Sustainability requires a conscious effort, and because it is a lifestyle change, it means the movement is not going to be easy. But, just like anything, if you can push yourself to stay motivated, recognize the global impact your decisions of going green makes, then the journey won’t look anything like that abandoned gym membership or self-help book that has been forgotten.
An endless list can be made on individual techniques for a sustainable future, but the mental adjustment comes by taking a moment before your next mindless task, and ask yourself, how can I change what I am about to do in a way that benefits my environment?
For some, this question will take place when they are changing a diaper, which might cause them to begin researching the benefits of reusable diapers. For others, it might be when they are about to throw an apple core in their garbage bag, which would lead them to begin researching about composting and biodegradable garbage bags.
This mental exercise will become its hardest when you are tired after a long day and have to decide if you are still up for the challenge by taking the first parking spot you see, or circling the lot, waiting for something closer to the store as you run your last errand for the day.
When I began conditioning myself to focus on sustainability through everyday tasks, I forced it to be my inner-conversation topic with myself during multiple times throughout the day. I did this by setting an alarm on my phone at completely random times during the day. One was set for 10:44 am, another 2:01 pm, and another just after or during dinner at about 6:52 pm. My alarm was set to vibrate and showed a little tree emoji. Every time it went off, I quickly dismissed it, and looked at what I was doing to see how my effort could be more eco-friendly.
One morning at 10:44 am I was on a conference call when the notification popped up. At the time I was taking notes in one of my notebooks. Instead of turning the page to continue my notes, I finished taking them on my computer.
Another afternoon at 2:01 pm I was about to get on a bus to go back to my office. Just as the alarm went off I decided I could grab a MoBike, which is a dockless bike sharing company that allows you to unlock their bikes with a smartphone, ride them, and lock them in any public location when you are finished. I opted for a 2-mile bike ride back to my office instead of a bus ride.
At 6:52 pm one evening I met my wife for dinner at one of our favorite noodle shops after work. Usually, I can’t finish my noodles so I ask for a plastic container to take my leftovers home. This time, thanks to my alarm, I remembered I had my glass lunch container in my bag from my packed lunch. I ended up placing the noodles in my reusable container instead. Doing this one time reminded me to bring that same container the next time I visited the noodle shop.
I set this alarm on my phone for a two week period before I began to expect the alarm would go off each time of the day. When I disabled the alarms after those two weeks, I realized I had conditioned myself to think of sustainable practices entirely on my own during those times of the day.
Still today, periodically I will turn on my alarms and set them for random times when I know I will be awake, just to continue to force myself to think sustainably.
What I found to be amazing are all the incredibly personalized techniques of making my everyday tasks more sustainable.
In the summertime I sweat a lot in the humidity. My wife likes to carry these little pocket tissues in her purse, which I often take advantage of to wipe the sweat from my forehead. After doing the phone alarm exercise I’ve begun carrying a little handkerchief in my back pocket and have stopped using the tissues for sweat.
Another thing I’ve done is replace my Aeropress coffee maker filter with a reusable metal filter. I made this change when I woke up late on a Sunday morning and happened to be making coffee when my notification went off.
It took me roughly one month to adapt myself to have a conscious effort to think sustainably. What I noticed after that month was the conscious aspect is the easy part, the effort aspect is what requires true determination.
My office is on the third floor, and while I do walk to work every day, or take MoBike, I often take the elevator when I could just as easily walk two flights of stairs. Another area that I consciously recognize, but often lack the effort is sleeping with the air-conditioning on during most nights, even when a fan or open window would keep me just as cool.
What I’ve learned is, these are my habits that are not easy to overcome. When I first wrote them down in my phone as sustainable practices I could implement, I felt a sense of accomplishment by adding to my long list of sustainability improvements. Those feelings of accomplishment quickly went away when I realized I had spent an entire week sleeping with the air conditioning on in the fall.
When we are unable to overcome an eco-unfriendly lifestyle habit, we need to ask ourselves if we want to break that habit or make up for that habit in other areas.
Some areas where you could make up for your habit is doing something that positively affects the environment anytime you do something negative. While I do believe it is better to break a habit, we are humans after all, and everyone has their vice.
For me, for example, if I sleep with the air conditioning on during a night where I don’t believe I need it, I wake up the next morning and plant a tree online, to combat the carbon emissions my AC added to the planet.
The choice to live sustainably needs to be yours, but the motivation to move forward can be provided by a community, your friends, relatives, and significant others. If you’re living an eco-friendly lifestyle alone, consider discussing your goals with a friend and see if they would be interested in being your accountability partner. By convincing them to also focus on sustainability, you’ve just doubled the environmental actions one could do, and you’ve gained support along the way.