How do I actually make a difference towards climate change?

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...But what can I do to create real change?

This is the most common question I see in the Zero Waste fb groups, sustainability Reddit threads, and in casual conversations with friends. Most of us agree on the problem: human beings face the existential threat of climate change.

Many of us agree on the solutions, too! We know we can change our diets, fly less, drive electric cars, and turn off the lights. So why is it so hard to figure out what to do?

The way I see it, and the reason I started Soapbox Project, is because the information about climate change and the corresponding actions we must take don't often coexist. Every few weeks, we read something scary about increasing temperatures, and every few days we learn about a new sustainability "hack".

If you're serious about using your power as an individual, though, the steps must be a little more organized and build towards structural change.

Here's a five-step plan to fight climate change in a way that works for you.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 3,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

STEP 1: Get clear on your values and objectives

Yes, you're interested in stopping the extinction of humanity, but what drives you on a personal level? Are you interested in saving money? Being the smartest person in the room? Making new friends? Finding a job that actually makes a difference? If you can align your sustainability journey with things you already care about, you're much more likely to stick with it.

You might already know what you care about, but if not, here's a values exercise you can explore.

I'm motivated by convenience, money savings, and trying new things. If you're wondering what on earth that has to do with my fight against climate change, keep reading!

STEP 2: Identify some high-leverage solutions you're interested in

By this, I mean — there's thousands of ways you can be more sustainable. However, each action does not carry equal weight.

For example, although you still should turn off your lights and unplug your electronics, if you're motivated by how to make the most effective change when it comes to the environment, consider getting involved in climate action, powering your home with renewable energy, being vegan, and not wasting food.

Project Drawdown created two scenarios that map out the biggest reductions in CO2, which you can check out here.

That table can still be a little overwhelming if you're just getting started in determining your role in this fight. Here's where I'd start:

A climate expert told me that the three biggest ways we can fight climate change are through food, energy, and transportation. That sounds pretty obvious, but if you're looking for a high-leverage solution, I'd start by picking one of those buckets.

I care most about my food-related impact. For me, food is about more than climate change - it's about environmental justice, poverty reduction, food security, and so much more. I love food, so it made the most sense, and food waste is #1 on the Drawdown list.

Also, remember my motivators above? Here's how it ties back:

Nivi Achanta, Soapbox Project CEO, at the farmers market
Me buying honey at the farmers market

STEP 3: Understand your circle of influence

Our identities are multi-dimensional, so why not use that to our advantage? I identify as a South Asian woman entrepreneur. I have wonderful friends and a supportive family network.

Here's some examples to show how I think about my identity and my influence:

I found this template helpful to map my circle of influence. The template is more sales-y, but I ignored that part and repurposed it for climate conversations/action plans to see whom I could target to have the most impact.

By mapping my role in my networks, I understood that one of the highest-leverage ways I could bring up climate change was with my former employer. Even though I was new to my career, I found ways to start new sustainability programs by bringing up climate urgency to company executives and getting their buy-in.

Nivi Achanta talking to Accenture CEO Julie Sweet
Me talking to Accenture CEO Julie Sweet about community-powered leadership in disaster relief

STEP 4: Build community & talk it out

Big, complex problems need to be tackled together. I see this as a way for us to replenish our environmental/social justice batteries and hold each other accountable.

Honestly, what keeps me from giving up on Soapbox is knowing that I have thousands of people counting on me to deliver high-quality, bite-sized action plans. If I didn't have that and the support of my sustainable-minded friends, I may have burnt out by now.

Climate change is urgent, but it doesn't necessarily have to be desperate. A few places on the internet I like to hang out are:

All We Can Save also does book club circles. I've heard great things, but I haven't yet participated.

If there are any digital communities you love to hang out in, climate-related or not, shoot me a note and tell me what makes them special.

Finally, a member-supported community is on our 2021 Soapbox roadmap. I'd love to hear from you on what you want to see. Tell me what you're looking for and how we can help you find a home for your eco-anxiety!

3 women putting pears in a box at a food bank
Pre-covid: volunteering at a food bank with my impact-minded tech friends

STEP 5: Reflect often & build resilient optimism

One of the hardest things for me is to focus on the big picture. Working full-time as a social entrepreneur can be draining, especially when (in 2020) I don't get to see friends or find externally validating events.

I'm trying to reflect more, write down politics and policy wins, and stay optimistic.

Emily Atkin, author of HEATED newsletter, went on the Reply All podcast at the end of 2020 to help co-host Alex Goldman write a song about his "impotent rage" about climate destruction (those are real words he used, yes). What stuck with me other than the episode's relatability + absurdity was when she said that she feels rage, not despair, about climate change. She says it's a much more productive emotion. I agree, and I feel it's possible to be angry and optimistic at the same time.

I found the Climate Journal Project as a wonderful place to alleviate environmental anxiety. I'm also feeling hopeful about the sheer number of entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making climate justice their #1 priority — yes, the news can be grim, but there are lots of bright, silver spots on the horizon.

Fighting climate change is a marathon, not a sprint. (Both are hard, but you get what I mean.) I strongly believe in baby steps. In experimenting with different resources until you find your place. In changing your mind and evolving your opinion, because it's all so complex.

I believe we can make a difference — but it takes all of us, not just as individuals, but as active participants in local government, engaged employees that hold corporations accountable, and community members that are here for each other.

We got this.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 3,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Thank you! You're signed up for the fight against climate change. Make sure you add us to your contacts or mark our welcome email as important so we stay in your primary inbox instead of your promotions tab.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. it's okay; try this!
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google