Climate action can take many different forms and, in this latest blog, student and Climate Champion Lola Springbett shares her top tips as to how we can use our purchasing power to help fight climate change, often at no additional cost.
As students, it can sometimes feel like we don’t have the power to fight climate change or that changes we make won’t really make an impact. However, as consumers we can play a crucial role in reducing emissions and slowing climate change by making more environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to how we use our money, whether that’s in the things we choose to buy or who we choose to bank with. It can seem a little daunting but here I’ve shared some tips to get you started with using your purchasing power to fight climate change!
Globally, it's estimated that household consumption is responsible for around 72% of carbon emissions. This includes direct and indirect emissions. Therefore, it's important we appreciate the link between our own behaviour and its impact on the environment. While efforts from industry and governments are essential, it is important to recognise what we can do ourselves to be part of the change.
Just in case you aren’t already aware:
- Direct emissions are from sources controlled by the reporting entity, such as the University’s gas and electricity usage
- Indirect emissions are a consequence of the activities of the reporting entity, but they occur at sources controlled by others. For example, when the university purchases laptops, they are responsible for the carbon emissions created in manufacturing and transporting that laptop.
Taking responsibility for the carbon and environmental impacts of our purchases can be quite challenging, but I’ve found these sources very helpful:
- There are many carbon footprint calculators available online: WWF have a good one that breaks down your impact into Food, Travel, Home and Stuff, and Ethical Clothing have one that focuses on the impact of your fashion choices.
- I enjoy following Ecoalf, one of the pioneering companies in sustainable fashion, on Instagram and LinkedIn. They often share the work they are doing for ocean conservation and the process of how they convert marine waste into recycled clothing.
- B Lab has recently released a 10-part podcast series called 'Forces For Good' which takes an in-depth look at how businesses are helping to solve environmental challenges.
- Online, there are lots of articles and videos that talk about the impact of our dietary habits and eating meat, and I particularly liked Ted talk with Marco Sprigmann.
Once you have more awareness and knowledge regarding how your purchasing decisions are impacting the environment, it’s time to start making better consumer choices.
The most basic choice to make is whether to consume or not. Often, upon reflection, we may decide that we already own a product that serves a similar purpose. If this is not the case, then you can start looking into your choices to understand which is most responsible. For example, avoiding fast fashion is an easy but significant change in your consumer habits. Buying second-hand from charity shops or apps like Depop is often much cheaper. It also means these clothes aren’t being thrown away, and reduces support for fashion companies whose practices can be extremely harmful to the environment. The fashion industry uses immense amounts of energy, water, and other resources to make clothes. Some 93 billion cubic metres of water are used annually, enough to meet the needs of five million people. Despite this, the industry encourages consumers to constantly buy more with many more lines introduced annually, sometimes exceeding more than 20 in one year.
Our purchasing choices can essentially be seen as a ‘vote’ for the changes we want to see in the world. We can see this in the fashion industry as it is starting to become more environmentally conscious.
Another way to make more responsible choices is through gift giving. When it's your friend or family member’s birthday, consider gifting an experience rather than a product. This can be a fun memory to cherish, rather than a material good.
COVID-19, with its enforced restrictions on our usual activities, has shown us that it’s possible to live happier, simpler and less materialistic lives. It is important to maintain this desire to reduce our consumption and therefore our environmental impact.
The links between your personal finances and the climate emergency are perhaps less intuitive than other examples. The cash in your bank account and personal investments may not seem to be a direct cause of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the financial institutions you give your business to could be having a big impact on the environment. Two key things to consider are clarity and transparency about how the bank will invest your money. Check out Ethical Consumer's advice on finding ethical bank accounts.
Sustainable investing is a practice that considers both financial returns and the social and environmental impact of organisations, and it offers the benefits of potentially earning money and simultaneously supporting good causes. While not all students will have any or a lot of savings to invest, what savings we do have can still be used for good. Ethical Consumer have great advice on ethical stocks and shares ISAs - be sure to look at the other investment options under the Ethical Money section too.
You may be eager to jump in on the cryptocurrency trend, but you may not be aware that many cryptocurrencies currently pose a threat to the environment by consuming a huge amount of electricity in the process of crypto mining.
How can you increase your impact further?
The third step is to help others increase their awareness and reduce their impact. You can help your friends and family understand their impact with your newfound knowledge to help them also make better choices. This will multiply your impact!
Consumers can lead this revolution, alongside industry and governments. It is important to make yourself and others aware, seek out information, and make conscious choices which will create demand for better products. After all, it is this demand that will push industries to take action and create an even bigger impact.
Climate Champion and 4th year International Management and Modern Languages (Spanish) student