How to Live Green When No One Around You Is
You’ve done the research and have started taking some steps.
Maybe you’ve eliminated plastic from your life, or you’ve committed to buying organic food and composting or producing as little waste as possible. You’ve discovered a new determination to break old habits and build new ones, to doing your part to help heal the world.
Especially if you are just beginning your green journey, you are probably full of excitement and determination. But more than likely, you are surrounded by people who don’t share your passion — whether it’s unsupportive family members, skeptical friends or antagonistic co-workers, it’s easy to feel alone in your green lifestyle.
It’s only natural to want the people you care about to join you, or at least to understand why you are making different choices. But sometimes, no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get our people on our side. Here are some ways to handle relationships with people who aren’t supportive of your new sustainable lifestyle.
1. Show, Don’t Tell
Our most significant influence is leading by example.
People hate when others tell them what to do. If you try to convince everyone your lifestyle is better than theirs, they will probably shut down. You may unintentionally alienate the people you are trying to convince.
Your community might include people who love a good fight — regardless of whether you’re looking for an argument or not, they will try to drag you into endless debates and discussions.
Instead of arguing, lead by example. Quietly live a sustainable life, and your long-term dedication will go a long way toward convincing your community.
2. Make It as Easy as Possible
“Going green” doesn’t have to be hard — it’s a choice everyone can make, no matter how small the steps.
If you want the people around you to embrace your views, make it easy for them. Most people will revert to the easiest option available, so if you can, make the most straightforward option the best one. Maybe you’re hoping the rest of your household will get on board with some green practices — you could start by taking on the bulk of the grocery shopping, or by making your kids’ school lunches. Shouldering the shopping removes all effort from the rest of your family, and allows you to purchase environmental and health-conscious foods.
Show people it only takes small steps to go green — for example, you could start a monthly garage sale rotation with people in your neighborhood to encourage secondhand shopping. Since you are assuming the responsibility of planning the events, other people are much more likely to participate.
However, everyone has limits to what they can give. Your friends and family might be happy to support you as long as you do all the work, but they might never take steps toward living a more sustainable lifestyle. Ultimately, you can’t make people change — and other people’s choices aren’t your burden. Know your physical and emotional limits, and step back when you need to for your self-care.
3. Keep It Positive
The state of our climate and environment is depressing. We’ve done a lot to mess it all up, and many calls to action have an almost apocalyptic sense of dread.
But people instinctively avoid painful news and will often tune out a report about the extinction of another endangered species or the epidemic of ocean plastic. If they listen at all, it most likely won’t lead to action — instead, it creates a sense of helplessness or despair.
So if you want to convince the skeptics, don’t focus on impending doom. Instead, flip the narrative to a hopeful one.
Focus on encouraging research about the positive effects of global recycling efforts, or how carpooling has successfully lowered carbon emissions. Talking about the positive impacts of small actions gives people hope — it shows them they can make a difference, even through simple daily choices.
4. Frame It as an Invitation
Invite people into the fun parts of a green life. Challenge your fitness-loving coworker to an upcoming bike race, and offer to train together by biking to work. If you have a neighbor who loves gardening, walk them through your new vegetable garden and have them over for a homegrown salad. Have your kids pick out colorful reusable water bottles, or invite your parents to take a weekend trip to the local farmers’ market.
Inviting people to share in your green activities frames it as a fun and community-focused lifestyle. People won’t feel like you are condemning their personal choices — instead, they’ll see the appeal and accessibility of having a smaller carbon footprint.
On the flip side, don’t share the potential negatives of a green life — if you know your friend hates the thought of getting dirty, don’t show them your compost pile. The objective is to make a sustainable life attractive to everyone and to share the fun and positive experiences with your community.
5. Find a Support Network
No matter where you are on our sustainability journey, we all need a support network.
Everyone needs a place to openly share their struggles and celebrate their successes. In many ways, going green is choosing to live in a way that’s counter to the mainstream culture, and finding a supportive community is vital.
If you can’t look to friends, family or co-workers for support, you might need to search for your community. Look around your local area for any groups or events where you can find like-minded people. Online forums and groups are also a great way to connect with like-minded people, either through environmental blogs, social media pages or conservation-oriented websites.
Finding a support network will lift pressure off your shoulders, and can give you the needed motivation to press on in the face of opposition.
6. Remember Your Journey
Finally, when you are dealing with unsupportive people, remember your journey.
No one begins life as an ecological warrior. Everyone finds their own path, and we are all at different points. When you are surrounded by discouraging people, remember to have empathy — no one begins with all the right ideology or understandings. People aren’t always ready to come alongside you, and they might need to make their own conclusions, in their time.
Instead of focusing on other people, always remember this is your journey, not theirs. Don’t let others distract you from improving your life and actions. By committing to a sustainable life for the long haul, you have already helped promote the health of your community and environment — and ultimately, your passion and dedication to a green life will do more to convince your community than anything else.
About the author
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.