Sustainable Choices that Make the Biggest Impact

As I approach the end of my MSt in Sustainability Leadership, I have been reflecting on where my choices, skills and experiences can have the most impact on sustainability issues.

As I wrote previously, I have made a commitment (not yet fulfilled) to calculate my lifetime carbon footprint and pay to have those emissions removed. I’ve also discussed my plans to replace my hurricane-damaged roof with a metal one and install solar panels — another goal not yet reached. And I’ve talked about the little steps I take in my everyday life — but what impact does any of this really have? Of course we must all play our part and every little bit helps, but for me, I feel most of these things are just things I ought to do anyway, simply because they’re the right thing to do. Not because I feel they’ll make a big impact or because that’s all I believe I can do. I can do more and I should do more.

I know I’m not alone in the feeling of urgency, the sense that I need to do something, I must do something to make a contribution to our shared future. The world is changing, the climate is deteriorating visibly and the signs are there every day. And yet, sometimes I find myself bogged down by the smallest purchase, researching and looking for the most sustainable product with the least impact on the planet which also provides a fair wage to those who produce it. Of course these things are important — but is this best use of my specific skills and experience?

I wrote earlier about how we must all operate within the constraints of time and circumstance. But lately I’ve been thinking about that from another angle — we have also have limited time and need to choose how we use it.

For example, I have the honour to sit on the board of a charitable organisation where I am well-placed to influence the leadership team to make sustainable choices that have an impact across the large organisation. My two hours are better spent working with them to roll out a specific sustainability change across all their properties, rather than researching the best brand of kitchen roll or desk made from sustainably-harvested wood. Now that I’ve done the work to make those daily changes and identify new sources for the products we use, what incremental benefit is there to agonising over one more thing? In a perfect world, I’d do it all of course. But time is so limited, so precious and that’s never been clearer to me.

This may sound obvious to most, but for me, this redirection or rather, honing in on the most important items is the true task of a sustainability leader. Perhaps it’s more challenging to me as a detail-oriented person rather than a big picture person. But I’ll keep this in mind as I make my way through the next few months of crunch time, during a particularly busy time for work, completing the Cambridge coursework and writing the dissertation all at the same time. And I know that when I’m through, it’s time for a complete reassessment of where I can best direct my professional skills and experience to have the greatest impact. I am not absolutely certain where exactly that will be, but I know it’s somewhere beyond researching the latest fancy compost bin.

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