It takes practice to live your life sustainably and it doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, small daily actions can become habits. But where should we start? By identifying the values that drive us, we can focus on actions that support those values. Sustainable habits that reflect and support our values are more likely to become enduring habits.
Know What You Value
We organize our lives around the values we hold. These are ideas, things, people, and practices we hold dear. For example:
- Sleeping eight hours a night
- Reading to my kids at bedtime
- Calling my Mom daily
- Eating meals as a family
Of course, our value system should extend beyond ourselves and our immediate family:
- Shopping at farmers markets because I want to support local businesses
- Planting native trees and plants to support local pollinators
- Not watering my lawn to conserve water
Your Sustainability Lens
Sustainability is like learning to play the piano or crochet. You practice but keep it simple at first, building up your finger muscles, memorizing the hook in your hands, mastering basic ditties before Mozart. As you gain comfort, you challenge yourself and move from crafting a straight scarf to a rounded hat. You know more, try more, and gain confidence, applying your learning in deeper, more meaningful ways.
Would you rather play piano or crochet? Different things appeal to and motivate each of us. Which of the following four sustainability drivers (more than one can resonate) rings truest to you?
Does the cost of things determine the decisions you make? Do you prioritize saving money? Is being frugal synonymous with being smart? If so, cost savings is your value driver. Sustainability decisions that align with this saving money include:
- Trade paper towels for Swedish cellulose reusable “towels” to save on consumable purchases.
- Install a drip irrigation system for your lawn and deck plants to save on water bills.
- Flush toilets every other time for more water savings.
- Lease an electric vehicle (EV) to save on fuel and car maintenance.
- Shop for used clothes, appliances, and household items to keep upfront costs down and products out of landfills.
Living a Healthy Life
Are you motivated to live a healthier, fitter, more active life? Is staying active and promoting your wellbeing a personal priority for you? Healthy living might be your value driver. Sustainability decisions that align with this value driver include:
- Bike to work for a whole-body exercise.
- Purchase sustainably made products to avoid ingesting pesticides and chemicals.
- Be a vegetarian; eat only plant-based meats to maintain a healthy digestive system.
- Buy sustainably made clothing and keep synthetic fabric irritants off your skin.
Are you dedicated to supporting your local community? Are you steadfast in making your city or town’s economy vibrant by spending your dollars locally and with people and businesses you trust? Do you value the intersectional relationship between urban and rural communities; farmers’ bounty and restaurants committed to serving local and seasonal menus? If so, building community could be your value driver. Sustainability decisions that align with this value driver include:
- Buy locally made products to support your town’s entrepreneurs.
- Join a community supported agriculture program to financially support farmers in your state.
- Grow a garden and share the excess bounty with neighbors — or form a community garden.
- Invest in community solar to support your neighbor’s transition to renewable energy.
Supporting the Biodiversity of the Planet
Are you concerned about biodiversity loss? Do you seek to support the health and productivity of your local environment? Do you place primacy on ensuring that land is available to non-human species? Are you concerned about the dwindling populations of bees and butterflies and seek to support their survival? If so, supporting biodiversity could be your value driver. Sustainability decisions that align with this value driver include:
- Convert hardscape surfaces (cement, asphalt) to permeable pavement to support rainwater absorption.
- Walk and bike to work to commute emissions-free.
- Plant native trees and bushes to support your local pollinators and non-human inhabitants.
- Avoid or use only natural fertilizers and pest control methods in your garden and on your lawn.
Sustainability is embedded in our personal values. We do the things that are important to us; we complete tasks we prioritize and commit to actions that reinforce who we are and what we stand for. Knowing what motivates us makes sustainability an easier choice today and well beyond.
About the Author
Kate Gaertner is a leading expert and consultant in corporate sustainability with over 25 years of experience. She is the author of the forthcoming book Planting a Seed: Three Simple Steps to Sustainable Living.