Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
As part of Global Education program (GLEN), I participated with 50 other participants to a seminar about, among other important things, sustainability. All along the seminar, I realized that everybody was already very much aware about what is means to live more sustainably.
Until something interesting happened at the end of the seminar. A little experience were made: the moderator would state sustainable lifestyle sentences like “I am buying only clothe from second-hand stores” for example, and people in the room had to position themselves according to how much it applies to their own current lifestyle. One end of the room meant 0%, second end meant 100%.
To my surprise, I was very regularly alone in my corner, on the more sustainable lifestyle side.
I had in front of me people who proved during the previous days to be smart, self-critical, aware of our collective sustainability issues, yet they were admittedly saying: “I know I should do like this, but I still don’t do it”.
Many times I thought: “Damn, but I’m so far from the rest, maybe I overestimate how sustainably I live…?”, or “They’ll think I’m showing off… or worse, lying!”.
So I know about this tendency, this mismatch between the time of realization and the time of action, but seeing it first-hand with people right in front of me and with concrete examples, was different from simple Internet interactions.
At the end of the experiment, someone approached me to ask for tips, and how I do to live sustainably (which I don’t think I do, at all, but apparently more than the average).
What to do, we all know. I actually already wrote a blog about it.
How to do it, going from realization to action, is another story. And that what we are going to talk about.
If you want to live sustainably (and you should!), here is what you should know. It won’t be pleasant at first, but it is liberating afterwards, and above all, it is absolutely necessary if you want to have a little chance to let a livable planet for your children. Or not even going so far as the next generation, to make life livable for the other human beings on this planet. Right now.
1. Be prepare to stand alone, to swim constantly against the current
You will always have to justify your behavior, to explain why you do this or that, and educate your surroundings. And to be honest it is very tiresome.
I was planning a week-end trip with friends, and we would buy food together for everybody. It’s already bad enough for me to accept to go shopping in a supermarket, so I have to explain why I’d rather buy bio eggs, and local veggies, or why I would choose a small brand rather than Nestlé. And since I have little time to explain, I always say: “Don’t worry about the price, I’m ready to bear alone the cost of buying more expensive but more ecological and fair products”. I make everybody feel suddenly guilty, by simply not going with the flow. Some change decisions sometimes, some others try to bend my will: “Come on, it’s ok, once in a while, it doesn’t make a difference!”. I still say no, and everyone is embarrassed.
Examples of this kind are countless, and happen almost on a daily basis. “No, sorry, but composting is a must for me”, “Sorry, I’d rather walk further and find a yellow bin for plastic trash”, “Sorry, I don’t join you, I don’t shop in supermarkets.”, “Sure, this product is cheap, I still won’t buy it, because it has huge social and environmental costs hidden, and that the whole society bears, including you”. “Sorry, but I don’t drink from a plastic bottle, I’d rather have a heavier bag with glass bottles”. “Sorry, I don’t drink hot beverage in plastic cups”, “Sorry no, I won’t go to Ikea, I’d rather bother to take more time and buy second-hand furniture from this peer-to-peer website”.
Sometimes, the fight is against the whole municipality. I make few kilometers by bike every week to through away my organic garbage and compost it hidden in a wood, because Bratislava doesn’t have a service for this. I walk 300 meters uphill to through away the glass garbage, because in my building the municipality doesn’t provide any green container.
And sometimes, be prepared to give up, to take it on you, and to let it go. It will be your turn to feel guilty, or weak, but the pressure from society is strong and constant, like a never-ending river flowing against you. I don’t think anybody can hold it constantly.
“Do you want some (industrial, not bio, not fair, by Mondelez) chocolate? – Damn it, yes please”.
“I bought (non-ecological, from big chemical corporation) cleaning product for the house!” said a friend expecting a “Great, thank you”. I say “thank you” politely, and let it go.
“I prepared a meal for us (from cheap food bought in Tesco, with off-season vegetables)”. I don’t refuse of course, and I eat, and I’m still thankful.
Nobody sees a vegan or vegetarian as being extreme right? Do I have the right to refuse food on a sustainability basis? Can I say: “Sorry, I’m a conscious eater, I don’t eat food from supermarkets”. I wish I could, without offending anyone. I wish it was as normal as saying: “Sorry, I don’t eat meat”.
And then people would tell me: You’re a liar, you do buy food from supermarkets sometimes. It is true, yes, maybe 10% of my food comes from supermarkets, because, as I said, sometimes I just give up. Or I simply don’t know any ecological alternative, and don’t have the resources to make it from scratch.
2. Be prepared to sacrifice from your current lifestyle, give up on stuff you used to buy, or stuff you used to do
In my case, it was hard to give up on exotic fruits, especially banana. I don’t eat any anymore.
Last winter was my second winter eating only seasonal. It is hard to eat only apples and pears throughout the whole winter. And only winter vegetables too. Potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, I was fed up with them. However, once comes the spring, you can only imagine the emotion to taste again a fresh tomato or a fresh strawberry.
The hardest was to stop going to supermarkets. I was conditioned to think that anytime I need something, I must have this need fulfilled in the instant. I’m missing cream for dinner, just go down and get it from Tesco. Now I buy almost everything once a week from the farmers’ market. But that means to plan for the week all what you will need. And if you forget something, or don’t buy enough, then you need to suffer until the next Friday or Saturday morning, because only then the farmers are there.
I couldn’t go to the market on Friday? Friday night I won’t party late because I need to be up in the morning for the market.
But I come from far. Before that, years ago, I remember having a really hard time giving up on chewing gums, Coca-Cola, all sorts of candies, and even Mc Donalds! (People who know me now would not believe it…)
Basically, you’ll have to give up on one fundamental principle which is very deeply inlaid in our brain: Any need that I have must be fulfilled here and now. If you think about it, this is the behavior of a baby, crying for anything that doesn’t go as it pleases him. Well, it’s time to grow up, and accept to wait a while until we can get something, accept to reduce the amount of this thing we get, and eventually accept to give up on things which you believe you deserve, or which you used to consider as granted.
This is a painful process. It’s not easy. From childhood to adulthood there is teenage. Which is usually a period of crisis. During your change from knowing to acting, a similar mutation process will take place and it’s not always pleasant.
Especially because once you’ll be at the “sustainable” adult age, society will remind you everyday that you are going against the flow (See point 1). And you’ll realize that “sustainability” is not a state that you achieve and then it’s all good. I’m sorry, but it’s rather a continuous process and to remain happy you have to keep a balance during all these changes. In other words, you’ll need to surf on your life.
So now you know what’s lying ahead of you if you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Just do what you can with what you have. What matters is that you take action. And remember: Going more sustainable is like fitness: if you don’t feel pain, it means you’re not doing it right.
At least, until a critical mass of people become finally as radical as you, until society will flow in your direction, when finally living the way you live won’t be an everyday fight anymore.
This will happen, but not without your active participation.
And if you don’t do it now, you’ll be forced to do it later anyway, but this time it will be sudden and brutal, with no escape of it. Why? Because if we want to go too fast too far, at some point the machine breaks down, suddenly and brutally, and we stop anyway. With no escape of it. What I’m proposing to you is rather to gradually slow the machine down, and save it from breaking down. It is as simple as that.
We can do it.