Is “sustainability” the new mindset? Part 3
In the final instalment 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 suggested that moving to a sustainability mindset is entirely possible when we start with a vision of what sustainable living, work, food, travel, investments and daily situations actually mean and look like. Just getting started on this visioning pulls us forward into futures that we are joyful about and motivated to create. I am also a firm believer that we don’t need to spend our effort concocting a unified and shared vision plus trying to convince others that ours is right. Just having your own picture that is also aligned to a data-driven aspect of sustainability (e.g. water—greenhouse gas—biodiversity—CO2 sequestration—waste—circularity) is enough to put YOU in motion toward a better collective and long-lasting future for generations to come. Then, your daily steps and experiential role-modeling can naturally draw others into that future if it also resonates with them.
In Part 2, I shared some common hurdles I’ve observed while helping people reduce their Carbon Footprints and live more sustainably. People often are missing a way to benchmark, prioritize, and monitor progress and generally, many get stuck when trying to stay motivated and bring their vision to life.
Now you have a first taste of where we silly humans can get hung up, put our ownness outside of ourselves and create all sorts of excuses. As we become more aware of our human tendencies to resist change and create barriers for ourselves, we can gently sidestep those pitfalls and keep moving on our path.
So, I encourage you to think of your sustainability mindset as seeds and your vision is the grand picture you have for the flourishing environment you are preparing for yourself and future generations! Next, it’s just all about growing your knowledge and putting in the everyday effort so as to nurture those seeds into reality! And don’t forget the endless health, wellbeing and financial benefits associated with a sustainable lifestyle – these abounding benefits await you as well.
To begin reaping the benefits and step assuredly onto the sustainability path, I always suggest creating a high level plan to help you stay clear, on track, and focused while still handling the existing things many of us do like working, caring for partners, kids and parents, volunteering and having fun!
Planning sustainable shifts
To effectively shift into sustainability you will want to:
- Be clear on why you want to make the shifts, what is your vision or driving motivation (e.g. your children or grandchildren, people who are disproportionately impacted by drought and climate change, disappearing ocean reefs and wildlife, loss of animal and plant species).
- Have selected the area(s) you want to focus on, ideally where your footprint calculation indicates there is the greatest opportunity to reduce, or that which is of high interest and you are motivated to explore and affect (home energy, food, travel, investing, political engagement).
- Have a way of establishing your starting point and measuring your progress (reduction in water use, personal greenhouse gas emission reduction, waste reduction, etc.).
- Use 1-3 above to craft a Plan for making your sustainable shifts successfully over time.
For example, in the beginning, I was keen to reduce the suffering of people impacted by our climate overheating, and wanted to drop 5 tonnes off my carbon footprint. Upon calculating, I learned that travel was my big opportunity, and since I live in Europe, I had many alternative options for enjoying my free time and getting around.
First, I took a moment to brainstorm things I would be willing to do differently on the topic of holiday Travel.
- Perhaps I could skip an overseas destination and pick somewhere more local, reachable by train.
- Maybe I could cut my flights in half.
- Would I feel comfortable picking Economy or 2nd class instead of First/Business?
- Could I go glamping for our summer holiday instead of staying in a hotel?
- What about doing frequent video calls with family instead of always visiting them abroad?
I collected this list and then added up the greenhouse gas savings I could achieve with each case. If it had added up to 5 tonnes, then my Plan would have been done and it would have been just a matter of working down the list. But, as it wasn’t enough, I needed to expand the list of ideas to get it to add up, so I explored my other movement.
- What about my daily commute could I do differently, starting with one day per week? Maybe carpool or take a train or ride my bike?
- Stop driving altogether and use public transport and/or get an e-bike instead?
- Could I do errands differently? Maybe I would be willing to cycle or walk to the grocery store and get my weekend exercise at the same time.
With that I had a list, and I could start picking 1 (or 2 max!) efforts to start with to bring my footprint down.
Now, in all cases, evolving travel and the way one gets around requires more up-front planning. So, setting reminders in the calendar, spending time asking friends for suggestions, and researching properly helps ensure that I don’t slip into excuses, fear or guilt. And as mentioned in Parts 1 and 2, there are many supportive apps and tools, like Ailuna, to help with exploring alternatives, building new habits, and gaining support along the way.
When our plans go sideways
Yes, I’ve intentionally written “when” and not “if.” Our plans will definitely go sideways at some point. Here are a few common regressions and tips on how to minimize them and recover.
Welcome to the totally normal human reaction to change—making excuses and falling back into defaults. This is a wonder of being human! We are masters of excuses, shortcuts and defaulting under stress. The good news is we can expect it to happen and give ourselves a little leeway when it does. Even better, by planning for these inner quirks to show up, we recognise when it’s happening, then get better and can see when it’s about to happen. All in all, we can recover faster and keep going faster. We’re all capable of living glorious lives with much less harm, fewer greenhouse gases and way more intention. Listen to yourself and see if you can replace excuses with positive self talk.
Does trying out new ways of doing something (or stopping something) sound scary or bad to you? Are you afraid of loss, missing out or standing out from the crowd? I totally get it. We will all feel this way and yet it’s not necessarily true that we will lose something. Sometimes we gain so much more from letting go! But don’t take my word for it—check in with yourself to confirm. How does that change actually feel for you? Try a few weeks of consistent effort before you give up or adjust your goals. Give it a fair shot, hold yourself compassionately accountable and if needed make slight adjustments until you find something that does work for you.
This might be hard to identify at first, but if you were raised in a Western culture, then I’m going to bet it’s one that can pop up. Let me illustrate how it happened to me.
As a reminder from Part 2, I used a footprint calculator to take a measurable snapshot of my life. As such, I was instantly overwhelmed with discovering that my way of living in the world had contributed to a lot of environmental and human harm. So much for being an “eco” person! I felt terrible about my footprint numbers and learned that many things I enjoyed doing (and eating!) were impacting others’ livelihoods. I certainly hadn’t meant it and it was just a terrible and shocking realization. I became stuck.
I had to find a way to move through my embarrassment about my past and make amends so I could step up and evolve my way of living in the world. So, I developed a simple formula and short exercise to calculate my legacy footprint, then I converted that past footprint into “tree years.” Finally, I donated money to a conservation organization as a symbolic gesture to “absorb” my past CO2. This absolutely unblocked me. You can also try the exercise yourself with our Mini Decarbonista Challenge here.
Other related feelings like guilt, sadness and despair are very commonly reported in people who have grasped the reality of the environmental challenge in our hands but don’t yet feel empowered. Moving through these feelings is quite essential lest you keep delaying, or worse, slip into apathy and just give up. I can warmly recommend joining a community group so you find others who are reconciling their feelings, or trying out some of the fantastic resources here from All We Can Save.
When I achieved my first 5-tonne reduction and kicked off Decarbonista, that’s when I really saw the potential in our hands and was able to explore working with others for more exponential change. My prior guilt has now transformed into a beautiful movement! Now I am optimistic because I see the shift happening in front of my eyes—person by person. Know this: Many people are actually on board, but still not enough yet. We also need you!
When external hindrances shift your energy and focus
External interruptions, interference and distractions will also come in and inhibit us from achieving the sustainable world we want. I’m not just talking about those annoying App reminders that frustratingly cut your attention and make you forget what you came to your phone to do. (Although those are definitely worth turning off and I recommend just uninstalling anything on your phone that distracts, drains your energy or that you don’t actually use. Help yourself out!)
What I’m referring to are also the larger, systemic, and deeply wounding things we are affected by which drain our psychological energy: Alarmism in the media, cancel culture, war, racism, threats to our safety, protectionism mentality, terrorism, even the undoing of rights that we thought were stable like Roe vs. Wade (me: aghast!). We can use similar techniques—recognise the situation, recover and stay on plan.
When the war broke out in Europe, I was devastated, filled with fear and absolutely side-tracked from all my normal activities. I needed to understand it, help those who were in need, react and do my part. And it took me several weeks to find a way to do this while still holding my own life together—without being triggered every day—but I managed. Now, I’m supporting those affected by the war and am also back to work, living joyfully, and back to my reductions.
I invite you to recognise when something is drawing away your energy and motivation. Is something keeping you from bringing your sustainable life to fruition? Are you perhaps even doing something that is blocking someone else from their progress? Could you support each other instead?
We also need each other to stay focused and on plan.
How to keep going for the win
Because I care deeply about biodiversity, inequality and the welfare of people suffering from climate overheating, it was key for me to frame this as my motivation—or wellspring—rather than a source of only sadness or frustration (yes, it’s both!). I also come back to a picture of my daughter as a touchstone when the going gets tough. When I imagine her future I see her and all the beautiful children of the world smiling, having access to healthy food and systems, and alive with authentic purpose. The equitable, joyful, fear-free future I want for her and people everywhere keeps me motivated when I’m feeling like David against Goliath.
You can also fortify yourself with the deepest, most unwavering commitment ever known: Personal resolve.
- Do you know your reason for caring about sustainability? If not, articulate it.
- What spurs you to stick to a commitment when the going gets tough? Put a photo of it up next to your desk, or wherever you spend most of your day-to-day time. Stare at it.
Tell yourself every day why you’re sticking to your plan. Keep yourself going when your personal quirks and external hindrances pop in. They are increasing right now. So, let’s stay that much more focused on building an equitable and healthy world.
Bring these elements—why you care, and who you care about—forward into your everyday view and watch yourself become unstoppable.
So, when does everything start to become sustainable?
If anyone asks me this question, I’m delighted. It means they’re starting with the end in mind. We need these questions to check that we’re being ambitious and creative enough; maybe we can even skip a bunch of steps that waste our time and we can move forward faster.
I believe that when a few people are aligned in a shared mindset and we are each working on our parts of the shared mission, then we move the needle. It actually doesn’t take everyone to change norms or social behaviors—as little as 10% of a group needs to be on board for a social norm to tip, and only as many as 40% (That’s between 1 and 4 people out of 10!).
Why would our sustainability mission be any different? Ask yourself, how much weight are you pulling for the rest of your team (family, friend group, work group, etc)? Are others around you engaged? Could you get a few more people on Team Sustainability and—for example, doing Ailuna dares? We all win from your efforts!
I will also highlight that our language will be a key determining factor of how fast we can move into a sustainable default. Right now, climate and sustainability work feels like drudgery in our collective language. I am hearing burnout words all around me like “climate fight,” “we have to,” “I should,” “they told me,” “or else.” This is low-energy vocabulary.
But, once we use different words aloud for ourselves and start to hear other people describing a project as “regenerative,” companies declaring “we are reprioritising,” friends claiming “I chose to change,” and governments describing the “pathways we are following to become net positive,” (of course with timelines and clear commitments they’re regularly measuring!) this is when I will start celebrating!
So, let’s use the words that keep us motivated and moving, and we’ll all get there so much faster.
Sustainability for self and world
My philosophy is this: When I am in my best state, I can thus be a great friend, mother, wife, colleague, strategist, philanthropist, caretaker, challenger and every other role I want to play during my extra lucky chance to be on this Earth. I can help others so long as I’ve taken care of myself and feel energetic.
Our efforts to reach our visions and achieve our Plans add up to a bunch of parallel marathons taking place. From this point of view, we can see that our own resilience, our self-care—and keeping our stress low and our positivity high—is an essential part of success. A calm state helps us relate to each other better, learn, use our creativity to advance quickly, and also notice when negative voices and wounding situations are throwing us off track—disempowering, distracting and deflating us.
In other words, by getting good at internal sustainability and resilience, we in turn have the energy for creating sustainability in our outer world. For me, becoming sustainable is also a feeling: Moving from scattered, being overly busy, triggered or depleted into a state of harmony and connectedness with my human and non-human surroundings.
So, IS sustainability the new mindset?
As we each take our own steps, we can then confidently step up and engage others. We can earn our Ailuna badges and invite friends to join our Ailuna actions. We can bring the same actions into our companies, and can run local projects that safeguard the spaces around our homes and in our cities. We can reach out and donate, give time and support to those with less means going through this transition.
In all these ways, we integrate sustainability into our daily life and daily work, we leave things better than how we found them, and we let go of that unsustainable past.
My conclusion is that we’re still getting our hive head around this word “sustainability.” Maybe something more specific will even overtake it like “regenerative” “circular economy” or “net positive.”
Whichever word or phrase it may be—when it becomes more than a Google search trend and becomes our normal way of thinking, acting, speaking and feeling—this will be proof that the mindset has taken hold and that we can confidently carry our lighter, healthier, sustainable selves into a hopeful and positive future.
By the way, this was hardly an exhaustive account of what I would love to share with you. Many more insights are coming soon in our book! Subscribe here to stay in the loop.
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, SoMe 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