There are many reasons why one may look at the bulk of their life when a new year arrives. This new year feels like it arrived with a unique urgency, calling for a much larger consideration and overall change. One fire after the next, without much movement by our elected officials, makes it all the more worse. In truth, we need them. We need laws that back science. While you’re gearing up to hopefully vote with the climate crisis in mind—a crisis that affects the poor and people of color at greater lengths than any other community—we wanted to share some things for your consideration. Today, Anja, who works in fashion and sustainability by day (and moonlights as a writer, by night) shares 5 things to consider as you start the year. LaTonya
1. REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS
Take a second to think back to 20 years ago, to what life was like before we all became Amazon Prime Citizens and ordered delivery meals daily from restaurants in just two touches of the iPhone.
A lot of what keeps us from living sustainability is the basic and justifiable desire for convenience….
In a lot of ways, apps and services have made our lives run more smoothly, but the illusion of convenience is that it is necessary. Think of how you behaved as a consumer in the year 1999. Did you immediately order every single thing that you needed online, one item at a time, with a million packages landing on your doorstep every week? No, it’s more likely that you organized a list and fit a shopping trip into your life at some point every week or two to get what you need. Did you order lunch delivered to your desk every day? No, more likely you either made lunch at home or, *gasp*, walked outside to purchase your food and even enjoy it en place.
Sometimes removing convenience from a situation helps you make better choices. Did you really want that percussion massager that badly, or did you see an Instagram ad for it and found nothing standing in the way of smashing that Purchase button? Did you really not have time to leave your desk to purchase food, or would a brisk walk to your local falafel joint actually do your mind good? You can still eat at your desk!
Impose a 72-hour waiting period on making any online non-essential purchases. Temporarily delete your delivery apps. Party like it’s 1999 and see how much less consuming you do.
And on that note,
2. START A LUNCH CLUB!
Delivery apps, while providing jobs for a large number of people in our Gig Economy, also create a carbon footprint. Walking to a store to purchase your food is great, but you can also find two or five like-minded friends in your office to start a lunch club.
Everyone is assigned a day to make lunch for the club, which means you get one day of responsibility and then four other days of yummy home-cooked meals from your work buddies. You don’t have to eat together if you’re too busy, but watch how this small act of community inspires others, reduces carbon emissions, consumption, and saves you all a bit of cash.
While you’re at it, sign up for a service like Misfits Market, who will send eight pounds of organic produce to your doorstep once weekly for $25. All of their produce is diverted from food waste – produce that is otherwise to “ugly” to be bought by conventional grocery stores. You choose the delivery day, get a box full of surprises at a great price, and then challenge yourself to a Top Chef Mystery Box challenge to put together a healthful, plant-based meal for you and your colleagues.
40 percent of all of the food we produce in the world – from grains to meats – is wasted! So when you divert food from that waste channel, you make use of produced goods, and you justify the associated carbon footprint (which is huge).
3. MANAGE YOUR KIDS CONSUMPTION
We love our children dearly, and the temptation to drown them in material possessions is overwhelming. This generation of children lives more demanding lives than any generation in the last 70 years, and we are grooming them to do as we do and salve anxiety and stress with consumer behavior.
What’s more, when your child becomes a voracious consumer, the value of the products they are consuming becomes meaningless. The volume of stuff becomes the measure of happiness, not the appreciation of the product.
Set ground rules with your children for rewards. Make those rewards meaningful and experiential rather than grab-baggy and flimsy. Tell them how things are made, and what impact they will have on their surrounding environment (do this research yourself!). Tell them about the work you did to earn the money to make the purchase.
These same conversations can be had with family members. For many, particularly extended and older family members, gifting a toy to a child is a way to feel some sort of connection with them. Unfortunately, those connections tend to manifest themselves in light-up plastic toys or what I call Big Bang Gifts – toys that are exciting for the five minutes after they are unveiled and then swiftly make their way to the pile of untouched stuff in the corner of the room.
Instead of asking these family members not to buy gifts, try proactively offering them an alternative. Little Fund allows people to send monetary gifts to your child towards a larger goal, which could be anything from an expensive toy to gymnastics classes to college savings. Set up a mini-site and share with your loved ones, making sure to note that when goals are achieved and gifts are given, your child will know that they contributed.
4. DO THE WORK
A huge contributing factor to our climate crisis is the mismanagement of waste, and a huge part of waste is laziness. Do you rinse your plastics, glass and tins before you put them in your recycling bin? If you don’t, they’re not getting recycled at all, they’re going to a landfill. Do you sort the recyclable flexible plastic from your recycling bin and drop it off at a dedicated recycling collection point? If you’re just putting it in your home recycling bin, it’s most likely not getting recycled and is instead going directly to a landfill.
Do the actual amount of work you’re meant to do to properly dispose of your purchases and their packaging. Oftentimes, when we are faced with the time and effort it takes to do things the right way, we realize how much waste we are creating, and that realization can be enough to catalyze a change in behavior.
If you consume any food in your home, reserve food waste in a bowl to the side of your sink or trash, and then store it in a bin in your freezer (where it will not attract bugs or animals). Most neighborhoods and towns have a compost collection site, and you can make it a weekly routine to visit this site to drop off your food waste, keeping it from rotting in a landfill and returning it to the earth to create new soil and energy. Bring your kids and talk to them about the food cycle and what food waste means – if you’re at the farmer’s market (a common compost collection site), they’ll be face to face with the farmers who may eventually be using the compost soil on their own farms. You can find local compost collection sites in New York here.
In any case, becoming more connected to our behavior and the consequences of our actions is a great way for people of all ages to gain more responsibility over their potential to impact the world for the better.
5. CALL IT OUT
At an overseas fashion sustainability conference last year, I was in conversation with a fascinating woman who, halfway through our chat, confessed to me that she was extremely thirsty and had a huge bottle of water in her tote bag, but had been resisting pulling it out because she was afraid of being shunned by the eco-friendly conference attendees, who would clearly be shocked and horrified by her use of a plastic bottle.
This attitude has to end. Publicly shaming people for using single use plastic bottles and then heading home to your house full of Amazon prime packaging is part of why we are not making fast enough progress in the fight to save the planet. Stop attacking the individuals and start approaching the corporations who are making high-level and high-volume decisions about their behavior.
When you have a consumer experience, make that experience public – and that goes for both the good and the bad. Companies are quite used to being reprimanded by their customers for unsustainable practices, but are rarely, if ever, rewarded for implementing eco-friendly operating procedures. Make sure you call out the good along with the bad. You’ll let the brand know you’re paying attention, which will let them know that sustainability is a priority in your purchase-planning, and that will weigh on their future decision-making, thus helping them to snowball away bad practices.
Any tips of your own, we’re all ears!