How To Make An Impact On The Environment When You’re “Only One Person”

A couple of months ago, I stepped out with a friend from the office to take away food from a local restaurant. I suggested we carry two empty lunch boxes from the office kitchen so that we don’t have to get our food in those single-use plastic containers. We have a lot of them so why not use them? He looked at me and asked:

“How is that gonna help climate change?”

And for a long time, I had also fallen for the “I’m just one person, what difference can I make?” fallacy.

But I saw people every single day heading to restaurants and accepting plastic containers wrapped in another layer of plastic (not sure why the first one isn’t enough) and then placed into plastic bags with throwable utensils and straws.

It made me so angry, but I tried to turn a blind eye to it.

Until that day, I had never asked anybody else in the office to take reusables with them because for me it was an automatic, unconscious effort to do so. Whenever it came to my mind I dismissed the thought because I didn’t want to be that guy.

I also hoped that I could lead by example just by doing the right thing. But no one ever followed my lead.

After a while I realized, maybe my friend had a point. Maybe what I’m doing is not going to help climate change alone. So I decided to do something about it.

A few weeks later, we had a party with the Mindvalley team where the theme was to dress up as superheroes.

Inspired by that conversation with my friend, I embraced my superpower and was ready to put it to good use. I put on my one-piece superhero outfit, a cape with a recycling symbol on it, and I walked inside as my new favorite superhero.

The Recycle Man.

Recycle Man and the Rainbow Warrior

I walked around and asked my colleagues to sign a pledge stating they would always carry a reusable container with them from the office when going out for takeaway food and beverages. And my superhero friends were happy to do so.

This was easy.

But people say yes to random things in parties and they don’t necessarily remember. So the next week, I decided to take my initiative one step further and talk about it at our weekly company meeting.

I know that people don’t usually talk about environmentalism at company meetings because… it’s not sexy. But what’s happening on our planet isn’t either.

I shared the shocking data I found through my research.

That Malaysia, the country where our headquarter is, only recycles 17% of all waste. This means that out of every six bottles of water bought, five of them will end up in the landfill or the ocean.

Image credits: National Geographic

I also talked about the 5Rs reducing waste. Recycling gets a lot of attention but it’s the last step of our sustainability efforts. The full list goes like this:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Repurpose
  5. Recycle

Finally, I shared a picture of me with the pledge at the superhero party and I asked people to help me make a change.

What happened after was even better than I expected.

So many of my colleagues approached me with a glint in their eyes, thanking me for the initiative, ready to help me take it further.

Vishen, the founder of Mindvalley encouraged me to create a new policy and find ways to reduce waste at our events and during our daily life in the office.

My superpowers were working.

I realized that my friend was right. My actions alone may not make a huge impact. But it’s exactly the small actions we take that eventually snowball into something way bigger.

It’s not easy to do the right thing when you’re an exception. It might be even more challenging if you don’t have the right support system or if you’re in a country with no selective collection of waste and environmental regulations.

So how do you get started on your solo mission?

Here are 4 things you can do to start saving the planet today


1. Practice saying NO

The first “R” of the 5 Rs is refuse. That means saying no to plastic bags, straws, or any kind of plastic material that vendors offer you and replace them with something reusable. Be that guy.

2. Get inspired by others

Being the odd-one-out is never easy. But there are plenty of stories to fuel your inner superhero.

Lauren Singer lives a mostly zero-waste life. In two years, she had produced only enough trash to fill a 16 oz jar. The citizens of Kamikatsu, Japan is working on turning their home into a zero-waste town by sorting their trash into 45 different categories.

Image source: theguardian.com

And if you haven’t yet, watch Story Of Stuff, an amazing documentary about where our stuff comes from and where it goes after we use them. It has more than 40 million views and it’s a great introduction to the idea of living a sustainable life.

3. Set some rules

Most of us don’t want to damage the environment deliberately. We just don’t have the right habits installed in our daily life. It’s normal to produce waste which is why everyone is doing so.

Start by carrying a reusable straw and a coffee mug with you every day. Set a reminder on your phone for your shopping day to carry a reusable bag with yourself. Then start reminding your housemates and your colleagues too.

4. Share your actions with others

How can one person really change anything? The answer is that you are not the only one, you are joining a movement. You can inspire others just like you got inspired by someone in the first place.

Our online discussion group at Mindvalley is already on fire. As I’m writing this, my colleagues are inviting speakers to the office to educate us about a zero-waste lifestyle, sharing how they returned without reusables from the Sunday market, and organizing movie nights in the office with documentaries related to environmentalism.

UN Environment has announced today, 5th June 2018 as World Environment Day with the theme #BeatPlasticPollution. Perfect time to step into the game and start your own local initiative.

Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.

— Iron Man

I’m not turning a blind eye to plastic waste anymore. I don’t mind being the guy who nags others to live in a more sustainable way on our only planet Earth. Because I know that we’re all in this together.

Would you like to join me?


What’s the first action you’ll take to save the environment? Share it with us in a comment below.

Andre Rubin

Andre Rubin

Andre Rubin is a member of the Mindvalley team. He has 10 years of experience as a Software developer, 3 years as a Backpacker, and a lifetime as a Benevolent Troublemaker.

He's passionate about finding new ways to improve his work and his life — though, often can't find his own keys. He's also an environmentalist.

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