The power of 7 billion people each using his/her individual initiative to create a more sustainable existence should not be underestimated. For example, the current California water shortage led to a request by government officials to reduce consumption by 20%. Citizenry responded by reducing use by 25% in June 2015. Adoption of recycling practices in my Los Angeles community has become mainstream with the city now leading all major US cities with a recycling rate of 76%. While each action may feel like “a drop in the bucket” in comparison to the problem size, individual actions can quickly grow collectively into meaningful change.
We can also become environmental promoters by monitoring and reporting those who show willful disregard for our shared resources. The ocean has always been used as a dumping ground and previously seemed limitless to man. However, a recent study noted that almost 40% of the petroleum products released into the ocean were discharged intentionally from ships. In response to this, a new app for sailors allows them to report spills when seen at sea, Argo Sentinel. Analysis of samples from spills can even identify the ship of origin facilitating authorities to identify offenders.
The power of the individual doesn’t stop there, however. Because consumer purchases account for almost 70% of gross domestic product in most nations, the cumulative impact of consumers each acting alone to promote sustainable living can be immediate, significant and need not require government regulation or political consensus. The connectedness we are experiencing in the 21st Century through information technology portends to accelerate this opportunity for change in a manner unrecognized and unimaginable just 50 years ago. This further multiplies the potential impact of our cumulative individual sustainable purchasing actions, accelerating implementation of long needed sustainability changes.
The proposed tool for citizen empowerment is the Earth Accounting app – currently in development. It empowers citizens as shoppers by providing transparent, comprehensive environmental and social impact data about products at the point of purchase. You can learn more about this project at the Earth Accounting website.