What Is Individual Environmental Responsibility?

Understanding an individual’s environmental responsibility and how we can become more environmentally responsible for generations to come 

Individual environmental responsibility describes the personal responsibility each of us has to protect the natural world.

We will examine individual environmental responsibility today, and why changing our actions is crucial to protecting the environment.  

leaf in hand - individual environmental responsibility

What Is Individual Environmental Responsibility?

Individual environmental responsibility is the responsibility that each of holds to protect the environment. This includes actions such as limiting our damage to the environment, making rational use of natural resources, and taking steps to prevent pollution.

Individual environmental responsibility is all about the choices we make, and how those impact the environment. Individual environmental responsibility argues that we as individuals need to make positive personal choices, such as recycling or taking the bus, that contribute to the wellbeing of the environment. This is in contrast to corporate environmental responsibility, which pushes a business as a whole to take environmental action, or community environmental responsibility, which focuses on communal actions focused on the environment.

Some have argued that individual responsibility is not sufficient to actually making change, as our individual actions alone have a much lower impact than corporations’ actions. However, others respond that individual action is simply a part of a whole, and that individual actions to protect the environment can add up to become meaningful.

How Are We As Individuals Responsible For The Environment?

On our own, we make choices and decisions about our own activities, and inevitably, they do revolve around resource consumption. In everyday life, we have so many choices that we don’t often think about. How long does it take to take a shower? Do you turn off the tap whilst lathering your hands with soap? Do you recycle or simply throw everything away? All of these small choices add up to the ultimate decision of how we are going to treat our natural resources and environment.

While there is rarely someone forcing us to think about our environmental impacts (except for laws like anti-littering regulations), individual environmental responsibility encourages us to take actions that protect the environment.

That said, some argue that focusing on individual responsibility takes away focus from what we actually need to solve environmental crises like climate change: organized collective action and high-level structural shifts. In other ways, while replacing plastic straws with metal ones in your home is a good thing, it’s unlikely to make a huge impact, and many argue that this is more of a distraction than a promising solution.

Professor Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research explained his views on the matter: “Personal sacrifice alone cannot be the solution to tackling the climate crisis. There’s no other area in which the individual is held so responsible for what’s going wrong. And it’s true: people drive too much, eat too much meat, and fly too often. But reaching zero emissions requires very fundamental changes. Individual sacrifice alone will not bring us to zero. It can be achieved only by real structural change; by a new industrial revolution. Looking for solutions to the climate crisis in individual responsibilities and actions risks obstructing this. It suggests that all we have to do is pull ourselves together over the next 30 years and save energy, walk, skip holidays abroad, and simply ‘do without.’ But these demands for individual action paralyze people, thereby preventing the large-scale change we so urgently need.”

person holding plant - individual environmental responsibility

Why Is It Important To Be Environmentally Responsible?

Many individuals are not motivated to act environmentally-responsible, as it often is less convenient, and also because we often don’t see the results of our actions. But even if it doesn’t have immediate impacts, personal choices still do make a difference, even if it’s a small one. Personal actions can also have a larger impact than we may think, as they quickly become collective. For example, you may make the choice to call your governmental representative to pressure them to make an environmentally-responsible regulatory decision, or the personal decision to boycott an environmentally-damaging company. When many people make these personal decisions collectively, we start to see results.

Environmental ethics pushes us towards action, if only to preserve the natural world’s resources for further use. As part of the biosphere, we should make it our goal to hold ourselves accountable for our actions towards the environment and how we use natural resources. 

Ultimately, our survival depends on having people who are concerned about the environment. We will be able to grow and thrive on the earth if we conserve natural resources and replenish what we can. By doing so, we will be able to utilize these resources for a long time to come. 

How Can An Individual Be Environmentally Responsible?

There are several different ways in which you can become more environmentally responsible in your everyday life. 

  1. Reduce waste
    Reduce, reuse, recycle. When possible follow these three Rs so that you can help reduce the amount of waste that gets placed into oceans and on land sites that cause harm to the environment as well as to animals and ecosystems.
  2. Conserve energy
    Turn off all lights and computers and other appliances that are not in use. If you are not using it, it should not be turned on or plugged in. 
  3. Conserve water
    Make sure that you only run your dishwasher when it is full, do not spend hours in the shower, repair leaky faucets and collect rainwater to water your plants and garden when possible. 
  4. Properly dispose of items
    Make use of household hazardous waste or e-waste services, recycle your items and donate items to charities in your area. 
  5. Get involved
    Do some research and see if you have environmental clubs around your area. Alternatively, you and some friends can start your own. You can meet up once a month or so and go around and clean up your area, local parks or start a compost heap that you can all share. 
  6. Learn and Educate
    Lastly, the best thing that you can do is educate yourself and others on how to become more environmentally responsible. You do not have to do anything drastic but each positive action towards the environment will help the earth in the long run. 

Final Thoughts 

Professor Lester Milbrath, environmentalist and Political Science professor, said in his book Envisioning a Sustainable Society, “Learning how to reason together about values is crucial to saving our species. As a society we have to learn better how to learn, I call it social learning; it is the dynamic for change that could lead us to a new kind of society that will not destroy itself from its own excess.”

It is impossible to change the world as an individual. However, it is possible to have a positive impact on our small piece of land if we become more conscious of our actions and do our best to recycle, reuse, and conserve as much as we possibly can. Eventually, we can all learn how to be more responsible for the environment, which must occur in order for our future to be healthier and more sustainable.