Sustainability expert Moji Igun explains the difference between individual and systemic action and why we must actively engage in both as we move towards a more resilient future.
Last month, I shared four simple steps to approach a more sustainable lifestyle while social distancing. Some states are currently in the process of reopening, however we’re still a long way from a full recovery. Amidst the various ripple effects caused by this global pandemic, major flaws in our society have been brought to light. We are faced with enormous structural problems that we can no longer ignore. That is, unless we want to return to a society that repeatedly proves to be problematic for Mother Earth and all the various forms of life who call her home. To find ourselves in a more resilient future, we must take action that finds a balance of tackling problems both individually and systemically.
We’ve seen incredible examples of individual action during this crisis. This might look like sewing protective face masks and distributing them to frontline workers or donating to a bailout fund to support those who have been arrested protesting in the name of Black Lives Matter. Individual action is where one person takes action on behalf of an individual or a group. This is a helpful way to provide immediate resources and relief to people who need it most. Yet, it does not address the root of the problem. In the case of my examples, the institutional flaws embedded in our healthcare systems and the institutional racism embedded in our society.
On a macroscopic level, how can we make a transition into a world where we are kinder to people and the planet? On a microscopic level, how can we make an impact with the choices we make on a daily basis?
Many of us, especially those of us who work in the sustainability space, have a strong desire to take full advantage of this global reset to reframe our thinking. On a macroscopic level, how can we make a transition into a world where we are kinder to people and the planet? On a microscopic level, how can we make an impact with the choices we make on a daily basis? When it comes to living sustainably, many of us try our best to recycle, compost, turn the lights off, eat local and organic foods, etc. but aside from voting people into office who align with our values, how do we enact transformational change?
In order to make a substantial impact, we have to engage in systemic action. This is where a person or group of people take steps towards long-lasting change for the benefit of a larger group. While this kind of advocacy requires a significant investment of time and resources, it is much more effective in the long-term than addressing systemic issues person by person. This may look like advocating for resources on behalf of your community to your local government officials or calling on your city to implement policies that eliminate unwarranted police violence. With systemic action, we’re deconstructing a problematic system to rebuild a better one in its place. In tandem, individual and systemic action can be powerful. One way you can accomplish both is through supporting businesses whose core values align with your own. With systemic action, we’re deconstructing a problematic system to rebuild a better one in its place.
Although our current reality is of economic uncertainty, we all still have needs that require exchanges of currency. If you’re fortunate to be spending money beyond the essentials, treat it as a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.
For example at CURA, you’ll find that each product they carry has a focus on creating social impact and sharing human stories. CURA is a place where you can find a thoughtful gift that has been crafted ethically and with sustainability as a priority. This doesn’t need to only be an individual feel-good act. It can be a step towards real systemic change. Your investment could allow hard workers around the globe to earn a livable wage so they can lift themselves out of poverty. You could be giving an artisan the space to preserve their cultural craft. You could be encouraging the adoption of less wasteful manufacturing processes. Each purchase is a vote against extractive and oppressive ways of doing business that are often deemed as the norm. This is how we can support the needs of individuals alongside those of the many.
If you’re specifically looking to buy products created by Black women-owned businesses, here are a few you can find at CURA Co.:
As we work together to create a better future, we must find a balance between taking both individual and systemic action. Individual actions are good but compared to the impact that is possible when we address things systematically, they’re a drop in the bucket. Systemic action guarantees ripple effects that move us towards the better world that we’re all hopeful for.
"There is no environmental justice without racial justice. These are not separate issues. They are one and the same"-Moji Igun
Art by Laura Berger
"Escaping the Violence"