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#Anatomy of Action: How to Build a Sustainable Lifestyle & Achieve the UN SDGs

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Collective Impact & Education for a More Sustainable Future

Sustainability is not a destination. It is a journey that we are all taking, whether or not we know it, like it and embrace it. As environmentalists we are constantly adopting innovative ways to live more sustainable lifestyles and to inspire others to do the same in the attempt to reduce our individual and societal ecological footprint. As environmental educators we are always looking for teaching tools that are as dynamic, creative and trend-aware as the students we’re trying to influence. The recently launched #AnatomyofAction is one of the latest developments in the sustainable living social movement.

The Anatomy of Action (AoA) aims to enable and encourage individuals to strive towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 through adopting sustainable lifestyle practices. It was developed in collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme and The UnSchool of Disruptive Design. Reminiscent of the Leave No Trace 7 Principles, the Anatomy of Action (AoA) is an easy to remember, highly impactful set of everyday actions focusing on five key areas of life: FOOD, STUFF, MOVE, MONEY & FUN. The AoA uses our hands as a mnemonic reference and constant reminder that how we live has an impact on the environment, and that our choices make that influence positive or negative.

The adoption of the AoA #EverydayActions by people across the world has the power, through collective impact, to contribute to the global achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs). The 17 SDGs were adopted in 2015 and provide a focus point for humanity to strive towards a socially just and environmentally positive future. Comprising 169 targets and 232 indicators, the SDGs can seem daunting; too big for any one person to accomplish. The AoA provides a starting point to help people across the globe live in ways that can contribute to achieving the SDGs.

In particular, the AoA focusses on SDG #12 – Sustainable Production and Consumption. By making more mindful and responsible choices in the goods and services we buy and use, we can affect demand and production of products in the global economy. The SDGs are deeply interconnected and need to be achieved collectively. By design, the AoA can be applied to many targets and to every one of the 17 goals.

There are a number of SDGs that relate directly to environmental educators. Goal 12.8 sets the following target: “By 2030 ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.” Through teaching the 15 #EverydayActions to students, we are directly contributing to that goal. By using various teaching techniques, we can encourage them to become environmental influencers by spreading the AoA through their own social networks, which can achieve even greater transformative impact.

The Anatomy of Action model is a contribution to the growing Sustainable Lifestyle (SL) social movement. It is designed to be easily shared with individuals, groups and on social media. As SL becomes more socially acceptable and oftentimes even popular, it is easy to promote the AoA to students as a way to be ahead of the social curve and to use it as a tool to gain more traction on social media.

After recently sharing the #AnatomyofAction for the first time with a group of students on a surf programme in Bali the feedback was very positive. Despite being aware of the serious and multiple threats facing the Earth’s Biosphere it can be difficult to decide what we can do as individuals. Many of us are living in big cities but are still eager to act in a way that is more conducive to long-term global sustainability. The AoA presents a bunch of everyday ‘lifestyle swaps’ that will have the most collective impact.

Each lifestyle area of FOOD, STUFF, MOVE, MONEY & FUN has three memorable everyday actions that anyone and everyone can adopt to support the global changes we need to achieve the SDGs. The 15 high-level actions and associated AoA explanations are presented here briefly. Please visit the AoA website for more information, stats and inspiration.

“Reduce or eliminate meat and animal product consumption habits and adopt a more plant-based diet.”

“Get organic waste out of trash heaps and landfills to reduce methane, improve soil fertility and to increase equitable access to fresh food”

“If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest producer of greenhouse gasses on the planet!”

“Grow your own food and connect to where it comes from in order to save money and to reduce transport, packaging and food waste.”

“Consider what you need and buy products that will last longer, be used multiple times and are intended to be in the economy for as long as possible before being remanufactured.”

“Buy fewer and better quality clothes, stay away from fast fashion that mass produces at the cost of environmental and human justice.”

“Refuse everyday products which cannot be reused.”

“Keep or take up walking and cycling to work and advocate for your government and local businesses to provide more sustainable and safer public transport options.”

“Continue or opt for public and shared transport instead of driving and advocate for more options.”

“Swap to options like electric vehicles, cleaner fuels and fewer kilometres to reduce your transport footprint.”

“Use your principles to guide investing and consider socially and environmentally responsible options.”

“Actively swap your financial institutions or services to more sustainable options.”

“Enhance your comfort, save energy and money by adapting your home and your habits to be more efficient”

5. #Fun

“Staying local can reduce your carbon footprint, help local economies and can be more cost effective. When you do go the distance, stay longer, choose better products and be a sustainable traveller.”

“Embrace a life of constant learning, adventure & curiosity and keep an open mind”

“Consider spending more time and resources on the experiences that add value to your life.”

“If we all change the way we eat and buy, how we invest money and move, and what we do for fun and aspirations, we can change how our world works for a better future.”

*Anatomy of Action is an initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme and The UnSchool of Disruptive Design, licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution Non-Commercial

Matthew Cox is an independent experiential educator and sustainability consultant based in Southeast Asia. Matt has an academic background in Marine Biology, Zoology & Environmental Science, and over five years’ experience in Experiential Education. Matt currently works as a program manager, expedition leader and consultant for schools and organisations across the region. Matt is always looking to encourage, contribute and collaborate with individuals and organisations to have transformative impact on society so that we can work towards a collectively sustainable future.

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While the vast majority partner it with the climate, maintainability can be investigated in different settings the other braininc, including financial turn of events and social obligation. These settings incorporate the Earth's conveying limit, the maintainability of biological systems, occupations, standards of conduct, etc.


Hi Gilbert, thank you for your message. Outdoortopia website is owned and run by my friend, Alex. I'm really glad that you liked my article. And yes, I do visit schools to do talks and run workshops. I appreciate any opportunity to enagage with students and help them in their journey to a sustainable future.


Hi Matt, I love you site and the message. I will definitely use it with my students. I am an educator in Thailand. Do you do school visits/talks?

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