Some of the main misconceptions about leading an environmentally conscious lifestyle are that it’s time-consuming, expensive, or that it’s only possible for a small number of people. And depending on how you look at it, these can be true. Those living in a city will, for example, be hard-pressed to find a way to compost, while those with a 2-hour commute to work can’t exactly be expected to walk.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective and even easy ways to be more mindful of our influence on the world around us. Yes, they’ll take some work and an adjustment period. But in the end, they’ll be more than worth the trouble.
One of the first steps towards environmental consciousness is learning how to break away from our prevalent consumerist habits. In Western societies, we’re taught that acquiring (sometimes even hoarding) goods is a sign of economic stability, and we’re constantly bombarded with the latest things we simply “have to own.” Eco-consciousness, however, can’t be compatible with this way of life. Because everything that we own requires resources to produce (with a simple cotton t-shirt requiring as much as 2,700 litres of water), we need to start thinking about minimising our shopping habits.
For those who find shopping to be a form of therapy, no matter what type of goods they’re purchasing, this will take a lot of effort. Nonetheless, there are ways to make this transitional period a bit easier. Following the steps below, you can assess what you already have, what you own but don’t need, and what you don’t own but have a real need for.
- Dedicate time to go through your possessions, and consider for each of the items whether they play a significant role in your day-to-day life.
- Identify the things that are taking up too much space, that you haven’t used in over a year, or that are broken.
- Find a way to consciously discard or repurpose these items – whether it’s by selling, donating, or repairing them for further use. Try to ensure that as little as possible ends up in landfills or polluting our waterways.
Once you’ve done with “purging,” make the decision not to purchase anything new unless you truly need it. For some people, setting a 30-90 day thinking period helps, as it allows you to think through all the reasons why you might or might not need an item. It also gives you enough time to research manufacturers and the environmental impact of any item you’re considering.
Make one small change at a time
Trying to go from a traditional way of living to a zero-waste lifestyle in a matter of days is practically impossible. And not only that – it can be a source of great frustration, and it can affect your confidence in a way that you’ll become disappointed with your progress and give up on environmental consciousness in a matter of weeks. Instead, you should aim to make changes one by one, only moving on to the next thing once you’re completely comfortable with what you’ve already accomplished.
You can start by refusing single-use plastics such as straws or plastic bags. Find sustainable replacements you can have with you at all times, minimising your need to create trash. Once you’ve got that down, you can start paying closer attention to your water consumption, make changes to how you handle your trash (yes, you can compost waste in an apartment), and adjust your eating habits.
Although the ultimate goal is to minimise the number of items you purchase, there will, of course, be times when you simply have to buy something new. In these cases, research will be key.
After you’ve gone through a 30-day period of thinking through whether you truly need something, make sure you’ve chosen a manufacturer that uses sustainable materials and manufacturing processes. Ideally, you’ll buy locally, opting for high-quality products that will last a lifetime. This is especially true for appliances, but clothes as well.
If you’re making bigger investments, such as purchasing a house or vehicle, consider whether it’s possible to minimise their environmental impact. Making upgrades such as insulating walls and roofs, replacing old drafty windows, or installing solar roof panels can have a huge overall impact. Although it will require a bigger initial investment, you’ll find that in the long run, you’ll be able to save a lot of money and energy.
As for modes of transportation, you might not have enough money to purchase a brand new Tesla, but you could look into other electricity-powered options such as e-bikes or skateboards. With just a little bit of research, you can find a model that works for your needs and is good for the environment as well.
Look for other ways to minimise your footprint
Sometimes, in life, we’re simply required to do certain things that aren’t eco-friendly. Those whose career requires them to fly frequently or commute, probably won’t be able to just quit doing these things. Fortunately, there are simpler solutions to reducing our carbon footprint. Doing something as easy as telecommuting a couple of times a week, or organising business trips in a way that there’s as little trans-continental travel as possible, can have a big impact.
When switching to more eco-friendly practices, it’s great to do as much as you can, but even doing a little (like purchasing a stainless steel water bottle to carry with you at all times) can still have a significant impact.
Take things slowly, and at your own pace. Although your progress might not be as quick as you’d ideally want it to be, it’s still important and appreciated. After all, you want to stick with your newly developed habits, not become overwhelmed by them.