-Updated April 2018-
Find Your Inspiration
If you’re looking for how you can adopt the sustainability mindset, look to what inspires you. Get exploring, and discover (if you haven’t already) what you love most about the world! Is it the oceans and beaches, mountains and forests, or perhaps the incredible animals that inhabit the planet with us? It might even be the people! Yes, other amazing, wonderful and frustrating, heart-breaking, ridiculous, and inspiring human beings. Life, and the vastly complex systems that make it all possible, really is miraculous, and the more you learn, the greater appreciation you get for how amazing it truly is! Use this revelation to motivate you to do good in this world, and help maintain the natural balance for yourself, and our future generations.
A Mental Shift
It’s terribly important that we regain our awareness of the environment, and curb our abuse and overconsumption of nature’s resources. We need to reevaluate what we’re doing. This doesn’t just mean a forced reduction on everything (although there is certainly an excess), but it should certainly incentivize us to find alternative means for satisfying our needs. I strongly encourage sustainability as a mentality with which to view our world, and acknowledge our place in it. Below, I’ve share some practical applications and guidance on how to get onto the sustainability path and adopt for yourself a greener, healthier, and (hopefully) more satisfactory lifestyle.
1. Cut Down On Your Eco-Footprint
So, how do we go about changing the world? Changing our own habits is a great place to start! These habits are reflected in our ecological footprint, which is the measure of how much nature we need to use up or displace in order to satisfy our needs. Environmentalists also make reference to our carbon footprint, namely the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) our actions generate.
These numbers are especially and unsustainably high in much of the developed world. To the extent that we would need multiple Earths to meet human consumption demands if the rest of the world consumed anywhere near to that of the US & Canada (see Use It and Lost It). We are using to much, too quickly and endangering ourselves and many of the other species that share this planet with us. At this rate, we are certainly jeopardizing the earth for our children and all the generations to come. For those of you who feel equally concerned and alarmed by this, there are steps we can be taking immediately.
You can begin by applying the walk the talk method, and try to reduce your own day-to-day carbon footprint. Set the example for your family, friends, and coworkers. Although any kind of change can be potentially difficult, use your hope for a better world to drive you. Start small, and build on your successes.
Although some prefer making big, dramatic changes cold turkey, the majority of us need to work through it incrementally. Look for some quick wins to get the ball rolling, and then try to level up. Question the status quo, and you will find opportunities everywhere! Sustainability really is an outlook of improvement, and once you get the wheels in motion, it’ll motivate you to do more.
Conscious consumerism is key. Yes, we need things, but do we really, really need things? Controlling what we purchase provides a fundamental component of sustainable living. The Story of Stuff (video linked to the image above), which has since become an online community, does a very good job of connecting the dots between industrial intent and individual consumption. The organization reminds us that things aren’t making us any happier as a society (on the contrary).
Consequently, when we choose to adopt the sustainable mindset, we come to embrace different priorities, and give greater value to experiences over objects. Living with less stuff will certainly help when it comes to minimizing our impact. It can also boost our personal finances and reduce the time we spend 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 acknowledging this alternative will help contribute to the awareness of selective buying.
The Triple-Check Technique
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 good value. Why were we there in the first place, and do we truly want to bring all this stuff back into our homes? The old, “think before you buy,” was most likely a reference to spending, but it is equally pertinent with regards our consumption. Let’s call it the triple check technique.
What Is It Made Of?
Another component is the carbon footprint of the individual item. What is its environmental cost with respect to fossil fuels and greenhouse gases? Consider both what’s in your product, as well as the packaging. Plastic and petroleum based products take a heavy toll. Indeed, plastics have come to permeate society, the soil, and our oceans. Thankfully, alternatives are being developed (see Getting Past The Plastic), but we can do our part by selecting and encouraging alternatives.
Some best practices when contemplating a purchase include buying (and supporting) local, selecting items with minimal packaging, and avoiding disposable (single-serve) plastics when possible. You can also try opting for a larger format item, rather than those that are individually wrapped and packaged. For example, snack items like yogurt, nuts, raisins, or even juice which can all be purchased in larger quantities and then divvied up into smaller containers if need be. When selecting those items, another positive approach includes choosing (supporting) organic items when possible.
These are all great techniques. The cynics might not think your individual actions can make a positive contribution to combating climate change, but it really does. Your individual actions are part of the larger paradigm shift taking place, and every win counts. Conscious shopping is key! Cutting down on what ends up in the landfill on the one hand, and encouraging sustainable practices on the other.
Of these conscious shopping methods, buying local is potentially the most impactful. You are cutting down on your carbon footprint significantly if and when you have this option available to you. Anytime you purchase something that didn’t have to travel across oceans or the continent is already pretty awesome, and encouraging the organic producers that support the soil and water is straight-up wonderful!
Do Some Research
When considering a new purchase, try and look-up before hand what the product specs are. We are lucky to have so much information now available to us, that we can be better equipped to buy what’s right for us and the environment. Product reviews and customer feedback can be a great source of info, as you can discover more about the item before making a commitment.
Do You Really Love It?
Finally, buying only what you need and love, what gives you joy, will also help manage your need for space. I learnt this one from Marie Kondo, who teaches her KonMari method for decluttering and becoming more selective with your possessions. Her style is based on a Japanese philosophy that suggests retaining only that which gives you happiness (her seminal book is titled Spark Joy).
As she, and many other organizational consultants have professed, we really don’t need such large homes! Despite house sizes increasing steadily over the years (particularly in North America), they are also becoming increasingly and unnecessarily packed, from basements to that attic (and garages), with things that we don’t use that often, if at all. Learning how to curb our consumption is therefore a critical first step on the path to sustainability.
When I speak of the negative impact of driving, I’m certainly not referring to the genuine pleasure and sense of freedom that some might take from the act itself. Rather, the issue is with the pollution. The automobile has certainly afforded our species countless liberties, and I fully comprehend the personal sense of wonder and exploration that can potentially enthuse drivers. I can also appreciate that there are those out there that feel the call for a road-trip, or the desire to test their skills and become professional race car drivers. Without a doubt, it can be exhilarating! Driving itself need not be the environmental culprit.
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 or 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 the planet.
A Costly Enterprise
The amount of resources required to build and maintain a vehicle, combined with the fact that the vast majority still do run on fossil fuels, and it is no surprise that finding alternative means of getting around will make a positive contribution towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Given the choice, substitute driving as your primary means of transport (click the above image for a list of alternatives).
At the very least, I would encourage you to try not to drive alone, and cut back on the frequency of your usage. Doing so would already be putting you in better shape, carbon-wise. Think of it as a carbon competition, and the more you save the more you’ll want to save, feeding in to your own personal sustainability motivation.
Eco-Footprint: Waste Management
While 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. It might seem 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.
Vimeo – The Fixers Club
This not need be the case!! There is no waste in nature, everything is constantly used and reused (see The Circular Economy), 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. For added motivation, just take a look at the tremendous amount of trash we are throwing away, and what it does to people and the environment (check out the documentary Trashed).
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.
It’s A Process
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!
Eco-Footprint: Eat Less Meat
The 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.
La Casa Nostra
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. Meat has come to dominate our meals, and is so ubiquitous that we might not even question it anymore.
Travel and exposure to other cuisines presented me with a number of alternatives right off the bat! Despite the current meat-centric norms, the status quo can change especially as well learn about alternatives. We can choose to dwindle our meat consumption, and we can do manage without necessarily going to extremes. Sure change is difficult, and potentially scary, but nonetheless doable. My own family managed this by starting with at least one meat-free night per week, then gradually we moved it up to two full days, with the intention of eventually hitting that majority milestone (aiming for 5).
Veggie It Up
Other tips include combining more vegetables in recipes that require meat, and loading up with a variety of herbs and veggie colours (deliciousness), so that when we do decide to make a stew or fajitas we now use more veggies than meat. We still keep us the same standards of tastiness, but we now opt for bean/lentil substitutes when we can, or try and use vegetables that’ll still provide the consistency we’re used to with meat (using eggplants, artichokes, or cauliflower for instance).
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 off meat, at least not immediately, try instead to cut down and savor the experience as the 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 of participation and belonging.
Searching For Connections…
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. Connecting with your community is a proven means of helping drive some of that good sustainable motivation.
Making friends might seem like an obvious point, but it’s totally worth highlighting. If we want to make positive changes to ourselves and society, we’re going to need help! Friends will help you through the tough times, share the good ones, offer insight and support, and ultimately provide the key for generating a movement. Humans are social beings. We require others to survive and thrive, and this is especially critical for the terrifying global crisis that is being propagated by manmade climate change.
We really do need others! Climate change is not something we can escape from anywhere on the planet. Simply going off grid and hoping for the best, is not an option (although I’m sure it may have crossed your mind at some point). The more effective long term strategy is to win over people. Use our shared goals and interests and work together for a better future. We have so much to learn from one another, and as we grow and better understand one another, our common purpose and struggles will further motivate and sustain us!
Know Your Neighbors
Start with your neighbors! Try saying hi 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! Getting energized by the people in my neighborhood is certainly one of the ways I personally remain sustainably motivated;)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
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 Events
Another 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.
Help Make It Happen
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 for a healthy society, and on a personal level, discourse and activism can also provide for a perpetual source of motivation. Once you discover what ignites you, you’d be surprised at the amount of energy it can provide. Of course, this understanding is not yet widely accepted. I’m still amazed when I hear someone say they are simply, “not into politics.”
In reality, politics are pretty inescapable. 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!
With or Without You
Regardless of what you’re up to, there is politics and government influence pretty much all over the place. In fact, it doesn’t just start when you step out the door. Politics and policy makes its way into your homes as well. From how your mortgage is regulated (see rolling back Dodd-Frank), to what chemicals end up in the products you bring home (see the dangers of flame retardants), or what shows up on tv (see Sinclair Media).
You should be equally concerned if you depend on clean drinking water (see Flint, Michigan Water Crisis), or require external energy providers (basically anyone who doesn’t have independent power generators aka the vast majority). Political decisions are inseparable from most of your day-to-day activities.
Special Interest At Work
Even the awesome power of internet which you are currently using to read this post is being faced with political pressures from industry lobbyists that are seeking to dismantle net neutrality. 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). Despite all the many challenges we’re facing, I still have immense hope for the future. I’m certain that we can continue to build better nations as we learn to tap into our common sustainable motivations. We can totally accomplish overcome, as we have so many other challenges (see How We Did It). Through our combined efforts and dedication to environmental preservation and continuous improvement, we can create sustainable societies.
Voting is the very minimum. If you hold citizenship, it is your duty to exercise your right to vote. Not only is this your opportunity to add your voice, it is critical for the preservation of democracy. Affording you this right required considerable sacrifice from others throughout history, and it all culminates in the responsibility to provide your own 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 Meetings
This 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.
This is true if you have well qualified individuals who sincerely have your best interests at heart (my sincerest best wishes for this). Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and we need to hold our elected officials responsible. Conversely, even if your rep is amazing it’s actually possible that you may be more qualified on a specific subject, and your experience and input would prove beneficial!
Write a Letter
Write 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 progresses in a sustainable direction.
4. Stay Informed
This is yet another fundamental aspect 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 News
As 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 too much of a problem.
On 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 (see The Truth of Comedy).
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.
Getting to the Center of the Maze
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 Actual Books
Social 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.
Don’t Fear The Long Articles
Apps are 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 The Good Stuff
Your Time Is Limited, Choose Wisely
Another 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.
Feed Your Brain
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). Discovering new and relevant information provides all kinds of inspiration and keeps yours truly sustainably motivated!
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 Out
Communication 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.
Mind The Evidence
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!
Be Active Online
Go for it! Don’t be intimidated. Just keep in mind that what you write online does in fact stick around, and is visible to all who look for it. That should not however prohibit you from sharing your thoughts, views, and insights. It’s right to take a stand for that which you believe in. There will be negative comments, you can near guarantee that, but focus on the good and the constructive criticism, and let yourself be encouraged by others.
The next stage of learning is passing on what you know. Teach, mentor, and continue your mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and comprehension. Responding to questions will help you better understand your worldview, and remain critical of your own position should new information be revealed.
The Warm and Fuzzies
This is the part where you “give back” and become better for it. Although this should come as no surprise, helping others grow and develop their own learning is also personally gratifying. While the objective is to help others, and ultimately the planet, you’re really also helping yourself in the process. As such, it’s a great and sustainable way to stay both motivated and relevant.