips for how to rethink our relationship with fashion. “Do not buy anything made of plastic (nylon or polyester); switch to second hand, or buy ethical and Fairtrade if you can; be audacious, ask questions and tell your friends what you’re doing and why.”
Former airline pilot and co-founder of a campaign to help aviation workers understand the climate impacts of their sector, Todd Smith, highlighted that it’s frequent and long-haul flights that have the most damaging impacts. “It’s not the hard-working family who save up for one holiday to the Canaries each year; it’s a polluter elite. 80 per cent of people in the world have never stepped foot on an aircraft, while one per cent of the population create 50 per cent of the demand.” Smith said “there is no green solution to aviation”, highlighting that misinformation and greenwash is rife, such as new so-called ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ coined by petrol giant Shell. “This industry plans to triple their emissions by 2030; they are heavily reliant on offsetting via credits and biofuels. And there is no representation for workers from carbon-heavy industries; often they don’t know the facts,” he said. For those thinking of flying, Smith suggested asking: “Is this flight essential? Can you ask your employer to support incentives for low-carbon travel, such as an extra day holiday?” And highlighting that it’s long-haul flights that are most damaging, he added: “Coral reefs are already dying. Do you really want to fly to the other side of the world to witness ecological collapse?”
Investigating energy efficiency measures in your home is a meaningful way to reduce your fuel impact while saving money on energy bills, according to Kit Dixon, policy and regulation manager at Good Energy, who suggested things like double glazing and wall insulation. “Walk or cycle if you can. Don’t use electricity at peak times, like early evening, reduces your impact. Or use energy you’ve generated yourself.” Finding a genuine renewable energy supplier is also important, said Dixon. Some companies offer green tariffs that imply they are 100 per cent renewable. As all energy comes from the grid, which has mixed energy sources including gas, nuclear and renewable, the only way currently to buy 100 per cent green is if your energy supplier buys or generates renewable energy to match what you use. So for every one unit of energy you buy from them, they should match that in generation or purchasing of renewables elsewhere. “When you sign up for a green tariff, ask them how much power do you buy directly or generate,” he added.
One of the most neglected areas in our climate impact is where we put our money. That’s according to David Hayman, campaign director at Make My Money Matter, who highlighted how there is £3 trillion of private money in the UK solely from people’s pensions. “We started this campaign to inform people after coming across ‘accidental investors’, so vegans who might be unknowingly investing in factory farming, doctors investing in tobacco when they spend their days treating people with smoking-related heart disease, Extinction Rebellion activists investing in fossil fuels,” he said. “The pension pot is an extraordinary amount of money and we believe we should have a say in where it goes. There is also the potential scale of impact. Moving your money has 25 times more impact than giving up flying or becoming a vegetarian.” Hayman said the first thing to do is ask the question: where does your pension money go? “Lobby your pension provider to change, or find one that better aligns with your values. Talk about money and finance with your friends and family. Only about five per cent of companies do anything to align their pensions with the sustainability strategy,” he said.
While this article focuses on where individuals and businesses can make a difference, all speakers pointed to fossil fuels as the underlying cause behind the escalating climate crisis. There is a growing movement by economists and environmentalists to focus on taxing fossil fuels as the only option left in the timeframe required. Join this movement by lobbying MPs or businesses to help fast-track that change. Find out more here.