Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Lately, I've been feeling pretty trashy. That is, I've been making way more trash.
In "normal" times, I create very little waste: I shop from bulk bins at my local Sprouts, I rarely purchase produce that comes in plastic, I use bars of soap and giant bottles of beauty products so I can purchase fewer plastic bottles. I bring a reusable mug every time I go to a coffee shop. I shop secondhand for furniture and home goods. You get the picture.
But right now, so many of my low-waste habits have been flipped on their heads. Bulk bins now have food pre-bagged. Secondhand shops don't feel safe or were closed, so I'm shopping more online. Coffee shops won't take my reusable mug.
I totally get it and I'm not going to argue. But it's also making me realize that all of these little actions accumulate into...well...little impact. Yes, my individual footprint is smaller, and if everyone lived a little more like I did we'd make less trash, but there are bigger systems in place.
Disclaimer: I'm definitely not saying to forget all waste-reducing habits because it's pointless. Please do not immediately say "whatevs" and buy a 120 million pack of plastic water bottles. I'm saying that we've been taught to put the responsibility on individuals (i.e., ourselves) rather than to hold the larger systems in place accountable.
When we zoom out, the systems in place are creating unsustainable (in every sense of the word) solutions. For example:
Corporations create and package things as cheaply as possible, even if it's detrimental to the health of planet and people.
When deciding where to plop a factory that pumps out pollution, chances are it will land near communities with the littlest representation in government, aka poor communities aka communities of color.
Companies and governments take shortcuts that hurt us in the long-run for the short-term benefit of making a buck.
The problem is the systems in place don't value people or planet. They value profit and power.
To me, that's the intersection of social justice and environmentalism. It's uncovering the true malicious motives that have led us to where we are now.
The antidote is carving a new path that values humanity, nature, and connection. It's running a business with integrity, because people are sick and tired of being manipulated and taken advantage of. They're sick and tired of being made sick and tired by corporations who don't care.
In order to do things differently, we need to listen to voices and thought leaders of color. We need to put our support (which often means our dollars) behind corporations and nonprofits who value our priorities. We need to make our government representation hear us and work for us.
Fellow business owners, we need to lead by example.
Our work needs to align with our values, and our messaging needs to make it crystal clear what we stand for. When we show up with that strength and authenticity, our people can find us and throw their support behind our work. That's how we make a bigger change: by growing up and replacing those giant corporations who don't give a damn—not by becoming them individually, but by banding like-minded businesses together in a powerful and innovative collective.
Together we can be a force. A force of nature.