We’re the first generation to know we’re destroying the world. We could also be the last that can do anything about it. Even worse, the devastating effects of climate change and environmental destruction are already being observed: only 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and undisturbed habitat (1).
But it’s not all doom and gloom: in January 2021, more than 50 countries committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030 to halt the destruction of the natural world, while more and more of us are asking what we can do to help. The problem lies in knowing what we can do that will actually make a tangible difference.
It’s too easy to feel powerless in the face of climate change. And it’s incredibly frustrating being asked to make little lifestyle changes while private corporations are by far the primary cause of reckless, avoidable damage to our planet. But that doesn’t mean we should all just give up. After all, even if you have a what-may-come attitude to the future, the health of our planet is inextricably linked to your own health right now, from air and water quality to the food you consume.
A Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum and member of the Paris 2024 Olympic Environmental Excellence Committee, Unity co-founder, Mathieu Flamini, is a leading voice in the world of sustainability, with a particular focus on practical, realistic solutions. That’s why we asked Mathieu to share his top tips for what we can all do that will actually make a difference to both our health and the health of the planet.
‘The idea that our own personal actions don't make a difference needs to be challenged,’ says Mathieu. ‘Like voting in elections or following lockdown restrictions, the cumulative impact of everyone's behaviour can make a huge difference. It's easy to feel powerless when talking about the climate, but in reality we all have a huge collective power.’
Speaking up is one of the most powerful things you can do. Write to your local MP and ask what they’re doing. Use social media to ask brands how their products are sourced. You might not get an immediate reply and they might have nothing good to say, but the more people who apply pressure, the more action will need to be taken in response.
Let your wallet do the talking: switch to a green energy supplier, change bank to one that pledges not to invest in fossil fuels, buy sustainably-produced clothing. Yes, the individual difference you make will be small, but money talks and hitting a polluting corporation where it really hurts is one of the most effective things we can do as individuals.
‘The way we consume animal protein is simply unsustainable,’ says Mathieu. ‘But moving away from it is not only important for the planet, it's important for ourselves. People used to have meat once or twice a week, but factory farming made it possible to eat meat everyday. That's not good for the health of the planet or anyone on it. I went vegan 15 years ago and have never felt better, from more energy to less injuries, going plant-based truly is a win-win.’
You don’t even have to go full vegetarian or vegan to make a difference. University of Oxford researchers found that not eating animal proteins at all can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 73%, but just slashing your animal protein consumption by half is enough to reduce your diet's carbon footprint by more than 40% (2). Fancy giving a plant-based diet a go? Read our guide on how to go vegan (and actually stick with it).
Mathieu says: ‘The most beneficial lifestyle change you can make is to not own a car. For a lot of us that simply isn't possible, but we can all reduce our individual carbon footprints by walking, running or cycling to our destinations whenever possible.’
A 2017 study ranking 148 individual actions according to their impact found going car-free was the single most effective action an individual could take (3). Can’t ditch the car entirely? Just only use it when really necessary and reap the health benefits of getting places by your own power.
‘Forget what might happen in the future, the world is already experiencing a water crisis. Billions of people across the world have no access to clean water. We need to be smarter about our water consumption and adopt simple lifestyle changes to make a collective difference,’ says Mathieu.
For example: most of us know we should avoid buying bottled water where possible, yet we happily buy cleaning products that are 80% water. That's a crazy amount of mileage for a bottle of water with just 20% cleaning products. There are now companies that sell concentrated cleaning products you add water to at home. Keep your eyes out for these kinds of smart solutions to existing problems (water-saving shower heads and tips are another easy win). It's these kinds of little shifts in the right direction that all adds up.
Avoid single-use plastics
‘Another scary example of how the health of the planet is linked to our own is that, on average, we eat a credit card's worth of microplastics every year,’ says Mathieu. ‘Most of that comes from the ocean. Reducing your own plastic waste will help reverse this. Use your own reusable shopping bags, carry your own refillable water bottle, buy loose fruit and vegetables, and, of course, recycle, upcycle and reuse whenever possible.’
‘When talking about the climate it's so important not to scare people, instead we must empower people by offering solutions. That's why it's not enough to just create awareness, we need to inspire action. We are social creatures and the more of us who set a good example and keep the conversation going, the more people will follow suit,’ says Mathieu.
It’s totally understandable that you may still be thinking: ‘But if I cut my animal protein consumption or drive less, that’s just me – how much of a difference can I really make?’ It’s a totally reasonable reaction, but studies show when one person makes a sustainability-informed decision, others do too. For example...
Customers at a US diner who were told that 30% of Americans had started eating less meat were twice as likely to order a meatless meal.
Half of the respondents to an online survey said they flew less as a result of knowing someone who had given up flying because of climate change.
Community organisers in California were 62% more successful in their efforts to get people to install solar panels if they had panels on their own houses.
‘While it may seem like your individual actions will make little difference,’ says Mathieu. ‘We can all do our part to help reduce our impact on the planet, together, in Unity.’