Striking the Sustainability Conversation with Friends and Family
Let’s face it: Not everyone is as passionate about sustainability as you are. It gets trickier if you’re talking to your friends and family. So what should you do if you’re looking to win their hearts and minds toward living green? Here are some tips to get your friends and family on board the sustainability movement.
1. Take It Easy
Don’t expect everyone to be on the same page as you are. Understand that each of us comes from different backgrounds and has different values, motivations, and life experiences.
That said, don’t be too harsh and lay down a fire-and-brimstone sermon on a friend for using a plastic straw with their frap. Also, don’t expect family members to instantly pick up on your enthusiasm when it comes to going zero-waste.
At this point, lowering your expectations is key if you don’t want to be disappointed early on.
2. Customise Your Message
Sustainability is usually a difficult concept to sell. Most think it requires a huge commitment, while others believe it’s just an expensive ‘fad.’ ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a common question you’ll run into when trying to convince others to join your eco crusade. Make sure to be prepared with an answer. What gets their goat? What matters to them the most? Tie your message around that.
For instance, your fashion-forward friend may respond better to your message if you turn her to the economic (as well as psychological) benefits of minimalism.
Kids, on the other hand, are naturally compassionate. One way you can convince them to be more mindful about waste is to tell them about how plastic straws hurt turtles and other animals.
Bottom line: There is no one-size-fits-all way to get people to see things your way. Some people respond well to scare tactics; more often than not, however, people are more likely to be swayed by messages of hope and optimism.
3. Keep It Personal
Related to tip number 2, one way to get people to truly listen is if you speak from experience rather than dish out hard facts and figures.
Don’t be afraid to share your struggles and failures in trying to live sustainably. Not only does this make you more relatable, but it also drives home the message that doing something imperfectly is still better than not doing anything at all.
Next time you’re talking to someone about your advocacy, don’t be so quick to whip out the pie chart and those science documentaries. Sometimes all you really need is to make a genuine human connection.
4. Take Baby Steps
Psychology has taught us that people are naturally resistant to change, especially drastic ones. If you force someone to make a 180-degree transition in their lifestyle, you’ll likely just end up with a basketful of frustration and strained relationships.
So, what to do if going green to others seems like swallowing a slab of rib-eye steak whole? You feed it to them in manageable, bite-size pieces. The same goes for living responsibly, environment-wise.
Make friends and family understand that they don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel in order to live sustainably. Small changes, like cutting their shower time to 5 minutes or washing clothes in cold water, don’t take a lot of effort but have a worthwhile impact all the same.
5. Don’t Be Judge
Hold that eye roll if you see a friend buying bottled water. Nothing turns people off faster than knowing that they are being looked down on and their actions condemned. Your judgment and harsh reactions will more likely alienate your friends and family rather than inspire them to follow you on your path toward sustainable living.
If you feel like giving someone a serious dressing down for not doing their part in taking care of the planet, bite your tongue and repeat after us: ‘Don’t hate—educate.’ People are more likely to respond positively if you’re coming from a place of genuine concern rather than righteous pontification.
6.Celebrate Mini Wins
‘“It’s just one straw,” said eight billion people.’ What’s the message here? For one, no act is too small or insignificant. Every little thing we do has an impact on the planet, in the bigger scheme of things.
Thankfully, this works both ways. So consider it a minor victory every time someone you know does something good for the environment, no matter how inconsequential. (For example, when a member of your household remembers to turn off the light when they leave the room.)
Acknowledging the little contributions each one of us makes for the environment is one way to foster a sense of community as well as personal accountability.
7. Lead by Example
Not the talkative kind? Then let your actions do the talking. Nothing is more effective than seeing someone walk the talk. As they say, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
You are the living message and the environment’s ambassador, so act like it. And while you’re at it, make sure to do so with positivity.
8. Be Positive
The concept of operant conditioning teaches us that you can increase the likelihood of a person acting or behaving a certain way if you reward them or respond favourably to what they do. (An example of this is when you give a dog a treat when it obeys your command.)
You too can use the power of positive reinforcement to subtly get friends and family to be more receptive toward making eco-friendly choices. The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to offer a material reward.
For instance, you can praise your child for refusing a plastic straw with their drink. Or congratulate a colleague for cycling to work for the first time. When you let people know they’re doing a great job, they’ll naturally want to keep it up.
9. Know Your Limits
Don’t make it your personal mission to save every single soul you know for the sake of the environment. If someone refuses to follow your lead, leave them be and move on with your life. Respect other people’s boundaries, and realise that you’ve done the best you could.
10. Value Your People
Most importantly, don’t burn bridges just because your friends aren’t as gung-ho about saving the planet as you are. Be patient and persistent in the face of resistance, but know that you can’t force your ideologies down people’s throats. Again, see tip number 9.
Convincing friends and family to make the switch to a more eco-friendly lifestyle isn’t a cakewalk, but it doesn’t have to involve blood, sweat, and tears either. And even if your best efforts all but converts one person, that you tried at all is what matters.