• Climate hub
  • 7 Jun 2022
  • 4 min read

How to set your personal sustainability goal

By Ben Fahy

Bridget Williams wearing her five-bead necklace
Bridget Williams wearing her five-bead necklace

When people ask Bridget Williams what she does for a living, she tells them she paints beads. If that inspires some curiosity, she elaborates and tells them she runs a social enterprise called Bead and Proceed.  The beads she asks participants to paint are something of a “gateway drug”; a creative way to educate people about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and inspire them to act on the ones that resonate most strongly with them.

This is all a long way from her previous career. Williams studied law and was working as a solicitor. After a particularly bad day in court, she was sick of being surrounded by negativity and wanted to channel her feelings into something positive:

“I painted this big five-bead necklace and realised that everything around me lifted - I could see more clearly, I could join the dots.”

She wore the necklace to work the next day and received a few compliments on it, so created a group where people could paint beads. “That’s where the name Bead and Proceed comes from, because it was about coming together to focus on the task, swap information, and try to become better human beings.”

Soon after, she was flipping through a magazine and saw an article about the SDG framework; each goal had its own colour.

“This was in 2016 [the goals were announced in 2015] and I thought ‘No-one knows about this. We need to raise awareness’.”

The ‘a-ha moment’ arrived when she decided to combine those two ideas into a social enterprise.

UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals
UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Setting your own sustainability goals

Since launching Bead and Proceed in April 2019, Williams has had over 7000 participants learn, paint and take action. Participants in her workshops make a necklace or a key ring from their top five SDG goals, which creates a connection to the issue, and the end result acts as a physical reminder of the commitment you’ve made.

So how can we learn from Williams’ own personal experience of change and what advice does she have for those who want to live more sustainably and reduce their carbon emissions?

A key part of Williams’ process is to take people through the SDG framework and help them connect to the goals on a personal level. Start by picking a few of the SDG goals that resonate and are achievable, she suggests, and write them down.

Once you’ve found the goals that resonate, make a commitment towards it. And that commitment can be different for everyone, she says. The beauty of the SDG framework is that it’s all interconnected so “when you impact one, you impact the others”. The same goes for sustainable living, because individual actions can eventually lead to larger scale change.

Bead and Proceed workshop
Bead and Proceed workshop

Everyday ways to take action

What’s most important is taking action toward your chosen personal sustainability goals. Bridget believes everyone should commit to changing something, start doing it and try to make it a normal part of life. When it comes to living more sustainably, she suggests:

  • Dedicate an afternoon a week to make and bake with the family, whether it’s your own rice milk, crackers, cookies or bread. And if you make a little extra, donate it to your local food drive.
  • Connect with nature but also try to improve it. When walking or running, take a bag with you to collect rubbish.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle, bring your own coffee cup, pack your own lunch, use reusable food wraps, or take your own cutlery.
  • If you have access to a garden, start composting and plant herbs, veges and bee-friendly plants and flowers.
  • Shop in bulk, swap clothes with your friends, or buy second-hand.
  • Learn to sew to mend your clothes, rather than buying new.
  • When travelling short distances, opt for walking, biking or scootering.
  • Save the water from the shower in a bucket and use it to water plants or the garden.
  • Eat less meat.

Finally, education is crucial if we hope to inspire change, Bridget says, so sharing your experiences and inspiring others to follow in your footsteps is another good way to help promote more sustainable living.

"Lots of small changes can add up to big shifts"
"Lots of small changes can add up to big shifts"

Don’t just sit there!

The UN has labelled the 2020s the decade of action. We don’t have long to act, says Bridget, so the time is now. And while some of the issues we’re facing are huge and can feel overwhelming and out of our hands, lots of small changes can add up to big shifts.

“I encourage everyone who is interested in aligning to the goals to connect to them personally. We all have a personal responsibility.”

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