How to get Friends & Family to be more Sustainable

Sheepish confession: I’m no poster child for the zero waste movement. Far from it. 

But day by day, and decision by decision, I work on being mindful of my choices and the impact they have on the planet. Sometimes I fail. I do want to live a sustainable life and leave behind a better world for my daughter but I don’t always follow through on my principles. Sometimes convenience, price, and instant availability trumps conviction. 

Recently, I read a study from researchers at UBC that revealed I wasn’t alone. It showed that 65% of people surveyed said they wanted to support brands that support sustainability. But only 26% actually did!

Narrowing this intention-action gap is important for future generations and for the planet. 

The question becomes: How can we actively narrow the gap and convince others to go along with us? Here’s what I learned.

Be The Change

The UBC study was all about the power of social influence. In other words, people are more likely to adopt sustainable purchasing behaviours if they see (or hear about) others doing it too. 

Here are a few other examples that prove this point:

  • In a research study at the University of Victoria, students were asked to reduce their vehicle usage AND told that their fellow students were ditching their cars in favour of more sustainable means of transportation. The findings? Students were five times more likely to pick cycling, bussing, and other sustainable transpo! 
  • A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that when online shoppers saw other people buying eco-friendly products, there was a 65% increase in them making at least one sustainable purchase.
  • A decade ago in Calgary, a city-led initiative to encourage grasscycling (leaving your clippings on your lawn to naturally decompose) had dismal buy-in from residents when it was first launched. The city pivoted with a new campaign; “Your neighbours are grasscycling. You can too.” Guess what happened? Within two weeks, the uptake in grasscycling doubled!

If you’re steadfast in your convictions and behaviour—even if you might fail sometimes (as I do)—your actions will have a positive impact on how others act too.

Listen and Help

The hard truth is that not everybody cares about climate change or or the horrific effects of plastics in our oceans.  Sure, you might have friends who are happy to engage in conversations about planetary health but with others, you might ask what matters to them and listen in a non-judgmental way. Once you understand their needs, you can weave in sustainability tips that actually help them out. 

Stick with me for a sec.  If your friend is financially strapped, maybe you could start a chat about commuting to work by bike or cooking big-batch vegetarian meals that can be eaten for supper and reheated for lunch the next day. 

Save time and money + be healthy + lower greenhouse gas emissions= win-win for everyone, including the planet. 

This approach takes some creativity but where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Celebrate Small Steps

A few years ago, IKEA launched a sustainability program called Live Lagom (lagom means “the right amount”). They found that people would begin with small actions and then tack on bigger changes. For example, buying LED light bulbs would lead to lowering the thermostat and wearing warmer clothes, insulating windows and doors, and buying energy-efficient appliances. 

When your friends, family, or colleagues make positive changes—no matter how big or small—it’s important to recognize them! That way, they’re encouraged to keep doing them and more likely to adopt other positive changes.

Cool, right? Every journey starts somewhere and if we can appreciate and applaud steps along the journey, we’ll do right by our planet. 

If you’ve been on a quest to better your behaviour and help the planet—and feel ready to introduce your friends, family, and/or colleagues to this sustainable lifestyle, maybe you want to let them know about etee and other zero waste organizations you follow. 

After all, we’re all in this together. Right?



Thanks for reading, 

- Chantal + team etee

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