Author: Lote Steina
Living sustainably is one of the most important choices you can make in the 21st century. While often our impact as individuals is understated compared to the large corporate players, the more we as consumers demand environmentally friendly solutions every step of the production and supply chains, the greater the reduction in harm done to the climate and the environment.
There is one big BUT in all of this. These days we often see the word “sustainability” being overused counterproductively, with everything from the smallest paperclip to the grandest infrastructure project having to have that “sustainable” label plastered all over it. And fair enough – if you have to do something, do it in the greenest way possible given the available options and your financial means.
The problem is that the label gives the false sense of certain things or actions being green or ecological while in fact it could not be further from the truth. Take electric (as in green) cars, ecotourism, and sustainable construction as examples. In and of themselves these things and actions are much greener than their predecessors. However, if you truly aim to reduce your carbon footprint, manufacturing and maintaining a car, zapping across the world to “connect with nature”, and erecting a new (albeit sustainable) building are not the ways to go. Car sharing, local tourism, and upgrading/insulating/repurposing your existing house would be the better options.
So, with all that in mind and building on what we talked about in the previous blog post, here is some advice on how to set your goals more sustainably and how to be successful at achieving them.
Opting to live sustainably requires a significant lifestyle change mostly because the world around us has been structured around the principles of permanent growth, consumerism, and globalization. In and of themselves these things are to be celebrated, as they are the best ways to prosperity. The problem is that the systems and structures underpinning our economies as well as the mindsets and principles entrenched in our societies are still based on the old mantra of cutting corners and producing cheaply, without paying too much attention to the climate, environment, and natural resources.
Here is the thing: reproaching the previous generations for their lack of commitment to limiting climate change achieves absolutely nothing, except alienating them towards the principles of sustainable living. Instead, celebrate the good things that the economic growth of previous generations has enabled us to achieve and work towards integrating these broad principles in anything you, your family, or your business does:
If it ain’t broke keep using it. Whether it is a piece of clothing or your car – stop throwing away perfectly good and functioning stuff just to replace it with something a bit trendier. Even if something is not in tip-top condition, first see if you can fix, renew, restore, or repurpose it. If there is a genuinely good reason you might not need something or want to upgrade some of your stuff, donate the functioning things to those in need. As an individual, it will make you feel better; as a business, it will add to your corporate social responsibility credentials.
Look at things critically when you buy them. The previous point does not imply that you should be an outcast, living in a decrepit house using only refurbished things. Buying things is OK as it keeps the world economy humming along and can boost your productivity. So do a quick analysis. First, see if the new thing you are planning to buy will pay off in terms of happiness, productivity, and utility. Second, when buying something new, do your research! Check the green and ethics credentials of a manufacturer or a brand. See how energy efficient the product is and if it is made using recycled plastics/paper/cloth etc. Finally (and if possible), look at the production chain of a product to see whether all or most of the involved parties do their part sustainably.
Leave everything the same way or better than you found it. This principle has two parts. First, clean up after yourself wherever and whenever you go. The obvious “don’t litter” and “throw everything in the trash” applies here, but I suggest going a step further and taking your trash (if possible) back with you and recycling it later. Why? Not everyone will be as responsible as you are and if the nearest trash can wherever they are is full, littering will ensue. Second (and this is a potential goal), go out and clean some place up! Set a goal – clean up the little park near my house next month or go for a clean-up three times a year. This is the ultimate feel good goal – you leave the world a slightly better place, you do some physical labor, and the results are visible immediately!
Sharing is caring. As much as people want to turn sharing into a political issue, it really is not. Sharing is a great way to reduce your overall carbon footprint. Sharing comes in all shapes and sizes be it car-pooling, ride sharing, shared accommodation, or just regular lending something to a family member, neighbor, or a friend. In addition, it is a great way to get to know other people and build stronger relationships with family members and your local community. If anyone tries to tell you that the “commies are coming” ask them what exactly is wrong about living within your means, protecting the environment, and building stronger ties with your community?
Be an ethical consumer. Sustainability does not stop at the carbon question. It is a complex interplay of a number of factors like ethical treatment of animals, protection of natural habitats and animal species, elimination of exploitative labor practices, water conservation, and fair industrial practices. Try to be a conscious and ethical consumer who limits or even avoids unethical practices in the products you consume (e.g. produced in occupied territories, made by slave labor, conflict minerals) or other factors that may have contributed to environmental degradation (e.g. water mismanagement, destruction of natural habitats). Of course, you cannot know everything. Even if you do, it is impossible to shun every product. But try to do it as much as you can and make your preferences heard whenever possible. The more we stand up for ethics, the more these principles will be taken into account.
Being successful at achieving your goals really boils down to three things. First, while setting goals may seem like a breeze, properly established, SMART, and personalized goals should not be underestimated. This is why most New Year’s resolutions fail – those goals are for the most part neither SMART, nor personalized (i.e. do what celebrities do). The better thought out a goal is and the more you feel it as your own, the likelier you are to stay committed to it through thick and thin.
Second, elaborate the goal. Writing down your goals is great, but take it to the next level! Set deadlines, figure out how to follow/analyze your performance, and create a general goal achievement outline/plan! Goals tend to be daunting because they seem out of reach. The clearer you make the path ahead for yourself, the more successful you will be!
Third, set tasks and form habits that will get you to that result! Once you have the second step taken care of, start working towards your green goals! Set daily and weekly tasks or reminders that will help you to get where you are supposed to get. Try forming positive habits out of these tasks or repeated actions. Turning these initial extra tasks/chores into your daily routine will make goal achievement feel more natural and help you get to the result with ease!
Now I don’t want to set your goals for you, but a practical example is always handy. In the previous blog post, we highlighted that housing, transportation, and consumption are the primary culprits when it comes to our carbon footprint. So let’s set a green goal for each of these.
Reduce the average monthly utilities use of your household by 50% over a three year period. This is a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goal. It is also ambitious enough to make you reconsider things and develop a plan as to how you are going to achieve it – anything from small steps like turning off the lights and taking shorter showers, to insulating your house or buying a solar panel or two! A handful of these tasks can easily be formed into habits. Finally, seeing how you pay bills and take stock of your monthly electricity, water, and gas/wood consumption, you can easily get the necessary data to measure your path to success.
Reduce your average monthly car mileage by 50% in a year. This is somewhat more difficult to measure seeing how the base data are very approximate, especially if there is more than one driver in your household. So specifying what exactly you want to achieve and how best to measure it is essential. For instance, you could count the full distance travelled only when you drive alone. When others are in the car, you divide the distance by the number of passengers. Do this for over a month and you’ll have a base value, which you can work to reduce. Over that one month you’ll also see how most of your miles/kilometres are accumulated (driving to work, driving kids to school etc.) which will help you develop your goal achievement plan!
Reduce your average meat and dairy consumption by 50% in a year. Yet another ambitious goal in which you will need to invest some time in to establish your starting positions. Write down how much of these items you consume (e.g. beef, pork, poultry, cheese, milk) and add coefficients based on their carbon footprint. For instance, beef can have up to ten times higher carbon footprint than poultry, so 1 kilo of beef consumed shouldn’t be the same as 1 kilo of chicken breasts. Once you have it all figured out, start planning your meals and food budget accordingly, so that you can achieve your goal.
Now these three are generic goal examples that you can adjust to your liking or develop completely new ones. Just remember – if you want to set green goals, do it following the principles outlined above. If you want to achieve these goals (or increase the likelihood of doing so), follow the three steps I mentioned. Let your success illuminate you and the world around you!