How two friends are bridging continents for environmental impact

Do you know that electrifying feeling when you're absolutely confident and ready to tackle anything that comes your way? It's like when your morning coffee kicks in, and suddenly no challenge seems too daunting. Now, imagine if you could channel that energy into making a real difference for our planet—just by tweaking a few key daily habits. At the Ripples to Waves Project, we believe that integrating sustainability into your life can be just as empowering AND make a real difference, and we have the data to prove it.

How it started

After several years in management consulting and then in the environmental NGO sector, we noticed a significant disconnect in how sustainability is communicated to individuals. While working with scientists, activists, and business leaders, we gained insights into the latest climate data and observed firsthand the efforts by governments and businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. However, in our personal circles, we found many feeling overwhelmed by the scale of environmental challenges, discouraged by rampant greenwashing, and skeptical about the impact of their individual actions.

This led to the inception of the Ripples to Waves Project. We aimed not just to offer general sustainability advice but to equip people with hard facts and clear data. Our goal was to help everyone understand the real difference their choices could make. A year and over 200 scientific sources later, we launched our project: a guidebook of data-backed actions to help individuals reduce their impact on greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Although we are still in early stages, we are excited to share our research and build a community of people who are passionate and want to act in favour of the environment.

How we went about it

First, we wanted to specify what we meant by being sustainable as an individual. Inspired by the 9 Planetary Boundaries framework, we focused on three critical areas: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing environmental pollution and waste, and preventing biodiversity loss. We chose these areas because they are directly linked to personal and household consumption and offer the most potential for impact.

Then, we did the research. Not surprisingly, there is not a lot of good research linking individuals to environmental metrics today. So, after hours of research across most trusted sources and lots of problem solving, we developed three principles that can be applied to any area of life, along with our top list of individual actions to minimize one's impact on the environment.

What did we find out

One of the main takeaways from our research is that there are really no hard and fast rules when it comes to making sustainable decisions. A huge amount of an individual's impact is determined by where you live, and the same decision can have a vastly different impact depending on the context and setting.

To address this and create materials that could be broadly applicable, we developed our three principles that can be used to guide decision making.

  • Buy and dispose of less
  • Use things for longer
  • Buy and dispose of things better

Another key takeaway was that the wealthiest 10% of the global population are responsible for nearly half of all emissions and that high-income countries produce significantly more waste per capita than low-income nations. This highlights a particular responsibility for those in higher income brackets to mitigate their personal impact. We knew that we needed to have clear guidance for people in this group.

Well, you may not be surprised to know that many of the sustainable habits that have been promoted for years really are generally good for the environment. We wanted to push further, though, and quantify their level of impact to help people prioritize among them – let's take a couple of examples:

  • When it comes to nutrition, for instance, consuming less meat and other animal products can have a huge impact on biodiversity and climate. Producing just ~100 gram of beef requires 164m2 of land use – that's almost a whole tennis court of land dedicated to producing one hamburger! Even partially cutting back on meat consumption can reduce the amount of farmland needed, and, if everyone halved their animal product consumption, that could lead ~50% reduction of global farmland use and 34% reduction of greenhouse gasses from the food industry.
  • Plastic packaging drives notable environmental impact through plastic pollution and GHG emissions from production. We have found that one of the most impactful and underutilised options is reuse: reusing just 10% of most common packaging (such as coffee cups, shopping bags, shampoo bottles, etc.) can reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean by ~50%.

Where do we go from here

Sustainability isn't just a large-scale issue; it's profoundly influenced by the choices made by individuals like you. Whether it's deciding where to invest, what to eat, or what to wear, your decisions matter. Our mission is to continue growing our community and expanding our research to empower as many people as possible with the knowledge they need to make informed, impactful decisions.

Join us in transforming your small ripples of change into mighty waves of environmental progress.

Written by Alina & Caroline, who started the Ripples to Waves Project, designed for Those who are passionate about sustainability and want to know how to most effectively reduce their personal impact on the planet.

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