Published: Feb. 25, 2021 By

two women talking on a couchIf you've made any sustainable choices or changes in your life, you may be interested in talking about them with others. In general, we are all more likely to adopt or change a behavior if people in our social group also practice the behavior. Sharing what has worked for you in making or maintaining sustainable practices in your life can be a powerful way to influence others. Whether it's eating more plant-based foods, using less plastic or other single-use disposables or driving less, we're all more likely to do it if we know someone that's 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 your successes and also your failures.

  2. Propose ideas that aren’t a monetary strain; you never know where someone stands financially. 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 can be practiced in many ways! Encourage any sustainable behaviors. You might be trying to encourage zero waste behaviors, without realizing that they ride their bike everywhere already. What they're doing is still great, even if it's different than what you're 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 shift someone's thinking about zero waste, sustainability and the climate crisis as a whole.

  6. Be accepting and excited about all people who want to join the sustainability movement. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Do not make people feel guilty about where they are currently. Instead, encourage them to make changes in the future. Focus on solutions, rather than making them feel bad about their 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 those 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 relate to.

Meet people wherever they are at

  • Different calls to action will be more or less effective depending on what point in the zero waste journey a person is at.
  • The Transtheoretical Model of behavior change outlines the general pattern in which people move, from just considering a behavior change to encouraging others to make the same decision. The model assesses a person’s readiness to move toward implementing a new, healthy habit. 
  • Before recommending to others any changes in their lifestyle or sustainability practices, it's important to understand what they're doing currently. Once you understand this information, it can be easier to offer information and encouragement that fits the stage they're in.
  • Talking to someone in pre-contemplation may include trying to convince them that the behavior change is indeed good and the benefits outweigh any potential costs. 
  • For someone in the maintenance stage, it may be helpful to give them resources to stay connected and to surround themselves with others who are following similar habits. 

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 commanding them to change.
    • Lead by example. If they see you doing something sustainable, they may be more likely to follow your lead.
  • Roommates

    • Encourage the people you live with to make more zero waste decisions around the house.
    • Use tupperware or reusable bags.
    • Encourage proper waste disposal like recycling, composting and sending other items to the landfill.