How do I actually make a difference towards climate change?

What can I do to create real, sustainable change?

This is the most common question I see in the Zero Waste Facebook 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 if the climate awareness is there, 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 sustainable change.‍ A shift in your actions and mindset, especially in your career, can actually make a difference!

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

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 own journey to sustainable change 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 tying 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 use your climate awareness to make sustainable change. After all, every sector and part of our lives imaginable will be influenced and react to climate change including our homes, our food systems, and even the way we invest our money. 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. Or, if energy is your climate passion, consider pivoting your professional life towards a clean energy career (but more on that later).

A climate expert told me that the three biggest ways we can fight climate change are through sustainable 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, ethical eating 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:

  • Convenience: I don't eat meat, so things are significantly easier to cook. I don't have to worry about getting salmonella or ethically sourcing meat. Also, since I don't waste food, I don't have to cook as much, opting instead for leftovers. Woohoo!‍
  • Money savings: being vegetarian and eliminating my household food waste means that our meals cost less and last longer. When I learned last year about how much household food waste contributes to climate change, I started paying more attention. Instead of throwing away old rice and bread butts, I repurposed and got creative via fried rice and homemade bread crumbs.
  • Trying new things: ethical eating and the whole #NoFoodWaste journey has shown me hundreds of new recipes to try. I also learned about how grocery stores promote overproduction, so I've started buying produce at the farmer's market. I've explored San Francisco and Seattle partially through farmers' markets alone and it's been great. It's even helped me feel like I have plans during COVID!

Now apply this type of thinking to your career and identify high-leverage solutions you're interested in working on. Think of what motivates you in your career–can you connect your climate motivations and interests with your work life goals?

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:

  • Family — how can I have direct conversations with receptive family members on swapping out ziplocs for Tupperware? (see above on ethical eating)
  • Friends — what donation links can I share with my friends so they get corporate matches? I also share higher-effort structural actions with them because I know they care enough to take action towards sustainable change.
  • Fellow entrepreneurs — can I give them tips for environmentally friendly packaging that could save them $ and/or put a positive spin on their brand? Can I get intros to their corporate funders and ask them about their climate finance efforts?‍
  • South Asian community — How can I raise awareness about food waste and get folks to donate food after 100+ person weddings instead of throwing it away? Which clothing rental companies can I promote as a fancy alternative to buying new outfits?

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. This kind of climate career action isn’t limited to any sector, role or organization; anyone can turn their jobs towards sustainable change if they are willing to make the first move. Starting a sustainability program can seem intimidating, but remember to start with your list of climate values and objectives and work from there. Try thinking about the gaps in sustainability in your own role, team, department, and organization–where can you align your skills and weave sustainable practices into your existing day-to-day?

Step 4: Build community & talk it out

‍If we’re going to create systemic change, 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 to hang out with climate-conscious friends on the internet are:

‍All We Can Save also does book club circles. I've heard great things, but I haven't yet participated. has created Huddle, a networking program to supercharge your climate career. If you’re looking for a climate community in your professional life don’t be afraid to explore communities in your profession, field of interest, or local groups. And if you are already involved in groups, consider creating climate programs or groups with other members.

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 green entrepreneurs and change makers 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.

An incredible sense of purpose can be found when using your career to guide climate solutions into the world. Knowing that your 40 hours a week, every week, you’re making an impact on climate solutions is both empowering and soothing in the face of climate anxiety.

‍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.

Bonus Step 7: Make your Career Work for You

On average, we work for 80,000 hours of our lives (that means that if you worked 24/7 every day of the year, your career would be over nine years of your life!)–that’s a lot of time that you can be putting into climate action, all the while getting paid for it.

There’s a few common misconceptions in climate careers that hold people back from taking the leap, but if you’ve made it to step 7, you’re more than prepared for the challenge.

  • Start where your heart is: Climate careers are as diverse as we are, finding your place in climate is much less intimidating when you start from a place of personal connection. A good way to start is by reflecting on which climate impacts resonate with you the most.
  • Don’t underestimate your skills: All career types, paths, and sectors are needed in our “all hands on deck” world. Work with your hard and soft skills instead of swimming against the current to make full use of your experience.
  • Community is Key: If there’s one takeaway from this article it’s the importance of community. Whether building climate connections within your own community or joining sustainable champions online, networking passionate change makers can make all the difference in finding your climate dream job.

‍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.‍ And if you want to stay in touch with me and make change with new friends who care about you and the Earth, check out our Soapbox Project community. We have weekly events, discounts on sustainable product swaps, local action hubs in cities around the world where you can meet people in your area, and more.

We got this.

This article was originally published on the Soapbox Project Journal. A special thanks to Nivi and all of the SBP team!