So you’ve been hearing a lot about this whole “sustainable living” thing recently and you want to be a part of it. Maybe you just watched a cool Netflix documentary or bought some reusable metal straws. But what does sustainable living actually mean, and how does one correctly go about doing it? Sustainable living, as with most parts of life, is not so easily explained. The most important part is doing your research and finding what your core values are.
Decide what sustainability means to you
Sustainable living is different for everyone. Oftentimes, sustainable living goes in partnership with your personal ethics. Maybe you’ve decided animals are important to you, so you’ve decided to only purchase your meat from local, independent farms where the animals are free-range or fed an organic diet. Maybe you can’t get your day started without that hot cup of coffee. Is coffee important enough to switch away from the giant chains and purchasing from a local cafe instead? What about making your own at home? Would you change brands to a fair-trade coffee company instead? Maybe buying local is more expensive—that might not be more sustainable for you personally. Sustainable living could mean changing your retail selection. How important is it to you to avoid fast fashion? Do you consider sweatshop labour to be sustainable? What about the use of organic materials like cotton or bamboo, compared to synthetic materials made from oil, like polyester?
It can be really hard
If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to resist a good sale. A part of sustainable living is reframing the “what if” mindset. This is the voice in our brain that says, “wow, this is a great deal on curtains! What if I move somewhere with huge windows? I might need this one day, so I’ll buy it just in case.” Multiply this by a hundred sales and suddenly your home is cluttered with stuff you don’t need, but potentially could have a use one day. As we all strive towards sustainable living, it’s important to consider how overconsumption produces waste. Not only in the excess plastic that likely lines the packaging, but also financial waste. Consider purchasing a few key items built to last. If you see a great sale, ask yourself if you see your “what if” product coming into play over the next few months. If it isn’t a safety emergency product and you won’t see yourself using it in the realistic future, it might be a waste of money.
Be wary of the single-use items
Transitioning from cheaply made products to durable ones built to last is a key part of sustainable living. Or even just having some regular items around the house that you can naturally use for other purposes. Do you really need a silicone dipping stick specifically made for milk and cookies? Or a pricey tomato growing kit (which is really just seeds and dirt in a box)? So many of these weird little products that we see in stores are single-use items meant to grab our immediate—yet temporary—satisfaction. A primary part of sustainable living is being cautious when purchasing single-use items. It’s important to ask ourselves how much use a product will give us, if it is recyclable after it’s been used, what kind of resources went into making it, etc. Single-use plastics are convenient at the moment, but plastic pollution isn’t sustainable. It’s incredible how switching from single-use plastic items to a few long-lasting products made of glass, metal, or silicone can last for years while cutting down on garbage.
Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight
Sustainable living involves dedication. It’s a dedication to do your best each and every day to ensure your life and the decisions you make have a meaningful impact on the planet. With that being said, don’t beat yourself up if you’re having trouble adjusting your lifestyle at first. Maybe you’re trying to cut down on your plastic consumption but that’s all you’ve got right now for storing leftovers. That’s okay! It’s more sustainable to use what you have until it’s at the end of its life before you go out and buy brand new glass containers. It’s being aware of these slow adjustments that helps to make sustainable living have a lasting impact on your life. Maybe you’d like to go zero-waste one day, but you’re just not sure how. Maybe have that be a five-year goal rather than tomorrow’s plan. If you’re determined to eat more organics, try to swap out your veggies one at a time on your grocery trips. Within a couple of months, you’ll become naturally accustomed to the taste, as well as keeping in mind any extra expenses before you shop.
Read, read, read
Sustainable living is a concept that is completely fluid. It demands constant change and reworking of systems that have been in place basically since the industrial revolution. If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge, then reading is the perfect solution. If one of your sustainability goals is to stop supporting chains, check out your local library or independent bookstore. Even a community thrift store will have a rotating book selection, which can get you some really interesting vintage finds. Being able to constantly learn and grow from other leaders in sustainability is great! If reading isn’t your thing, check out documentaries or podcasts. Education is your friend. There are tons of free content available online for anyone looking to learn more about environmentalism and sustainable living.
Get involved in your community
As your habits change, so do your conscious decisions. Your social circle might alter a bit. Some people might think it’s a little bit weird that you bring your own straw or chopsticks everywhere. Other people might consider sustainable living to be a waste of time. No matter what your scenario, if you’re starting to feel a little bit isolated or disconnected, try to get involved in your community. Maybe your city has a community garden space where people swap growing tips. Or see if a volunteer group is planning a neighbourhood clean-up. Maybe a Facebook event page shows an independent theatre showing a film about the environment. There are probably lots of unique ways to get involved in your community other like-minded people if you’re willing to do a little digging.
No matter how exactly you go about your journey, it’s important to remember sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all mindset. Your personal values and ethics are important! They help you prioritize exactly what being sustainable will mean for you in your day to day life. It can be overwhelming to commit to a massive lifestyle change overnight, so try for small changes over time. When changing yourself, it’s important to ask if this goal is long-term, helpful, more expensive, or even sustainable for you. But by doing your research and getting involved in your community, you can feel great about helping the planet. And maybe you’ll inspire someone else to learn about sustainable living, too!