On most days, reading the news can be a pretty depressing ordeal. There are humans and animals suffering everywhere, our planet is being destroyed, and the majority of the decisions being taken seem to just take humanity into a downwards spiral of crap. Not very promising.
Whilst it is true that much more has to be done by governments, corporations and international organisations, we think it is time that as individuals we take responsibility in the matter and start living a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle. What we do of course depends on our means, circumstances and personal choices; but we can all do better and improve at least some aspects of our lifes. There are so many small steps we can take towards this goal, and little by little we are capable of the most extraordinary of changes.
So you, like us, have come to the conclusion that you want to live a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle, but where do you start? Here are the 10 steps we are taking to change our lives:
1. Become aware
You can’t be what you don’t know. Living in a more sustainable and ethical manner first requires realising what the issue is. Once your mentality has changed, the rest follows organically. Until a couple of years ago, I would take the plastic bag given to me at the shop without blinking an eye, thought nothing of the microbeads in my shower gel and always bought the cheapest clothes I could find in fast fashion stores. These are all things that now I would reconsider and change. But it has taken a lot of analysing every single one of my actions, and researching the consequences, to know what I had to do differently (and we are certainly still in this eternal life learning process).
Realising the issue, and becoming aware of what can be done is much easier when having positive examples to follow. Awareness is increasing and it’s even becoming a trendy topic in many countries. Accordingly, there are plenty of websites, blogs and social media platforms that can help you in this journey (including us, we hope!). But be sure to do a bit of research on your own if you feel like something you read online isn’t right for you. In our journey we’ve read many a claim that was confusing, misleading or simply false. Also, most people tend to simplify sustainability and ethics in a way that is not helpful in the long run. Drinking almond milk doesn’t make you a better human being, avocados don’t have to be a staple in your diet (albeit being delicious they’re also expensive and not local in many places), and you do not need to fit all your trash in a jar to be making a difference. Whilst I love my matcha and enjoy eating out in vegan restaurants, we don’t have access to many of the ‘sustainable blogger staples’ when traveling the world. We adapt to what we can find and do locally, and have realised that there are many different ways of pursuing a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle.
So take positive examples and shape them to your life in a way that is useful and meaningful to you. Trying to copy influencers living in New York when you are in a town in Malawi, is probably not going to work. And a blogger’s mindful morning practice may not serve you in any way when you’re struggling to keep up with your two-jobs-and-3-kids situation. It’s not about becoming a different person, but a better version of yourself. Trying to reduce your negative impact is a complex process with no clear answers. As with everything else, your own judgement and perspective is important. And only you should determine every aspect of your journey!
2. Take it step by step
From the moment you decide you want to live more sustainably and ethically, you’ll suddenly realise how much there is to do. It can get real overwhelming, real quick. It is important to understand that it is not a race or a competition. The process will be much more manageable and enjoyable if you take your time and make small changes step by step. This will also allow for your decisions to be more conscious.
Funnily enough our first zero waste swap (apart from the usual reusable cloth bags) was making our own toothpaste. It was such a simple, quick and money-saving change that it motivated us to continue trying new things. Living ethically and sustainably is going to be a life-long learning process for us, and that is good. We are willing to continue evolving, messing up and adapting our lives for the better, regardless of our context and means.
3. Less is more
We have a huge impact on the environment through the products we consume, and the amenities we use. Capitalism has us convinced that our needs are limitless in order to be happy – a mentality we have indulged in and shaped our lives around. But most things we can easily do without. You don’t have to go overboard and become an extreme minimalist, but reducing your consumption and footprint is a big part of becoming more sustainable. There is no need to go shopping for new clothes every week, and it is still important to close your tap and turn off your lights, when not in use. Become more aware of what you want in life and prioritise what your really need.
When having to get rid of everything we owned to travel the world, we were shocked by the amount of things we had accumulated over the years. It took us months to sell and give away everything, as we had to make sure it wouldn’t just end up in a landfill. The sadness of “loosing” all we owned was quickly replaced by a feeling of liberation we didn’t know we needed. Now, if we ever settle again, we’ll make sure to only get what we truly need. After all, what good is it to have three pairs of hiking boots if you don’t even know they’re buried in your closet?
4. Watch your consumption habits
What and how we buy influences not only how we live, but also impacts the life of others and our planet. As a consumer you hold great power and responsibility. Our consumption patterns drive the economy and determine what is produced and how it is manufactured.
Fast fashion is mainly made in cloth factories with poor and dangerous conditions, cheap junk food is more detrimental than nutritious, and certain components of electronics fuel wars. We are responsible for the consequences of our demands. Therefore, buy local, sustainable and ethical whenever possible. Do your research and support only those companies that follow the right path. And for many products, buying second hand is the best alternative.
5. Change your diet
Food plays a huge part in our daily life (or it should anyway). It keeps us healthy/alive and can be nutritious and delicious at the same time, depending on the choices you make. But our diets are important not only for our health, but also for other fellow human, millions of animals and the environment as a whole.
With our current dysfunctional global food system we put more and more pressure on our planet. Huge parts of jungles are burned for cultivation, wildlife is killed and water is becoming scarce. Pesticides contaminate rivers, forests and fields, and eventually come into our tummies. Palm oil can be found in almost all cookies, chips, pizzas, candy bars and other processed foods. But it is also the ingredient that destroys whole habitats and biodiversity in big parts of South East Asia and elsewhere. Meat production needs lots of water and crops, animals are not treated very well (to say it lightly) and they strongly add to our carbon footprint.
By changing even the smallest of aspects to our diets, we can have a huge impact. We personally focus on having a plant based diet, composed of local and organic produce when possible. Another very important aspect for us is not producing plastic waste, so we cary reusable cotton produce bags and buy in bulk. And of course, no palm oil!
Humanity has in the past years embraced a single use and throw away mentality. We buy a cute t-shirt that we only wear a couple of times before we bury it deep into our closets, new phones with must-have updates come out every year, and the glass jam jar is discarded once it’s finished, without thinking of all the reuses it can have.
But if we change our outlook, we can extend the lifetime of many products without much effort. Focusing on reusing and repurposing is key. DIY can open up new possibilities and turn something we considered useless into a wonderful hack. When maximising the use of objects as they are is not an option, the aim should be to up-cycle, recycle or down-cycle. Glass jars are great for bulk groceries and creating a zero waste kitchen; an old raggedy t-shirt can turn into your new cleaning cloths; and even old bike tires can be used to make trendy bags. And, if you own things that are fine but you no longer want, there is always someone else that’ll be happy to take it.
7. Control and limit your waste
In 2015 the average packaging waste generated per European citizen was of 167kg (the Germans outdid it with 222kg). Think about it, this was only our packaging waste.
Everything nowadays is packed, stored and sold in plastic, from the things you order online to the fruits and vegetables you buy in the supermarket. The world is becoming a landfill and plastic pollution will soon be as much of a crisis as climate change. Burning and burying garbage (yes, that’s what is normally done) doesn’t make it disappear and recycling is not where we should stop. The solution is to not produce waste at all.
There is absolutely no need to use 2-3 single-use cups a day to have our coffee on-the-go or get an individually wrapped cucumber. Here is where the zero waste movement comes in, creating solutions for our everyday lives that are both simple and easy to adapt to. With plastic-free options becoming increasingly popular in many countries, bulk stores and fresh produce markets popping up, its becoming easier to limit your waste. And the options are not limited to those countries where this has become a trend. Even though plastic is an issue of contemporary life, you can still find many local goods without it.
But it doesn’t stop with plastic, you also have to take into account all your other waste as there is no way of guaranteeing it wont end up in a landfill once you put it in the trash. Bring your own bags wherever you go, have a reusable water bottle and cup with you, refuse plastic straws and single-use food containers and cutlery. Buy fruits and vegetables loose with your own cotton produce bags, and try find the rest of your products in bulk. Compost when possible and reuse whatever possible before throwing it in the trash. No matter your surroundings there are always things you can do better and habits you can give up.
8. Celebrate your progress
There’s allot to do, we get it. It’s a life-long learning process. Just acknowledge your successes and don’t focus on the setbacks. This is not a competition and there is no “good” or “bad” list keeping track of your actions. View the process as one of making positive choices, not sacrifices. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t expect to ever be perfect. If you are switching things up with a negative outlook or because you feel forced (peer pressure is everywhere y’all!), it will be more difficult, and you are more likely to give up.
Just by changing your intentions, you are creating positive change. So do it for you, as you can and please. Slowly, all the positive intentions and small actions you take will add up. And because you truly believe in having a meaningful impact, you will!
9. Use your voice and your vote
We tend to often think that we’re irrelevant, that we’re too small to create change and that therefore what we do and want doesn’t matter. But we all have the power to improve the world around us. No matter what you do, no matter where you live, you are important.
Whether it be as a consumer in your nearby grocery store, a voter hoping for better rights, or simply as a resident wanting to positively influence your community, you should use your voice to make a difference. Vote for better solutions, sign petitions that are relevant, go on marches when injustice is done, complain to the municipality when no progress is made, boycott corporations that screw up again and again, and tell our representatives to start giving a damn.
Because the world as it is now is not good enough. We deserve better, and we can make it better. Of course, it is great to individually work towards the world you want, but it is also necessary to make these demands heard as they ultimately require a bigger shift. Remember, your view of the world, and how you want it to be, is relevant. So go out there, however need be, and use your voice.
10. Share your knowledge
People will notice when you change your ways, and soon the questioning and inquiries follow. You can be a positive example for those around you, a catalysis for change. Seeing a different way of living makes people question their own choices, and when actively sharing little tips and tricks of what you already know and do, you can make things easier for others.
So tell your story in a positive and inclusive manner. There is no need to impose. Everyone should make choices on their own terms. What may be right for you, may not be so for your friends or family. And please be honest with yourself and others. Exaggerating the benefits to get more of a reaction, or pretending everything is perfect, will just backfire. It is not always easy for us to carry around all the reusable utensils (no tiny backpacks anymore), hand-washing the blood off my reusable pads sucks (and I do it anyway), and we often crave the wrapped snacks and drinks we cannot have (stupid principles). This lifestyle means you’ll have to say no to many things and defend yourself a great many more times. But we’re convinced it’s worth it.
We hope these tips help you start your journey, no matter what shape it may take. There is a long way to go, but we’re in it together. We definitely can make a difference!
Thank you for all your efforts and of course for following along.
All the photos were taken in Kohima, Nagaland (India).