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  • Writer's pictureJessica McQuistin

6 Starting Points for Sustainability

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Are you interested in reducing your environmental footprint but not sure where to begin? That's where I was last spring. I still feel like I'm just getting started when it comes to living a more sustainable lifestyle but I can see some tangible results. For example:

  • I haven't thrown a single plastic peanut butter jar in the recycling bin over the last year - and we go through a lot of peanut butter!

  • We haven't bought paper towels for about a year. Though we still have a few rolls for emergencies, we rarely use them, opting for cloth napkins, dishcloths, or other washable fabrics instead.

  • We now have a handful of go-to vegetarian meals that our whole family loves. Lentil tacos have become a staple! We still eat meat, but by incorporating some meatless meals, we're reducing the overall carbon footprint of our food.

These are just a few small changes we've made but the impact adds up over time.

Here are six starting points to a more sustainable lifestyle. Hopefully, these will help reduce the overwhelm and helplessness that can sink in when confronting environmental issues.

1. Recognize what you're already doing.

Take stock - ideally write a list - of all the eco-friendly things you're currently doing. Be generous! Everything counts. My family's initial list would have included things like recycling, composting, bringing cloth grocery bags and produce bags to the grocery store, using refillable water bottles, borrowing books from the library, etc. Recognizing all the great things you're already doing can help you to see that you're not starting from zero. You might also realize how effortless some of these habits have become. If you could set and maintain those habits, you can surely create new ones as well! Your current habits can also serve as jumping-off points. If you already recycle, how well do you really know your municipality's recycling guidelines? Avoid wish-cycling by doing a little research. If you live in Kitchener-Waterloo, The Waste Whiz App is an amazing tool. Similar apps are available for other cities.

2. Research ways of reducing your environmental footprint.

Choose your favourite formats for learning and dig in! For me, podcasts and Instagram were great sources of information and inspiration. Of course books, websites, courses, and documentaries are wonderful resources as well.

3. Consider your unique values, interests, lifestyle preferences, and available resources.

Change is challenging. Choosing areas to focus on that align with your values, interests, and lifestyle will make progress more attainable and maintainable. Sustainability efforts can also take time, energy, and/or money. Making every meal from scratch and taking on DIY projects is not appealing to everyone and takes time. It can also be tempting to immediately buy all the eco-friendly items on the market but that's not necessarily affordable. On the other hand, some changes can save you money, like shopping second-hand or biking instead of driving. There are many win-wins to be found when it comes to sustainable choices! So be honest with yourself about how much time and money you can invest, and where your energy is best spent.

4. Invest time into the aspects of sustainability that matter most to you.

Whether it's fast fashion, wildlife, rainforests, oceans, agriculture, connection to nature, or quality of life for humans, whatever tugs at your heartstrings or gets your blood boiling, pay attention to that. Nurture it. Can you spend time at a wildlife sanctuary or grow your own vegetables? What I've noticed is that investing time into the causes you care about nurtures and grows your sense of caring. With an open mind and heart, your caring can move you into action. Interestingly, taking positive actions seems to reinforce this sense of caring as well. It's a cyclical upward spiral of caring into action and acting into caring. With this momentum behind you, change flows more easily, fuelled with intention and passion.

5. Experiment.

Try things out! Gather some empty jars and containers, and check out a bulk store. Look up a vegetarian recipe for dinner tonight. Bring your own reusable coffee cup and ask your local coffee shop if they will fill it. Try a bamboo toothbrush. Make your own exfoliator out of used coffee grounds. Whatever piques your curiosity, give it a go! When trying new things, keep an open mind and remember that it's just an experiment. Give yourself a pat on the back for stepping out of your comfort zone whether or not your experiment was a hit. (This one is a big reminder-to-self as I'm not always immediately graceful with my failures!)

6. Reflect & Habit-Set.

How did your experiments turn out? Choose a few that were enjoyable and felt worthwhile to you, and turn them into daily, weekly, or monthly habits. Keep on learning and experimenting, gradually adopting new habits that work for you.

Tying It All Together (Personal Examples & Resources)

Recently, I participated in an excellent free online course, the Lower Your Footprint Challenge with Vanessa Landry. Her course would be a fantastic starting point for anyone who enjoys interactive webinars. One thing that stood out to me and resonated with my own experience was the importance of tying sustainability goals into your values, as I spoke about in #3 above.

When I was just getting started, I came across a great podcast, Practical(ly) Zero Waste. In the first episode, Mindfulness, the host Elsbeth Callaghan talks with her partner about the impact of just noticing all the packaging used in grocery stores. When we become aware of an issue we can make efforts to improve it, so just seeing packaging can be a starting point.

As quoted in this podcast episode,

There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.
- Annie Leonard

As I started seeing packaging, I wanted to reduce how much packaging we brought into the house. One of the habits that brings me the most joy and fulfillment is shopping at local zero waste bulk stores. We're very fortunate to have two in our area, Full Circle Foods in Kitchener and Zero Waste Bulk in Waterloo. Bulk Barn also allows customers to bring and fill their own containers.

Eating well is also important to me and I love spending time in the kitchen, so this is an area I choose to focus on. Some of my kitchen experiments have gone well (like making granola bars) and some were less successful (like making our own almond milk). It turns out I don't love squeezing stuff through cheesecloth! So I made a mental note, and now I think twice before starting any projects involving cheesecloth. Everyone has their limits!

I hope these starting points will take some of the guesswork out of sustainability and motivate you to take small positive actions. Let me know in the comments what you already do and what you want to try next! Let's support each other along the way in building a greener future!

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