17 ways you can change the world

The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by leaders of the 193 member countries, and officially came into force on the 1st of January 2016.  These goals were set in motion so that countries all over the world, in all economic brackets, will start mobilizing harder than ever to promote prosperity while protecting the planet, up until 2030.

The goals address a range of social needs including health, education and job creation, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection. You can check out a diagram of the goals below.


Whether we can completely eradicate world poverty and hunger by 2030 remains to be seen, but the aim of these goals is partly to provide focus and inspiration, which is a huge step in the right direction!

If you’re a gap year student planning a volunteering or service program trip overseas, you might be thinking to yourself that you’re already doing your part to change the world – even in a small way. You are not at all wrong, of course – any time, energy or money you can donate to communities in need; no matter how small, can make a difference.

The very act of undertaking such a journey will expand your knowledge and understanding of the world beyond your own town or country. People in the West often view the citizens of developing countries as being helpless victims of poverty or war, in need of handouts and unable to stand up on their own feet. They don’t see the tireless efforts of those citizens to improve their lives and their communities, even at great personal cost and with little or no resources – this is mainly the fault of the media, which focuses only on negatives. As a volunteer in these communities, you gain knowledge that you can use to raise awareness of what’s REALLY going on, within your peer group or family.

OK, so we’ve established that volunteering can help change the world, even in just a little way. What has this got to do with the UN Sustainable Development Goals? And what can you do to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, or fix climate change? This is a job for governments, world leaders and big international organizations, not the average person! It seems impossible that you, the average person, can make any kind of impact.

Guess again - as a volunteer or service learner, you’re in a unique position to help further these vital goals – you’ve already taken (or plan to take) steps to give back to society and expand your knowledge. You’re already on a path that will make an impact. Take a look at 17 things you can also do in everyday life to help change the world – starting with easy things you can do from your living room, to the slightly more complicated things that require a bit of legwork!

  1. Save electricity by plugging appliances into a multiplug adaptor, and turning them off completely when not in use – yes, including your computer.
  2. Don’t shut up, speak up! Voice your support for the Paris Agreement on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions globally, and help spread awareness.
  3. Stay informed. Make sure you follow your local news at all times – exercising healthy skepticism and doing your own research of course! - and stay in touch with the Global Goals online or on social media at @GlobalGoalsUN.
  4. Balance out your carbon emissions! You can calculate your carbon footprint and purchase climate credits from Climate Neutral Now. In this way, you help reduce global emissions that little bit faster.
  5. Airdry your hair and clothes naturally instead of running a machine – OK, maybe not as much in winter, but give it a try at least! When you do your clothes, make sure the load is full.
  6. Freeze leftovers and fresh produce if you don’t have the chance to eat them quickly. If you’re a student, this probably won’t apply – what even are leftovers?!
  7. If you or your family has a garden, make sure you compost. Composting organic scraps can help reduce climate impact while also recycling nutrients into the soil.
  8. Recycling paper, plastic, glass and aluminium all the time keeps those hideous landfills from growing.
  9. Support your local neighbourhood businesses. Not only does this create good community relationships, it keeps people from losing jobs, and it helps prevent trucks from driving far distances.
  10. Be a Smart Shopper. Plan all your meals and avoid impulse buys. Don’t get tricked by cute marketing ploys – and make sure that “bulk discounts” actually do work out cheaper, and you’re not getting forced to buy things you might end up throwing away, with no actual savings.
  11. Some farmer’s markets and even supermarkets throw away fruit that might look slightly “funny”- it’s perfectly fresh and edible, but maybe has a weird shape or slightly unusual colour. Ask if you can buy this food that might otherwise go to waste.
  12. Shop only for sustainable seafood. There are now many apps like this one that tell you what to buy that isn’t harming our ocean ecosystems.
  13. On an outing, take a refillable water bottle and coffee cup in your bag or backpack. Cut down on waste paper and plastic – your friendly local coffee shop might even give you a discount if you bring your own cup!
  14. Shop second-hand where you can. Vintage is cool! Brand-new gear is always great to get – but maybe buy it for VERY special occasions, or request it for birthday or Christmas presents. Everyone has a friend who can mend clothing - or take your clothing to a tailor for small repairs, rather than discarding.
  15. Donate what you don’t use - local charities will give your used clothes, books and furniture a great new life!
  16. Eat less meat and fish – we’re not all designed to be full Vegans, but limiting your intake lessens your footprint on Earth.
  17. You have rights as a citizen – make sure you use them to elect the leaders in your country and local community.

If you can do at least one thing on this list every day, you’re one of the game-changers helping the world be a better place!

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