Making Sustainability, Sustainable: 3 Steps for Maintaining Your Ethical Lifestyle
A NEW YEAR BRINGS NEW OPPORTUNITIES.
HERE ARE 3 STEPS TO TURN YOUR SUSTAINABLE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS INTO LIFE-LONG HABITS THAT BENEFIT YOU AND THE PLANET
January 13th, 2021
By Hanna Cody
The beginning of a new year often brings with it an evaluation of what matters to us and who we want to become. While you may be excited to embark on a sustainability journey or take your sustainable practices to the next level, it's a good idea to also think about how you can make these changes sustainable so they become a lasting part of your life.
Here are my top three tips that I have used on my own journey to develop more sustainable habits. I hope these inspire you and make it easier for you to get started on your own resolutions for 2021.
1) LEARN AND REFLECT ON YOUR SUSTAINABILITY GOALS
The first step to solving a problem is understanding what the potential issues and solutions are. Especially if you’re new to the sustainability space, providing yourself with the information you need to hit the ground running is critical for helping you feel confident that you are making the right changes for you and the planet. You can do this by reading books, listening to podcasts, or subscribing to news channels that feature stories on sustainability, fashion, and climate change.
Here are some of my favorite resources to get you started on your sustainability journey:
Sustainable Fashion Glossary by Condé Nast makes out easy for you to clear on commonly used terms.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is " a book to focus the eyes, open the heart and stretch the imagination about our appropriate relationships within the natural world."
Vogue Business’ Sustainability Newsletter is a great way to understand what the core of the fashion industry is doing to become more sustainable.
The Wardrobe Crisis which explores, "the issues driving the ethical fashion conversation with your hosts UN officer Simone Cipriani and sustainable fashion journalist Clare Press."
You can also stay up to date on ethical living-related articles by checking out the News section on The Mindful Argonaut, which is updated with new posts every Thursday afternoon.
Here are my favorite three apps for making easy to consider sustainability when you are making decisions.
- Good on You makes it easy to understand check the sustainability rating of a fashion brand
- Seafood Watch allows you to check the conservation status of different species to make sure you are making ocean friendly choices at the restaurant of grocery store.
- Think Dirty helps you understand the impact of the chemicals used in your cosmetics, household and personal care products
Building a more sustainable life isn't just about garnering external information.
A critical part of successfully building new habits and achieving goals is about understanding your own motivation and values. This requires asking yourself critical questions and potentially journaling your answers to help understand why these shifts matter to you.
For example, if you have a goal to reduce your carbon footprint, ask yourself questions like:
- Why do you want to achieve this goal?
- What deeply-held values would reducing your carbon footprint fulfill?
- What type of person are you hoping to become by attaining this goal?
- Who or what has inspired you to make a change now?
Reflecting on the ‘why’ behind your actions helps you set a stable foundation for making change and seeing how those new habits align with who you are now and who you want to grow to be in the future.
2. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUSTAINED SUCCESS
It’s hard to completely overhaul the way that you live and think overnight, but there are things that you can do to make building new, sustainable habits easier. Start by making a plan that breaks down your ultimate goal into smaller, actionable steps. Then think about the way that you can integrate these actions into your everyday life so that they become second nature.
Let’s say your goal is still to reduce your yearly carbon emissions, and luckily, you’ve already done the work of gathering the information you need to understand what your emissions are and ways that they can be limited. In setting a plan for yourself, start first with ‘easy’ items and those that either already align with your interests or connect to other personal goals you have set for yourself.
For example, your first action may be to switch your electricity to a provider that leverages green energy rather than fossil fuels. Depending on the region you live in, this may be directly integrated into your main local energy provider’s offerings, so you only have to worry about paying one bill through a system with which you’re already familiar.
You may also want to change your default browser to Ecosia - a site that leverages ad revenues to plant trees around the world. Changes like these address your “default bias” by switching what your default or go-to action is to a more sustainable alternative. The benefit of actions like these is that they only require you to do them once in order to create sustained impact over time.
After changing defaults like these, think about ways to integrate daily actions into your everyday life. If you want to reduce the amount of single-use cutlery and cups you use, make a to-go bag that contains reusable silverware, straws, and a collapsible cup that you can easily throw in your bag every time you leave the house.
Want to achieve your goals of both reducing clothing waste and increasing the amount of money you save every month? Take part in a No New Clothes challenge and try selling items that you no longer use at a thrift store like Buffalo Exchange or online via ThredUp, Depop, Poshmark, or the RealReal.
It may also be useful to start integrating sustainability habits into your common hobbies and passions. For instance, cooks may want to try out Sophie Egan’s book on conscious eating or working individuals may want to look into divesting their pension or investment portfolios from fossil fuels. Pairing your interests with new habits is a clever way to maintain momentum and help you feel confident making changes in areas where you are already proficient before branching out to new areas of your life.
Whether finding ways to build paths of least resistance (like the first example) or intertwining your new habits with pre-held values or other goals you would like to achieve (like the second example), taking steps like these that make sustainable living second nature is essential for helping you lay foundational habits that won’t be easily forgotten or abandoned.
3. DON'T FORGET SUSTAINABILITY IS A COMMUNITY JOURNEY
Finally, change is easier when you share your journey with others. There are many levels of influence that you can leverage to build a community that will support you on your sustainable journey.
Try to find friends and family members to provide encouragement or take on habit-building activities with you. One easy idea is to host intermittent clothing swaps with friends, because it presents a win-win that allows you to both prevent clothes from ending up in the landfill and gain new-to-you pieces that you and your friend will cherish. Plus, sharing your commitments publicly means that you will be more inclined to sustain your resolutions over time.
Beyond your immediate circle, look to other like-minded communities that you can take part in. Are there local clubs and organizations that you can join? Is there an in-person or virtual speaker series that hosts talks on environmental issues that you can attend? Does your school offer classes that will allow you to learn more about sustainability and find like-minded students? Thinking to your digital world, what educators, organizations, and communities can you join to expand your circle beyond your local area?
Leveraging your social media is an excellent way to remain engaged and help you feel less alone on your sustainability journey. This critical psychology hack taps into our desire to align our actions with ‘the norm.’ Aka, the more that environmentally-friendly living feels like ‘what everyone is doing,’ the more likely you are to stick with it in the long-run. Plus, your support helps small businesses and educators keep doing what they do!
Here are my favorite Instagram accounts that cover sustainable fashion and environmentalism
Always remember that building sustainable habits takes time and the more complex the habit, the longer it will take to stick. While these steps may help make transitions easier, always be kind to yourself as you allow room for growth. It’s important to remember that the more shame you feel around an action, the less likely you are to repeat it.
Thus, if you make a mistake, try not to be hard on yourself; rather, view any missteps as a natural part of the learning process that every person (yes, even your favorite zero waste influencer) has gone through. When you get stuck, turn to your community as well as your inner values to help you thrive no matter what.
If you like I had to say in this article, please come visit my blog, The Mindful Argonaut where you can find weekly articles on sustainability and ethical living. Or follow me on Instagram @themindfulargonaut.