It is easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and panicky about the future when thinking about the climate crisis. Where do you begin to make positive changes in your daily life  when every choice you make can, in some way, impact the environment? The Anatomy of Action Initiative was created to address just such a concern.

Ecoanxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom,” and by Psychology Today as, “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.” A brief glance at newspaper headlines throughout 2020 is enough to instill ecoanxiety in even the most grounded individual. So as we move forward in 2021, what actions can individuals implement in their everyday lives to support global sustainability?

The Anatomy of Action Initiative is a partnership project between the United Nations Environment Program and The UnSchool of Disruptive Design that was launched in 2019.. The aim of the initiative is “to define and communicate the most positively impactful actions anyone of us can take to add to the global movement around sustainable lifestyles to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

After an extensive review of the scientific data surrounding sustainability, the project highlighted 15 everyday actions across five lifestyle themes that, if enough individuals across the world partake in, will have a positive impact on planetary health. These actions are simple to implement and easy to remember, as the campaign’s logo represents each lifestyle theme as a digit on a hand.

Thumb – The Food We Eat

The lifestyle theme represented by the thumb is food. The three everyday actions that fall within this theme are; protein swaps, using all your food and growing your own food.

Reducing or eliminating meat and animal product consumption is an easy and sustainable way to reduce your carbon footprint. According to the initiative’s research, livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year. 

Using all your food means removing organic waste from the trash. This can be done by planning your meals in such a way that you use all of the produce, storing food correctly in order to maximise shelf-life, making stock from scraps, and by composting any additional scraps. 

When you grow your own food, you have a better understanding of where it comes from. You also cut down on packaging waste and transportation emissions. Growing your own food does not always require a large garden. Vegetables like leeks, celery, carrots and beets can be grown in glass jars filled with a little water and placed on windowsills. If you cannot grow your own food, then connect with local sustainable farmers, or shop at markets. 

Index Finger – The Stuff We Buy

The index finger represents the lifestyle theme of shopping. The three actions you can take are; a fashion slowdown, thinking beyond buying and ditching disposables.

The Anatomy of Action initiative found that global production of clothing has doubled in the past 15 years, but in 2015, only 15.3% of all textiles were recycled. Reusing clothes saves 29kg CO2E per kg of clothing more than recycling and a further 33kg CO2E per kg of clothing compared to disposing of the clothes. Buying quality clothes, shopping at secondhand or vintage shops, and sharing/reusing/repairing/repurposing clothes are all easy ways to initiate a fashion slowdown.

Thinking beyond buying means really considering what you actually need. Purchasing products that are intended for multiple uses and that can be recycled or remanufactured and buying from companies that offer spare parts or extended warranties is a great way to ensure you can use your product for a long time.

According to the UN, only 9% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic that have been produced has been recycled. Ditch the disposable straw, coffee cups, razors, bags and sanitary products. While the initial cost may appear higher than disposable options, reusable products will save you money in the long-run. Buying in bulk from zero-waste stores and always carrying a container with you are simple steps you can take. 

Middle Finger – The Way We Move Around

Falling under the theme of movement are the actions of keeping active, sharing your ride and going cleaner.

The action of keeping active encourages people to use their own bodies as a mode of transport. This will not only reduce their carbon emissions, but will also promote a more healthy lifestyle. The Anatomy of Action initiative found that by cycling to and from work, you can reduce your chance of cancer by 45% and cardiovascular disease by 46%. 

Using public transportation, collaborative commuting with neighbours, friends or colleagues, and choosing rail services over flights are all effective ways you can reduce your CO2 emissions. 

Going cleaner involves making choices that reduce your transportation emissions. Electric cars, cleaner fuels and reducing the number of kilometres you travel are all cleaner choices. Approximately 28% of total greenhouse gas emissions are released by transportation, so supporting cleaner businesses or government initiatives is an important action to take.

Ring Finger – How We Use Our Money

The fourth lifestyle theme focuses on ethical investment, divestment out of industries and commercial activities that are unsustainable and saving money through energy-smart household adaptations.

Ethical investing requires investors to use their principles when investing their money. Choosing banks with sustainable investments policies, investing in sustainably produced goods and services, and never investing in products that rely on endangered wildlife (such as ivory, shark fin or turtle shell products) are actions that ethical investors can take.

If your bank invests in unsustainable industries (fossil fuels, tobacco, weapons, etc.) then consider moving to a bank that allows for more sustainable investments. Ask your retirement fund manager about the industries your retirement fund is invested in and ensure they are sustainable. 

Through adapting your home and your habits to be more energy efficient, you will not only be reducing your carbon footprint, you will also be saving yourself time and money. The initiative found that 10-20% of the USD$2000 the average American spends annually on electricity is wasted on drafts, air leaks around openings and outdated temperature control systems. Ensuring that your house is correctly insulated, that your lightbulbs are all LED, drawing the curtains in summer or layering up in winter are all energy-efficient actions you can take.

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Pinky Finger – The Fun Things We Do

The final lifestyle theme covers the way in which people spend their leisure time. By enjoying the journey, staying curious and choosing experiences over possessions, people can strive to live more sustainable lives.

Enjoying the journey encourages people to conduct research into their tourist activities to ensure that they are ethical and sustainable. Vacationing closer to home will reduce your travel emissions and bolster the local economy. When you do travel, enjoy the journey by making it part of the vacation. Slower travel modes, such as trains and buses, allow for more sightseeing with reduced carbon emissions. Visiting fewer places, staying for longer in each place and eating local are actions which will reduce your overall impact on the environment.

Seek out and support innovative sustainable ideas and use technologies and apps that allow you to live more sustainably. Learning about the local systems around you, such as where your food comes from, will allow you to make informed decisions daily. 

Choosing experiences over possessions will not only encourage a more sustainable lifestyle, it will also cultivate a healthier lifestyle. By choosing active outdoor activities and connecting with nature, you will reduce your impact on the environment, while also improving your overall well-being. 

Food, Stuff, Move, Money and Fun; the five key areas where you can work to improve the impact that your daily life has on the planet. If everyone works to increase the sustainability of their choices in these five themes, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will become that much more attainable. For more information, check out Anatomy of Action for Sustainable Living.