Overcoming the Challenges of Sustainability
Our favourite bloggers share their stories
The new year is almost upon us, and that list of resolutions won’t write itself. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re either living a sustainable life, or interested in pursuing a greener lifestyle. In that case, changing your habits might feel scary or just damn annoying. For that reason, we asked our favourite bloggers to share what they perceive are the biggest challenges of sustainability, and how you can put them behind your. Here’s what they answered.
"Our biggest challenge was finding balance, figuring out what worked for us and what did not. There were no books or blogs on how to do Zero Waste when we started in 2008. So I googled alternatives and tested many recipes and how-to's. But I eventually got too wrapped up into homemaking: At one point, I was making cheese, bread, yogurt, soy milk, butter, etc. Some of these ideas were too extreme, too time consuming, and we later dropped them for the sake of simplicity. For example, we realized that there was no need for us to make bread if we could buy it unpackaged either directly from the bakery or from the bakery bins.
Since 2009, we have Zero Waste on auto-pilot in our home. It is easy and natural for us. We found that for Zero Waste to be sustainable in a household, one has to adopt alternatives that fit his/her schedule, are feasible in the long run, and suit his/her regional customs."
"The biggest challenge I have had to overcome in adopting a sustainable lifestyle has been accepting that you have to pick your battles. Any goods or services that we buy or utilise have an impact on the Planet, some more so than others, and it can be pretty difficult to get a product or service that is 100% ethical or sustainable. My take on sustainable living means that I make decisions based on my purchasing values. Which may, for example, see me buying an imported product over a more locally based one because I can't source the local one without packaging and I value a packaging free lifestyle. This is not an ideal situation but you have to do what feels best to you. It can be easy to get 'hung up' on the fact that our species existence on the planet is having a negative impact no matter what and compassion fatigue is a real and dangerously demotivating feeling. But as long as you stay true to your personal values you know you are doing the best you can with what you have available and hopefully feel good about yourself."
"I see the biggest challenge being availability. I think many people would like to choose sustainability, and also pay a little extra, but if they cannot find the products where they usually shop, they will give up. I think there are many ways to overcome it - I am trying myself to inform my peers and readers about the endless possibilities online, and the sporadic physical shop. I hope shops will do their part too, and feature the product that are more sustainable and fair. It needs to be easy and convenient to choose sustainable fashion, and I believe it will be more and more easy in the future, but right now, it is the biggest challenge."
"The most common roadblock towards leading a more sustainable lifestyle among my friends, family and social network is the perception of effort. Many people see sustainable living as something that will require depriving themselves of daily pleasures and experiences, which is simply not true! The concept of sustainability as put forth by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in Cradle to Cradle is what inspired me to begin making changes in my life. That concept is that sustainability means "abundance for all, forever." Abundance being the key word; living sustainably is not like going on a diet. I enjoy much more delicious food, more exciting personal style, and more meaningful experiences with loved ones and new acquaintances now that I try to bring a sustainable outlook into my everyday life.
So my advice to anyone looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle is this; really think about what you need in your life and take this transition one step at a time. Small changes are much more realistic than doing a complete overhaul on your life, and that behavior is actually more sustainable because it means that you can continue to change for the better indefinitely! When you take a moment to think about what you truly need, and what will be good for your physical and emotional well-being, it becomes very easy to make sustainable lifestyle choices."
"First of all, I think people are often confused as to what exactly is sustainable or more sustainable than conventional alternatives. It's hard enough for experts in the field to precisely calculate the environmental impact of a fabric or a certain process versus another, the real answer is that many factors influence what ends up costing more to the environment and simply using materials and products that sound more eco-friendly, for example, is not enough; the entire process has to be considered: water used, chemical treatment, origin of raw materials, among others. So, for the consumer, when trying to accurately select sustainable products, they are faced with a lot of marketing and very little science, which makes the job harder.
The other issue is price: many of these sustainable products are marked up and targeted to a higher-income demographic, creating a sense of exclusivity and many times capping who gets to have access to such products. The third one is the perception that making more environmentally sustainable choices implies buying a lot of new things. Daily actions that aim to save water, reduce the use of plastic, eating less carbon intensive foods and being mindful of our overall ecological footprint could be more important than buying a different kind of laundry soap, but changing habits is a lot harder than swiping your credit card. For me, staying informed and getting my news from academic and scientific sources, rather than for profit websites or manufacturers themselves, is the best way to spot inconsistencies and make better decisions."
"I think be biggest challenge people face is feeling like the problem is too big and their efforts won't make a difference or will be wasted. I think we've also become so jaded by advertising that we don't trust companies who claim to be "eco-friendly" or "sustainable" any more, and most people don't know where to start looking for answers as to which products are really helping the earth. Essentially, people are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and of the array of products to choose from.
The way to overcome it is to believe in yourself! You CAN make a difference and every little bit helps. It sounds cliche, but it really is true! Imagine if every person in North America switched to eco-friendly household cleaner, or exclusively bought recycled paper towels. What a difference that would make! Use websites like the Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) to quickly check how safe and sustainable your products are. Also, give yourself time! When I started my sustainability journey, I decided to give myself over two years to sort through all the mess! Start just by changing cleaners - you may have to try a few before you find your favourite! Then move on to makeup, paper goods, and so on."
"I believe that the biggest challenge most people face when trying to be sustainable is simply getting started. We constantly have figures and statistics about the sorry state of our planet force fed to us by the media, and I am not denying that knowledge is incredibly important, but I know to many people this can be overwhelming. When a situation seems as irreversibly bad as our current climate situation, people feel disempowered and are less likely to be excited by the process of tackling the problem. Being such a small part of such an enormous problem can also lead people to shoulder the blame onto bigger corporations, or governments.
I strongly believe that the way to combat this is to understand that any choice, however small, is valuable. We can only become a greener society if we all decide individually to make small steps towards sustainability - be it growing more of your own fruit and veg, choosing to source a percentage of your wardrobe from charity/vintage shops, or committing to take public transport for certain days of the week. The cumulative effect of these small actions will bring about change. So my advice is get started! Don't think your contribution is not important, or outweighed by the negative actions of huge firms and corporations, because that is simply not true."
"The biggest challenge in choosing to make sustainable purchases is accessibility. Depending on where in the world you live, you may not have access to information about sustainable products or to the products themselves. Even if you live in the US or UK where more and more "green" products show up in stores every day, they're still not available in many categories of goods. Fashion is a big one. There is a lot of sustainable fashion out there, but you have to know where to look. Someday I hope to see eco-friendly and ethical labels on clothing like we see organic or Fair Trade certifications on coffee.
In the meantime, my advice is to spend just a little time to seek out one or two high-quality, long-lasting pieces that are sustainably made. I wear a watch almost every day that's made from scrap wood. People compliment it all the time, and I tell them where I got it and a little about the company. That's how the movement spreads. The more demand we as consumers create, the more accessible sustainable products will be."
"I feel the biggest challenge people face when choosing a more sustainable lifestyle is the lack of alternatives in their own environment. Lots of towns are still playing catch up to this concept, and people are still learning the meaning of a sustainable lifestyle. Here in my own city, stores do not recycle and there are no recycle bins on the streets. The only 'green' retailer I know of, closed its doors recently. It's truly difficult to create a sustainable life when your own town is not embracing it.
The best way to overcome this problem is to change the minds around you. Choosing a sustainable route in your own home (it is easy to find info & products online) isn't enough, you have to start the conversation with the people surrounding you. I truly believe it is a domino effect. I've noticed it with my friends and family! We just have to remember, sustainability encompasses several things - society, economics & the environment. We need all three of these working together to create a truly sustainable community."
"Many people think sustainability is such a large issue that their individual actions are just a drop in the bucket. They feel overwhelmed by their inability to do it all at once, so they lose the motivation to do anything at all. The trick to overcoming this mental block is taking baby steps. Focus on changing one small thing at a time, and over time your new habits will add up to a real, positive impact."
"I think the biggest obstacle for many - and certainly for myself - is overwhelm. When you start considering your consumer and lifestyle choices and how they impact people and planet, you fall down a rabbit hole. You realize that there are hundreds of things you could do better and it's easy to get lost in the feeling that you'll never be able to do enough.
That's why I try to employ the sociological concept of "small wins," breaking down the big problem of living sustainably into small chunks. I may not be able to install solar panels today, but I can switch to reusable personal and home care products, like menstrual pads, cotton rounds, and food packaging. I may not be able to purchase a completely sustainable garment, but I can better use the things I already own. I think it's also important to recognize that the biggest impact we can make starts at home, both through our personal lifestyle choices and our local activism. Get out there and talk to people about your passion to live more sustainably. You can't change the world in one day, but your voice can carry far enough to impact a few. And word-of-mouth activism carries more weight than the most elaborate advertising campaign ever will."