Initial Publication Date: March 5, 2015

Take Action: Promote a sustainable future

Jump down to: Spread the Word

Your actions have an impact, whether you pursue a sustainability career or not. Everyday choices you make, including what products you buy and businesses you support, and which mode of transportation you take can be modified to support sustainable living. Further, keeping up on current issues can help you when you make decisions such as where to live, what type of car to buy (or not buy), and how you vote. You can also 'spread the word' by engaging others in sustainability issues and choices. Remember, however, that context is key - it's important to be aware of where others are coming from and not to judge inappropriately.

Make it Personal: Integrating sustainability into your everyday life

As you make everyday decisions, no matter how big or how small, it is helpful to look at the situation through a 'sustainability lens.' Apply, for instance, Harden's Tragedy of the Commons, where we can see that a mass of people acting in their own best interest can be detrimental to society as a whole, whereas considering the big picture when making [even mundane] decisions, can promote sustainability. Whether you work directly in an environmental job or not, decisions about who to elect to political positions, whether to buy local or organic food or not, how you commute to work/school, where you live, whether to recycle or not, and whether to conserve energy are faced by us all and how we act on these decisions can affect society as a whole. One person alone cannot 'save the world' but the decisions we make can shape how businesses are run, public policy, and more.

These activities provide a sampling of the various ways to inform yourself about how sustainability issues permeate your everyday decisions:

  • Think critically about your food choices, including where your food comes from and what it takes to get it there. Check out the How much energy is on my plate by Lane Seeley, Seattle Pacific University and Karin Kirk, SERC, to learn how to calculate the energy behind food production at the personal level.
  • Take a personal inventory of your everyday decisions and how sustainable they are - see the The Lifestyle Project by Karin Kirk, SERC and John J. Thomas, Skidmore College, for instructions and materials to help you get started.
  • Learn about your Water Footprint by using the Water Footprint Calculator from National Geographic.
  • Take a closer look at yourEcological Footprint and compare it with others' footprints.
  • Check out to learn how to choose sustainably-produced seafood at the grocery store.
  • Learn more about where your energy comes from: what kind of energy runs your household, your school or workplace, and what kinds of energy are available in your region.
  • Think about which companies you buy gasoline from - what is their track record for doing environmental damage? Do they take responsibility and mitigate problems that arise? Are they researching alternative, clean energy solutions?
  • Start a compost bin - save space in the landfills, cut down on energy used to transport waste, and if you have the space, use it to grow your own garden
  • Support organic and/or local food production by shopping at farmers markets or local grocery stores. If these aren't an option, try to choose organic products at the grocery store. If it's cost prohibitive to buy all organic or local, remember, even buying a portion of your groceries this way shows you support the effort and makes a difference.
  • Recycle or responsibly dispose of your electronics and hazardous substances such as paint, toxic household chemicals, and prescription medications. Many hardware stores offer CFL and battery recycling receptacles; cities and counties often host hazardous waste collection events one or two times a year.
  • Use DIY household cleaners instead of chemical-based products.
  • Purchase clothes and other products at second-hand stores to utilize the 'reuse' portion of the three R's; reusing keeps items out of the landfills and cuts down on resource and energy use that goes into making new products.
  • Take shorter showers to conserve water and energy.

Spread the Word: Educating others about sustainability

If you're reading this, you probably don't need to be sold on the importance of sustainability. Spread your enthusiasm and knowledge on the topic with others and hopefully we can engage and motivate them into action to address the sustainability issues we face.

If you are in a position to teach or provide public outreach, the InTeGrate project has developed a variety of free teaching materials, including example teaching activities and entire modules that can be used wholesale or modified to fit your needs. We also invite you to explore the Sustainability Site Guide for even more teaching resources from SERC partner projects.