Published: Feb. 25, 2021 By

If you've made many sustainable choices or changes in your lifestyle, you may be interested in talking about it with others in your life. In general, we are all more likely to adopt or change a behavior if many in our social group also do the behavior. This means sharing what has worked for you in making or maintaining sustainable practices in your life can a powerful way to influence others. Whether it's eating more plant-based, using less plastic or other single-use disposables, driving less, or even more changes, we're all more likely to do it if we know someone that is already doing it! Yet none of us like to be preached to or judged. Here are some strategies to make sure sharing your sustainable values and choices with friends and family is a success!

Strategies for talking about sustainability

  1. Lead by example! Speak from your direct experience about why you've made the choices you have and what works for you. Don't ask others to do things you aren't doing. Share you successes and especially your failures as well.

  2. Propose ideas that aren’t a monetary strain, because you never know where someone stands monetarily and sometimes the more sustainable or zero waste option can be more expensive (at least in the short term). Sustainable fashion for example, is often more expensive and may not be accessible for everyone

  3. Dress up the changes you are proposing with other good consequences of the action. For example: Reducing food waste is not only good for the environment, but it also saves money! The less food being thrown away, the more nourishment you are getting from the same amount of money. 

  4. Sustainability might mean different things to different people! Encourage any sustainable behavior rather than beradding them for not being sustainable in a different way. You might be encouraging zero waste behaviors, and they aren’t the most zero waste, but they only ever ride their bike to limit carbon emissions. What they are doing is still great, it’s just different from what you might be advocating for.  

  5. Talk about it frequently. A study at Yale  found that more frequent conversations about climate change were likely to shift a person’s perception to believe climate science. Similarly, frequent conversations might be able to do the same about the effects of being zero waste and sustainable as a whole on the climate crisis. 

  6. Be accepting and excited about all people who want to join. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Do not make people feel guilty about where they are. Instead tell them it’s okay and encourage them to make changes in the future. Focus on solutions rather than making them feel bad about lack of current action. 

  7. Talk to newcomers without judgment, no matter their current practices.

  8. Educate not only with facts and statistics, but with personal experiences as they are more likely to be impactful. Issues of sustainability and waste are often large and abstract so individual experiences help to make them more concrete and easy to grasp.

Meet People Wherever They Are At

  • Different calls to action will be more or less effective depending on at what point in the zero waste journey a given person is. 

  • The Transtheoretical Model of behavior change  outlines the general pattern in which people move from considering a behavior change, until they are encouraging others to make the same decision. The model assesses a person’s readiness to move toward implementing a new, healthy habit. 

  • When you are talking to others about increasing their sustainability, or making zero waste changes in their daily lives, it is important to first understand at what point in this trajectory they are. 

  • Once you know this, it is much easier to meet them with information or encouragement that is more applicable to the stage at which they are. 

  • Talking to someone in precontemplation may include trying to convince them that the behavior change is indeed good and the benefits outweigh any potential costs. 

  • For someone more in the maintenance stage, it may be important to give them resources to stay connected and surrounded with others who are following a similar healthy habit. 

Talking to Different Types of People

  • Friends

    • Relate to things you know they are passionate about 

    • Share news or articles that could be helpful in their sustainability education

  • Family 

    • Make it a discussion, rather than commands 

    • Lead by example, if they see you doing something sustainable, they may be more likely to follow your lead 

  • Roommates

    • Encourage them to make more zero waste decisions in the house 

    • Use of tupperware or reusable plastic bags 

    • Encourage proper waste disposal (recycling, composting, landfill)