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How to lead an environmentally conscious freelancing career

The question of how we can individually help the planet is much debated and multi-layered. It goes without saying that a significant part of climate change is a result of industrial practices, and hence, a large deal of ecological responsibility falls on businesses and their sustainability decisions.

According to the Carbon Majors research conducted in 2017, large scale fossil fuel companies are the source of over 70% of carbon emissions since 1998. If we want to achieve tangible results, businesses and decision makers should be held accountable and made to transform their practices with larger impact.

Of course, this is not to say that our personal actions are completely irrelevant–sustainable choices in our everyday lives also have the potential to drive change. There are things you can do as a freelancer to be more eco-friendly, both on personal and interpersonal level, with sustainable business practices and daily routines.

We have curated some seeds for thought on this Earth Day about what you can personally do as a freelancer to lead a more sustainable life. Hope some of our recommendations resonate with you and spark a personal transformation.

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day has been celebrated every year on April 22 since its dawn in 1970. It was first proposed at a UNESCO Conference in 1969 by peace activist John McConnell, at a time when massive oil spills were seen around California, and student movements against war were peaking.

While it started as a political movement fighting against industrial pollution and advocating for better environmental policies in the US, it went global in 1990 and helped pave the way for the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992. For the past few decades Earth Day has seen many significant steps towards change such as the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016, and the massive online campaign in 2020 mobilizing over 100 million people.

What is sustainability?

A key term surrounding discussions of environmental action is sustainability. As with every loaded and central concept, there are contesting definitions and views around what sustainability is.

Sustainability can be considered as an umbrella term including not just environmental concerns but also an overall approach to social and economic policies as well–aiming for meeting the needs of the present while making sure that future generations are also able to meet their needs.

In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within a comprehensive agenda set to be achieved globally until 2030. The 2030 Agenda covers intersections of various social and political inequalities as well as environmental action.

Small steps for a more sustainable way of living

Go consciously digital

Working as a freelancer entails using digital means to perform most of your business tasks. This allows you to save a lot of paper, especially if you are careful to avoid printing and using paper in your note-taking and sketching practices. Using digital tools to replace disposable supplies in your daily tasks is definitely a good place to start.

But of course, going digital may not in itself be completely eco-friendly. We also use a significant amount of electricity as we perform our daily tasks digitally. You should also be mindful of how you can reduce your energy consumption with your electronics. Luckily, a lot of devices come with energy saving modes and you can easily access ways to make your daily practices more “energy efficient”.

Commute responsibly

A great deal of carbon emissions come from commonly used means of transportation. Even if you don’t regularly travel long distances with a plane, there are still ways you can reduce your carbon footprint in your daily commute.

When you have to run errands, make sure you plan beforehand and choose the greenest route possible. If you can, try to integrate walking or biking to your destinations. This will also squeeze in some physical exercise in your day–win-win! If you don’t have such alternatives and have to travel far, try to opt for public transportation or carpooling.

Eat & drink locally

“Support your local coffee shop” perhaps goes deeper than it seems at face value. One of the key principles of sustainable living is using your local resources for sustenance. The biggest reason is, again, reducing carbon emissions.

When you opt for locally sourced food and drinks, you cut back on the environmental impact of shipping and transportation, and the resources required to keep the products fresh in long distance supply chains.

Limit animal products in your diet

Going vegan or vegetarian in your consumption choices is not just good for health and for its ethical implications–it also makes a huge difference in terms of environmental impact. Industrial production of animal-based foods produces the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant-based foods.

At the end of the day, it’s important to pay attention to how your daily consumption products are sourced–is it ethical, how much harm is entailed for the environment? This may not mean going completely vegan for your case if you have a hard time accessing ethically sourced nutritious veggies, grains and fruits around you, but you can still try to reduce your meat and animal product (milk, eggs, butter, and their derivatives) consumption in general.

Manage your e-waste wisely

When your work requires using various electronic equipments, you inevitably produce electronic waste or “e-waste”. According to the UN’s global e-waste report in 2020, about 50 million metric tons of electronic products are discarded annually. Yet most electronic parts can be recycled or reused.

You can opt for refurbished or second-hand electronics in good shape, or if you insist on getting a brand new one, make sure that you make an energy-efficient and durable choice. For small parts that require regular change–for example cartridges for printers or batteries for certain devices–make sure you consider refillable and rechargeable alternatives rather than single-use disposable ones.

Then there’s the issue of e-waste recycling. At the end of the lifecycle of your electronics, consider options for recycling and donation rather than straight disposal. Even if the whole device no longer works, parts can be used in making refurbished or even brand new electronics.

Bigger steps to go green

Work remotely

Freelancing allows you to make your own living and working arrangements. In doing so, you can choose to live a lifestyle that has less environmental impact than traditional work settings.

When you work remotely, you eliminate a great deal of carbon emission that a daily commute to work would produce. In addition to the carbon footprint of your commute, there is also the heavy demand of resources (electricity, water, heat–you name it) required to run an office every day.

As a remote worker, you have more control over the environmental impact of your resource consumption. Being your own boss allows you to make sustainable choices of equipment, food, coffee, and all other things a fellow freelancer may need!

Make your resource use sustainable

With great power comes great responsibility. What can you do when you have the power to make your own adjustments in your work environment? There are plenty of ways to lead an energy-sufficient work life when you’re working remotely:

  • Ensure that your devices are energy efficient–not just your laptop and monitors, but even the right choice of light bulb can save a lot of “vampire energy”.
  • Build small conscious habits that can make a great difference in the long run.
  • Unplug the devices that unnecessarily drain energy.
  • Turn off those unused lights and put in the effort to avoid wasting water and electricity.
  • Consider coworking spaces. By sharing space, supplies and other resources, coworking spaces can help cut down a lot of waste and inefficiency that running a single-person work space can lead to.

Choose clients that emphasize sustainability in their vision/values

As we have discussed above, sustainability is not directly related to environmental impact. It is also about cultivating social and economic ties and practices grounded in the idea of sustainable development.

Certainly it’s not easy to always click up with business clients who are 100% in alignment with your personal values. However, there are some platforms such as Work for Impact, For Purpose Jobs and HumanWorks that match talents with organizations specializing in making the world a better place, focusing on climate change and social inequalities.

Contribute to reforestation efforts

Reforestation is one of the most effective actions we can collectively take against climate change. Mature forests can offset the effects of environmental damage by reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and acting as cooling agents.

There are plenty of platforms and large scale projects that identify areas affected by natural or human disturbances and aim to support the regeneration of the local flora and biodiversity. You can personally donate a portion of your earnings to non-profit organizations such as One Tree Planted and encourage your clients to chip in as well. With such projects, even the smallest contributions can go a long way.

Support services and platforms that value sustainability

Freelancers rely a lot on digital platforms and services to run their day-to-day operations. These platforms, too, are in essence businesses with their unique visions and values. Even if you run minor tasks as a user, your relationship to the platforms you use are just as important in establishing a sustainable work ecosystem.

At Ruul, we are dedicated to paving the way for making the world a better place by the power of digital transformation. Are you a solo talent guided by the principles of sustainability in your profession? Reach us out at [email protected] to be featured on our blog.

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Bilge Özensoy
Former aspiring academic & freelancer now pursuing writing and all things content, exploring potentials of new media under Ruul. Passionate about social movements, feminism & LGBTI+ rights.

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