In order to be model eco-friendly citizens, we need infrastructure and systems that make that lifestyle possible. We need communities optimized for people and not just cars; we need renewable energy to be available and affordable; we need food options that aren’t packaged in plastic.

But the scale tips both ways: It’s only by taking the smaller action of opting into these new systems and leaving old ones behind that we, as individuals, send a signal to industry that something’s gotta give.

“I always think of individual action not in a vacuum but as an essential complement to more macro action, like industrial regulation and policy changes,” Ashlee Piper, former political strategist and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet, tells mbg. “A lot of the positive momentum we are seeking on a larger scale when it comes to government and policy and industry regulation starts with us individually.”

In the meantime, as we build that momentum, the path to a more sustainable world will have its roadblocks: It might be a little more expensive and a bit more time-consuming. It’s not necessarily a realistic one for those who live in underserved communities to take, which makes it all the more important for those of us who do have the option to change our ways to actually change them—and to encourage others to do the same.

We need to start by cleaning up our own impact, but we can’t stop there. There’s strength in numbers, after all. Going plastic-free in your household is one thing, but starting a coalition that makes plastic alternatives easier to come by? That’s an action that transcends the individual and enters the realm of the collective change we’ll so desperately need in the coming years.

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