If you’re looking for some guidance on how you can get yourself on the path towards greater sustainability, I’ve put together a little breakdown to help you along and adopt a greener, healthier, and (hopefully) more satisfactory lifestyle.
1. Cut Down On Your Eco-Footprint
How do we go about changing the world? Changing our own habits is a great place to start! Applying the walk the talk method, and seeking to improve our own day to day will inevitably lead us towards more sustainable behavior. It truly is a mentality and once you get the ball rolling, you’ll begin to see opportunities for improvement everywhere.
ConsumptionConscious consumerism is key. Yes, we need things, but do we really, really need things? Controlling what we purchase provides a fundamental source for sustainable living. Choosing to live with less can certainly help when it comes to minimizing our impact, as well as potentially boosting our personal finances, and cutting back on the times spent on cleaning maintaining and organizing the things we do own. I’m certainly not preaching the need for everyone to suddenly adopt a minimalist lifestyle (good on you if you do!), but a greater awareness of selective buying.
Learning how to compost, recycle, and manage our waste is amazing, but it’s even easier when you don’t have to do it in the first place. These are the types of decisions we can make while still at the shopping mall or grocery store. We don’t have to give in to the compulsion of buying things simply because they’re discounted or appear to be a goof value. Why were we there in the first place, and do we truly want to bring all this stuff back into our homes.
When contemplating such purchases, some best practices include: buying things with less packaging (example a larger format instead of individually wrapped items); supporting local; and choosing organic items when possible. Anytime you’re buying something that didn’t have to travel across the ocean or continent is already a bonus, and encouraging the organic producers that support the soil and water is downright wonderful!
Finally, buying only what you need and love, what gives you joy, will also help manage your need for space. We don’t need big homes with packed garages and attics, filled with things that we don’t use that often (if at all). Learning how to curb our consumption is a critical first step.
DrivingAnother significant strain on our world is the invasion of the automobile. Cars have totally permeated our culture and generated a dependency. When I speak of driving, I’m not referring to the genuine pleasure and sense of freedom that some might take from the act itself.
I fully comprehend the sense of wonder and exploration that can potentially enthuse some drivers. I can also appreciate that there are those out there that feel the call for a roadtrip, or the desire to test their skills in a professional setting and train for the Grand Prix Formula One. Without a doubt, it can be exhilarating!
However, for the vast majority of the population who can afford it, driving has simply become the norm for getting around. We go through the motions and acquire our licenses, buy a car, and use it to commute and manage our day to day, because it is what our parents, friends, and neighbors have done. We naturally emulate those around us, and can possibly feel judged if we don’t follow suit. This habitual process has placed a terrible burden on our lives, our cities, and our planet.
The amount of resources required to build and maintain a vehicle, combined with the fact that the vast majority still run on fossil fuels, and it is no surprise that finding alternative means of getting around will make a positive contribution to the planet. Substitute driving as your primary means of transport when at all possible and and you’re well on your way to sparking that internal motivation 😉
Waste ManagementWhile cutting out our trash entirely is the ideal, the present reality is such that most of us will still be generating garbage, so it’s important to consider what to do with it. Recycling and composting need to become part of the routine. Perhaps it seems tedious at first, but much like anything in life, it’s not as daunting once you actually do it! The key is to develop the habit. Once we develop the routine of washing out our containers and repurposing old items, it simply becomes second nature.
What I’m proposing shouldn’t come as a surprise, indeed throughout history (just look back to our grandparents) thrift and efficiency were prized. You washed your milk and jam jars, and you kept your bottles for use again. It’s unfortunate that the habit of labeling things as garbage took over with greater force as modern society drifted towards a throw-away culture.
This not need be the case!! There is no waste in nature, everything is constantly used and reused, and we need to relearn how to live within nature’s means. But until that time, we can certainly attempt to cut down on what we do in fact throw away. Since first becoming conscious of the amount of garbage my family and I would throw out, we were able to dramatically reduce our trash by (1) changing certain purchasing habits, (2) composting, and finally (3) recycling and re-purposing. We doubtlessly still have room for improvement, but we were already able to see the progress as we went from a large trash bag every garbage day (collection is twice a week), to one bag every 2.5 weeks.
There are a number of bloggers out there who have also shared their experiences as they impressively journey towards zero waste, and while it might be a significant undertaking to achieve zero waste, you can certainly pick up pointers and best practices along the way. Don’t be intimidated by the ideal out comes though, you need not all be perfect, we simply have to be on the path to it 😉 Be better than yesterday, and sure enough you’ll get there!
Eat Less MeatThe agricultural industry takes an immense toll on the planet, and if we’re able to simply reduce the amount of meat we consume, we’d be doing ourselves and the earth a valued service. For those of you still eating meat regularly, I get it. I absolutely love to cook (and eat!) and preparing dishes with meat had pretty much been a staple in my home throughout my childhood.
I come from an Italian family, and the sausage and cold cuts, the meatballs, and meat sauces were near inseparable from family gatherings. But at some point, these meat dishes became the principal component of near every meal. I realized that I felt like I wasn’t really eating unless there was meat on the plate, and it took years before I understood that this need not be the norm. I thought being vegan or vegetarian was an ideological choice, and that it was well enough for those that pursued it, but that it did not fit with my cultural upbringing.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to travel, meet and eat with people from other cultures, learn more about the history of human eating habits, and eventually matured in my understanding. Historically, humans never ate the amount of meat we do in the modern North American diet. Meat protein has literally saturated our cities, and I can pick up a hamburger, meat-lover’s pizza, or steak submarine in nearly any neighborhood, at all hours of the day or night, and for relatively little cost.
Yet as mentioned in my earlier posts, this need not be the case. We can choose to dwindle our meat consumption without necessarily going to extremes. My family managed this by starting with at least one meat-free night per week, then gradually moved it to two and three days a week, till we hit that majority milestone. Other tips included combining more vegetables in recipes that required meat, and loading up with a variety of herbs and veggie colours (deliciousness), so that even if we decided to make a stew or fajitas we would use more veggies than meat (we now opt for beans/lentil substitutes).
Lastly, when selecting meat, choosing chicken or rabbit over beef or lamb also makes a significant reduction in your ecological footprint. So there you have it, no need to swear of meat, at least not immediately, try instead to cut down and savor the experience as special treat it is when it does come time to feast.
2. Contribute to the Community
Your community is out there, be a part of it! This implies socializing, chatting, and becoming known to people in your neighborhood. If you’re not quite the vocal type yet, simply get out there and offer a helping hand, and soon enough you’ll be feeling the awesome thrill participation and belonging.
Choosing to share your time, skills, knowledge, or food is great way to get involved. As the old saying goes, sharing is caring 😉 These are lesson we learn from a young age, but somehow many of us let this one slip along the way. Whether due to our time constraints or our own countless personal needs, our society has been trending towards greater isolation and individualism. Reconnect with your community and you’ll be help drive the sustainable motivation.
Make FriendsThis one might seem obvious, but it’s totally worth highlighting! Not only are humans social beings, and require others and society to thrive, but if we want to make positive changes, we’re going to need help! This includes working together and sharing experiences, understanding, and values, as well as undertaking the cause for greater sustainability in our societies.
We cannot simply go off grid and hope for the best, the more effective long term strategy is to win over people, and use our shared goals and interests to work for a better future. We have so much to learn from one another, and as we grow and understand one another, our common purpose and struggles will further motivate and sustain us!
Know Your NeighborsStart with your neighbors! Say high and get to know the people next door, down the street, and in your neighborhood. I’ve heard many times how back in the day it used to be that we knew people better, that we weren’t so isolated, that times were good when we looked out for each other and knew one another’s names. Well go for it!
Begin with a wave or a smile, a small chat here or there until you can maybe even join one another for a walk or a BBQ. Knowing your neighbors helps generate that sense of belonging and community that we all need, it provides greater security, and can be a source of comfort and assistance.
Another benefit to knowing your neighbors is the potential for sharing items we don’t use very often, and hooking each other up with and maybe swapping items (or food) we have an abundance of. We don’t need to run out and buy a ladder or a drill if we can borrow one, and when the role is reversed, you’ll also gain satisfaction from helping out and reciprocating the generosity. In a nutshell, it’s just a pretty awesome and rewarding habit to embody.
Participate in Community EventsAnother evident and amazing way to contribute towards your community is to simply show up for community causes and celebrations. Turn up for neighborhood events, join local associations, and ideally even volunteer and help out when you can.
There are so many great community events to be a part of, and if they’re perhaps lacking, don’t be shy to go ahead and organize one! Popular ones include food fares and music festivals, but it could be as simple as joining other parents for outings, or being part of a clothing drive or charity cook-off. I personally love being part of organizing a successful event, and find it immensely gratifying, but if you’re looking to start small, just making an appearance at an event that others have taken the time to organize, and you’re already making a recognizable contribution.
3. Be Active Politically
Engaging politically is critical in society and serves as a perpetual source of motivation once you discover what ignites you. To this day, I’m still surprised when I learn that someone is not “into politics.” The moment we step out the door of our homes, we enter politics: be it stumbling on an uneven pavement (Montreal is notorious for potholes), drinking from a park fountain, utilizing public transportation, or perhaps receiving an incredible infraction from a public servant for a law that you didn’t know existed!
Regardless of what you’re up to, there is politics and government influence pretty much all over the place. This includes even within your home btw; if you depend on clean drinking water, design and safety regulations, even how you get your energy and internet. In a nutshell, there’s no escaping the laws of the land, and the decisions that are made on your behalf will in fact impact you. This is how it works in civil society, and as a result it’s within your best interest to ensure that those decisions really do reflect the needs of your family, your community, and your future.
Therein lies the very definition of sustainability. To “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” (that was taken straight from the UN Documents). I have immense hope for or future, and I’m certain we can continue to build better nations as we learn to tap into our common sustainable motivations.
VoteThis is the very minimum. If you hold citizenship, it is your duty to exercise your right to vote. This is your opportunity to add your voice, one that required the tremendous sacrifice of others, and it all culminates in your responsibility to provide your personal opinion.
Healthy states and communities require the active participation of their citizens to influence policy and keep our leaders accountable. Informed constructive discussion does lead to progress, and at the very least you have offered some legitimacy to any future complaints.
We can improve our collective situation together, but it does make it difficult to be taken seriously if you don’t get out to vote when it’s time. Voting is a habit, and once you get into the routine, it’ll enhance your desire to learn more, participate, and get enthused about being implicated in the decision making process.
Show Up at Council MeetingsThis is where we learn how things work. If you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and hopefully offer input, then it becomes important to learn the process. It might not seem terribly exciting to the uninitiated, but those evenings and weekends spent at city council gatherings provided me with great insight on how I can make a difference. At a local level at least, it’s not as difficult as it may seem, and it starts with being there when legislation is discussed and passed.
It still surprises me at times when I see how so few people actually turn up, and it serves as a palpable example that if you do not participate in the decision making process, then those decisions are simply made by others. Certainly, the purpose of elected representatives is so that you don’t necessarily need to be there, and that is true if you have well qualified individuals who sincerely have your best interests at heart, but unfortunately that is not always the case, and you may actually be more qualified on a specific subject where your experience and input would prove beneficial.
Offer InputWrite your representatives. As mundane or old fashioned as this might seem at first, it can influence policy. We can now write to our representative on social media or via email as well, but I’ve noticed that if you actually take the time to send out a letter, it can increase the chances of it being read and responded to.
If you’re not quite the writing type, then perhaps try giving your elected representative a call, or show up to a council meeting (as mentioned above). For those of you shy at first, you can add your opinion by signing onto a petition with a cause that you agree with (they tend to have clearly stated descriptions that might fit what your looking for).
However you feel most comfortable, go forth and get to it, your voice is needed to bring about the positive changes we hope to see in this world. The change itself is inevitable, so it’s on all of us to ensure that we contribute where we can to ensure that it progress in a sustainable direction.
4. Stay Informed
This is yet another fundamental to adopting the sustainable lifestyle. We need to be continuously learning! This can be from listening to the wisdom of our elders, observing nature, exploring other cultures, or attending courses and reading voraciously. I personally recommend grounding yourself in some good history and geography lessons to better understand where you came from, how things are the way they are, and how various issues connect.
Diving into some history will also provide for learning about science, nature, politics, economics, technology… actually it covers quite the spectrum;) Absorbing information will undoubtedly help you in life, but it will also help you to assist others, and instill an appetite for learning that will perpetuate your sustainable motivation.
Follow the NewsAs in actual news. There are so many ways to tune in and remain current to what’s happening in your neighborhood and around the world that finding information shouldn’t pose to much of a problem.
One the other hand, getting accurate and objective information has become more challenging for some, as the rise of blog sites, entertainments news sites, and embedded marketing, have contributed to the spread of misinformation and opinions, or outright false news, as being presented as fact.
Conspicuously, much of our current understanding of fake news detractors originally came from liberal sources, yet those same source are now themselves attacked from the politically far-right as being untrue and biased. Despite the noise coming from those who seek to justify cause with opinions and beliefs over fact, if you’re concerned about sustainability, it’s imperative to stay committed to the search for the truth.
My list of credible news sources include: The Guardian, The Independent, ProPublica, Reuters, and Democracy Now. Though not as staunchly independent, I also look to the BBC (UK) and the CBC (Canada), as well as numerous local papers and reporters, so I get my fair share of diverse and well supported information that keeps me up to date. I would encourage you all to do the same. Find vetted trusted sources, and stay current to what is happening around you in our increasingly interconnected world. Our time is certainly limited, and we all have so much on our plate as it is, but technology has also provided us with ample means of checking in on our sources even during brief interludes.
Read Books and ArticlesSocial media is undoubtedly amazing for being updated so quickly on what is happening in your neighborhood or around the world. Indeed, I follow a number of news sources through Facebook, while Twitter provides incredibly rapid updates during news events, and Apps on my smartphone allow me to log into my news sites.
These are all great when pressed for time, but when you do finally have a breather I would encourage you to go beyond the headlines and soundbites and get into the very essence of what’s going on around us. The flip side of having so much info readily available to us, is that we have the tendency to go for the quick gratification and react to those catchy headlines.
The reality however, is that most events don’t happen in isolation, and it does actually require some deeper thought and understanding in order to truly process what is going on. The easier explanations aren’t necessarily the correct ones, in that there is a dramatic difference between correlation and causation. If someone who is trained to know and make that difference can help breakdown complex issues, so much the better, but it does take some effort on your part.
Some suggest magazines include: The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Harvard International Review, and Slate. Though not as news oriented, but equally relevant in learning about ourselves and our planet, I also really enjoy picking up issues of the National Geographic, Scientific American, and Psychology Today. In addition, I have been pleasantly surprised to find pretty good insightful and investigative articles in Bloomberg Businessweek, The New Yorker, Wired, and even Rolling Stone.
For a list of suggested books I invite you to explore this website, under Learning Tools (or simply click the image above).
Watch Educational Programming and DocumentariesAnother way to get past the headlines and discover more about the issues, is to watch quality content and well presented documentaries that explore in greater detail the topics that affect us. They represent an incredibly powerful source of learning, through one of the most fundamentally human means, storytelling.
Documentaries films and television programs provide a narrative with which to better assimilate the extensive and offer complex data that is coming our way. They can present expert interviews, visual explanations, and personal experiences, and package them neatly into a more digestible format. To be sure, there is certainly a range of quality among documentaries, but you’ll discover that at your continue your explorations. Leave the cynics to their complaints that such films and programs are merely opinions, and see for yourself what they are offering. I’ve recommended some terrific ones on our website, if you’re on the lookout for more (click the accompanying image).
If you’ve discovered something share! If you you’ve struggled and learned, share! If you’ve come up against the challenge of your life, share! As has been said many times in the past, when your reveal your hardships to others (I’m paraphrasing), you lighten the load. Allow others to gain from what you’ve discovered, and participate in the joys and sadness with you.
Speaking with others on the sidewalk or at the cafe, getting together over a pint or a meal, reaching out to friends or relatives halfway across the world through Skype, Facetime, or even good old-fashioned postal service, all contribute to our sense of the world, and sharing unveiled is an integral part of remaining sustainably motivated.
Talk It OutCommunication is key. Sit down with your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and classmates to learn more about them and the issues that they value, and share what you know and learned. Feel free to exude your enthusiasm and revelations, but be sure to allow the information to flow both ways, and practice your empathy.
It’s natural to have different specific interests, but it helps to find common ground and understanding, particularly when you inevitably have contrasting opinions over matters. This is where all that glorious information you’ve been absorbing comes in.
Support your convictions with facts. Evidence and experience go a long way is a respectable discussion. So too does regard for emotions. Despite all our well researched learning and our desire to be cool and logical, humans our emotional beings, and emotional reactions are natural during passionate conversations. Try to remain mindful this, don’t use language you’ll regret, and remember that we will in fact need the help and support of others to achieve our common goals.
Effective communication is remarkably powerful and immensely satisfying, but it does take practice, so keep at it!