Is “sustainability” the new mindset? Part 2
In part two of this three part series, Ailuna’s Product and Impact Strategy Advisor, Renée LaPlante examines “sustainability” and explores whether it’s becoming the new mindset for everyday life.
9 minutes to read
In Part 1, I encouraged you to write out your sustainability vision and take a deep breath of acceptance that sustainability is not a single destination or a simple checklist. Rather, with a budding vision of sustainability in mind, you can embark on an exciting journey of proactively meeting your needs in new, lower-impact ways.
Visions can be intricate or practical, down to earth or lofty. Here’s another example:
I want to quickly move from:
- Fuels to renewable energy
- Less meat and dairy, to eating more and more organic plants
- Extractive investments, to money that grows out of ethical businesses
- Needing new stuff, to repurposing what I have and borrowing/sharing more
- Disposables, to using circular reusables
- Buying what is cheapest, to paying for true cost and fair labor
- Waiting for perfect solutions, to accepting short-term inconvenience and bumps
- Sustainability being a “nice-to-have,” to being the default we all choose
Once you envision your sustainable future, how do you go there?
As a fellow peer on my own sustainable life journey, I can empathise that jumping head first into aligning your everyday living with this new glorious vision may not feel easy at first. And wearing my hat as a personal carbon footprint reduction coach, I’ve seen patterns emerge that can trip us up. Let me help by unpacking some of the common hurdles people experience so you can venture eyes wide open on your own exciting sustainability journey.
Hurdle 1: We skip creating a starting point and having a mechanism to prioritize our limited capacity for change
Starting your journey without having a picture of your current eco impact is a way to get lost, fast. What worked for me was finding a firm set of metrics that I understood so that I could translate my household and life situation to a number and choose actions worth my time and effort. Once I had a starting point, I could also recalculate to check if I had actually changed anything. Plus, since my human-ness means I resist change, I needed to pick only a couple of things to work on at a time, and the numbers helped me choose worthy areas for big footprint savings.
This is why I calculated my baseline footprint number: 18 Tonnes. Once I learned that I was nearly 5 Tonnes above the Swiss average (at 13.5 Tonnes) and more than 10 Tonnes above the average world citizen (at 7.4 Tonnes), I was able to start looking into how my life caused more greenhouse gases than others in Switzerland and other parts of the world.
Credit: WWF Switzerland Footprint Calculator and ESU-Services.
I hear some of you wincing—numbers are not your thing! Or you have heard the calculators are unreliable! Or you don’t want to be made to feel even more guilty! Or you already know that a specific area (i.e. international flights) are pushing your footprint way up! Still I really suggest that, at a minimum, you find out if you’re above or below your country’s average, and learn what your key life areas are that cause eco impact. Our Decarbonista Community has a few favorite Calculators and Apps here that give a clear starting picture. You certainly don’t need to use these things every day but getting that first snapshot is key, and checking again every few months is indeed valuable input for your journey.
Importantly, at Decarbonista, we explicitly emphasize that there is no judgment or guilt or reason to make people feel bad about themselves for what their footprint is. We have all been led by the world around us to establish and live our lives in a way that is less sustainable. The point is: We can quickly steer ourselves in a new direction and the calculators provide a meaningful starting point.
It’s no coincidence that personal carbon footprint Calculators and Apps are popping up all over the place alongside the business movement to go Net Zero. Professional or personal, these tools help us see where our unique emissions are coming from. With their help, we can question our assumptions and discover tangible ways to bring the numbers down. If you’re working for a big company, there are thousands of consultants and multiple kinds of software to support you. And, as a consultant running a small business, I have tried and can very much recommend small99.co.uk for a high level assessment and then Ailuna provides a great tool for all types of organizations to start their tangible shifts into sustainability.
Hurdle 2: We lack clarity about the eco impact of our actions on a relative scale. Hence, we fall back to defaults.
If we all knew what was “best practice,” “good enough” and “really bad” for sustainability, we would each have our own internal compass to guide us through our days. My day looks very different from your day! So, what we need is clarity about scale and impact to make conscious adult decisions, not moral judgements of how much insulation, meat or flying is “good, bad or fair.” When lacking this knowledge, we can too easily fall into judging each other or having arguments about “which article said what” because we don’t have this unbiased technical information at our fingertips and every situation is truly unique. Then, as our human-ness causes us to want to belong, our natural desire to follow cultural norms means we continue to do what is easiest and we perpetuate defaults.
When I started looking for answers about why my Swiss life “emitted” so much more than others, I learned in a nutshell, that the country I live in is wealthy and I was buying and doing a lot of high-emissions things. Zurich has high-functioning city infrastructure and quality health and safety services, many people drive cars daily despite having a fabulous public transport system, and meat and dairy are staples offered in restaurants from mountain huts to lakeside cafes. On top of this, I could afford imported food and goods, and we often flew overseas for vacation.
In other words, I had (and still have!) access to emissions-heavy things and activities. What I learned quickly next is: This doesn’t mean I have to choose them.
From digging through many scientific papers and listening to Sustainability and Life Cycle Analysis experts, Decarbonista has developed some quick reference Tables of Footprint Impact. They’re imperfect and not suitable for every situation—as the devil is in the details of what you’re measuring—but they are good enough for the considerations our clients grapple with. We’ve found that once someone has a scale of impact in Tonnes or Kilograms of greenhouse gases, they can work down the Impact triangle and eventually learn to disassociate emissions from the ways they spend their time and money.
Credits: Infographic Decarbonista, Data from multiple sources including WWF Switzerland Footprint Calculator and ESU-Services.
This way, bit by bit, I worked to let go of things that caused me and others harm. I took a step to minimize my CO2 emissions and swap over to a lower eco impact replacement. And in quite a few cases, I stopped doing something altogether and just got free time or money back in exchange. The extra good news is this: I speedily dropped 10-tonnes off my footprint without having to change a system.
Maybe you just need another nudge or to hear it from an expert that it’s truly worth your time to reduce your meat consumption or finally install those solar panels. Sometimes we’re just looking for something that feels doable and also—fun! So, if the Reference Table of Footprint Impact makes your eyes glaze over, jump on the Ailuna Facebook Group and ask the Community for ideas.
Just don’t spend your time and money on efforts that have little effect. You’re much too valuable.
Hurdle 3: We think our minds will change the physical world around us
We should release that old adage “Mindset is everything.” It’s not fully true. Even if everyone in the world currently had a sustainability mindset, it wouldn’t mean we somehow magically achieve it. A mindset is only having a vision, an intention, or a clear purpose. But, it isn’t the whole package. Without it we get lost, so, yes it is essential. But when we complement our new vision with a healthy dose of action (embodiment) and emotion (heart), then we’ll really go somewhere new. Sustainability is very much about “living in the material world,” so just thinking about stuff means you just won’t cause much action. But—actually trying something out and checking in with yourself on how you feel about it? Now that’s progress.
Credits: Photo by Peter Sinclair for Madonna’s 1985 Material Girl Album and by Gala.de of Greta Thunberg
The great news is you don’t need anything fancy to leap over this hurdle. Just know that your thoughts alone don’t count as progress toward your vision.
Hurdle 4: We think demanding society to change is what changes the status quo
The more we start looking around, the more we can see systems set up for climate disaster and take-make-waste consumption behavior. Options on restaurant menus, for transportation, holiday Ads and things calling out to us on store shelves, are often the epic opposite of sustainable and circular.
Head back to your vision. Which life pillar(s) are you targeting to lower your eco impact? Energy and Home? Food? Travel? Daily Consumption? Investing? Political Engagement?
In most of these pillars, the good news is that better methods, technologies, products and techniques already exist. So it’s really now up to you to take a deep breath and simply choose them, scale them and get used to living in slightly new, but no less enjoyable, ways.
This hurdle is simple but important. If we want something to change, we will need to be engaged in it. We’ll need to see it, find a better option, choose the better option, and communicate to stakeholders why we’ve chosen differently. It’s our everyday leadership and role-modeling that brings society along with us. Don’t underestimate how important it is for you to be seen taking steps on your sustainability journey. Others are inspired, motivated, and influenced by you.
So, try out something different, follow through on an Ailuna action—because when we’re each doing our own part, day by day—incrementally on our own or together in groups—we all add up to achieving society’s transition to sustainability.
Feeling ready to get moving?
With your starting point and clarity about one or two areas you can realistically change, you are now ready to start trying out a few best practices or solutions. Looking for vegan recipes, heat pump providers, or nearby vacation options? A Google search rarely disappoints. Plus, Ailuna’s in-App Community has tons of topic-specific suggestions. Trying to understand scale and impact? Subscribe to sustainability-oriented newsletters and podcasts, follow @sustainabilitychampions, join a social media green group, or talk to anyone you know that has an education in sustainability… You don’t need to spend money on this, knowledge is everywhere.
And if you’re trying to make it less hard, or have it feel more fun, get support—join a Community!
Remember, you are the expert of your life. Only you can tangibly change your world and your ways. And living sustainably usually means living more lightly, which also usually means living more cost-effectively, mindfully and healthfully; the benefits abound.
So, go for it! Start moving toward your vision. Take those personal daily steps toward tangible signposts of sustainability. This is what will start to bring your sustainability vision to life.
→ Stay tuned for Part 3 of Is “Sustainability” the new mindset?
About the author
Renée LaPlante is a culture strategy, people performance and engagement leader who after a decade at Google decided to face humanity’s biggest challenges. In 2018, Renée set a goal of reducing 10-tonnes off her personal carbon footprint, and succeeded! She founded the Social Impact project Decarbonista—a people-centric, judgment-free coaching approach—to accelerate personal carbon footprint reduction through workshops, coaching circles, social media and community. Her “you can do it, too” book on personal footprint reduction is coming soon, subscribe here to be the first to know!
Renée’s 25 years of experience come from corporate roles in advertising, technology, NGOs, and today as an Independent Consultant guiding future-necessary organizations to co-create intentional, inclusive cultures and align incentives and behaviors with their goals through transformative change management. She advises Ailuna on their Product and Impact Strategy and she would love to hear what you think about this article.
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