In sustainability, we often make the mistake of focusing on just the big gestures, the one program of movement or regulation that’s finally going to cause the entire world to adopt sustainable practices. All energy will be converted to clean, renewable sources; no water be wasted, all used water will be recycled, and no polluted water will be released back into the environment; wildlife will be protected and no additional species go extinct; social causes will be universally prioritized over profit; all communities will be made healthy, and so on.
These are all worthy, and ultimately (mostly) attainable, goals and they are absolutely what we should strive for. Governments and international organizations like the United Nations should absolutely continue their efforts to bring about change. The consequences of global climate change, mass extinctions, environmental degradation and other impacts of unsustainable living are too great for any other path.
The problem is that we focus so much on how big the challenges are and how much it is going to take to solve them that many of the 7.4 billion (or so) people on Earth who could make an impact today are often not prompted to do so. We need to constantly remind individuals that they can make the most impactful strides down the path of improvement and toward a more sustainable future.
Even small steps – one less gallon of water per household per day in the developed world, where clean water appears endless and often goes down the drain; a reduction in energy use by unplugging unused electronics and shutting off lights in empty rooms – make a huge impact when multiplied by hundreds, then thousands, then millions, then billions.
We could small steps toward sustainability improvement inconsequential or as not enough. In doing so, we would be missing the importance of small steps on the path to large scale improvement. Replicate the small steps over and over again, and the impact is massive and globally significant. That is the message we should be sending to individuals and organizations around the world.