How to Talk to Your Friends About Sustainability (and Why It Matters)
There’s no doubt that the environment is changing – CO2 levels are the highest they’ve ever been, massive heat waves (and cold fronts) are popping up all over the world, and the Earth’s heat-repelling ice is melting. It’s becoming more important than ever that every citizen of the Earth make a noticeable effort to reduce their impact on the planet.
Scientists used to fear that the Earth would reach maximum capacity in the near future, but that is looking less likely now that the Earth is struggling to sustain its current inhabitants. Daily efforts to reduce your personal impact, no matter how small, are what are going to make the biggest difference in the long run, and part of these efforts include making sure that you are telling your friends about the little ways they can help the planet, too. One person’s efforts are not going to save the planet, but word-of-mouth is a powerful tool and an important step towards changing the way we treat our planet, and the tips below are a great place to start.
Have a Conversation
Your friends are going to listen to people that have earned their trust and respect more than a random website or government initiative. No matter the subject, people listen to others who are like them, whether unsolicited information or not. When it comes to having a conversation about changing habits and lifestyle, sensitivity and kindness are paramount for making the conversation productive.
The first step is putting yourself into the shoes of the person you are approaching and remembering your feelings when you learned some of your most cemented, common habits were bad for the planet. Depending on the person, they might feel attacked if you tell them that the way they brush their teeth uses too much water, so thoughtfulness is key. Most importantly though, make sure you’re actually having a conversation with them, not just hurling commands and criticisms at them.
Emphasizing how you also have learned a lot about your habits and your experiences changing them is a great way to make the other person feel less intimidated and thus, more open. Also mentioning things that you and your friend(s) can do together to make an impact is a smart way to engage them in actionable behavior changes.
Come with Small, Actionable Steps
Often, it’s much easier to make changes when you have a group to keep you accountable. For example, teaming up with a few of your coworkers and carpooling has numerous benefits, namely group accountability. If you all agree to travel together, the whole group profits from reduced gas prices, time saving (since your travel time has now become workable if you’re not the one driving), in addition to reducing emissions.
On a bigger scale, the more people that share a car, the fewer cars there are on the road, thus reducing traffic. Most importantly though, it helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a huge factor in atmospheric warming. According to the United States EPA, from 1990 to 2015, there was an unprecedented 37% increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The planet cannot sustain this rate of increase, and reducing the number of cars on the road is an effective place to start.
Remember, You’re in This Together
If carpooling isn’t an option for you and friends, find activities that are both fun and help you all on your journey to sustainability. Suggesting something like going to the local farmers’ market on the weekend to buy produce is both fun and helps teach sustainability. Most people don’t think about how their food requires transportation, so reducing that distance as much as possible helps eliminate the environmental impact. If you go, make sure to bring reusable bags instead of plastic!
Many environmentally-aware people are shifting to using hemp products, like paper and fabric, because it has a faster growth time and is thus more sustainable. Hemp bags and clothing are rising in popularity, both for their style and durability and are a great way for you and your friends to stand out while being environmentally conscious.
Finding ways to reduce plastic use can also be a fun challenge that you tackle with your friends. More minds are going to yield more ideas! For example, replacing plastic cups with glass jars that are reused from other products (like salsa jars) can be a fun way to see who can be the most creative (and save the most money).
Slow and Steady is Still a Win
Finally, ensuring your friends that all of their lifestyle changes don’t have to be immediate is important. It can take months to phase out old habits and products and replace them with new ones, but progress is the most important part.
Take Them on a Vacation with Purpose
Shameless plug, but if you aren’t able to truly get across the impact that some of these changes will have, showing them will do the trick. There are projects all around the world that focus specifically on reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting our wildlife from deforestation, and educating young children and their communities about our changing planet. Many countries around the world are seeing the devastating impacts in a very real way, and they are ahead of America in their efforts to do something about it.
Of course, taking an overseas vacation isn’t always a realistic option, and there are absolutely plenty of organizations in the United States making a difference in the quest for sustainability. Companies like Sierra Club, Rainforest Alliance, World Resources Institute, Conservation International, and more about great companies to learn more about. Check out their websites and more sustainable company missions here.
One key thing to remember, though, is that being an example to your friends of sustainability is the best way to help change their habits. A good role model never hurts; and who knows, maybe your friends will end up selling their belongings and moving into a tiny house… all because you had the care to talk to them about sustainability.