How to win friends and influence people…to be more sustainable

For those of us who are aggressively eco-conscious, it can be difficult to bring awareness to our less “green” friends. We’ve all been there: you’re out to lunch with a friend and they pull out a cringeworthy, disposable plastic water bottle. It’s great to urge those around you to make more sustainable choices, but remember, it’s not always easy to break lifelong habits.

Instead of shaming them and shoving a million facts about carbon emissions, global warming and waste etiquette down their throats, try a more subtle approach to integrating sustainability into the conversation.

Here are some easy ways to help your friends and family become more sustainable without them even knowing it!

  1. Insist that you just couldn’t live without your [insert brand of choice] water bottle. It’s super convenient and cheaper than buying a bottle of water every time you’re thirsty, “My Hydro Flask is amazing, I never leave the house without it! You should invest in a reusable water bottle, it’s totally worth it. Plus New York has some of the cleanest tap water!” Or better yet, give one to them as a gift; if they own it, what’s stopping them from using it?
  2. When eating out, suggest restaurants that use locally-sourced, organic ingredients or insist that you cook a sustainable meal together for your next lunch date, “I’ve been meaning to try out this recipe from [Insert favorite vegetarian cookbook], we should try it for lunch next week!”
  3. While you’re out shopping for ingredients mention that you never go to the store without your reusable bag, “I try not to use plastic products, at this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.” Instead of berating them for loading their groceries into disposable bags, share a fact that might provoke them to think about the consequences.
  4. Instead of spending the day at the mall with a friend, suggest you try thrifting instead, “We should check out [insert name of a favorite thrift shop or consignment store]. I always find the coolest stuff there for a great price!”
  5. Suggest a great environmental documentary you have seen recently. You don’t have to jump to the inevitable environmental catastrophe that the film showcased, instead mention another aspect of the film that struck you as interesting, “It was filmed in a really fresh and provoking way” or “ It was actually really funny. I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did.”
  6. Notice that they leave all the lights and air conditioning on when leaving the apartment? Remind them about last month’s high electricity bill, “You can save money if you shut off your lights and air conditioner when you go out, not to mention conserving energy is always a plus for the environment!”

Of course, it’s not a bad idea to remind people why these alternatives are beneficial for the environment. However, it is important to consider the many factors that go into people’s behavior and decisions. Often the accessibility of more sustainable choices is out of reach, or a behavior shift feels like a major lifestyle change. There is, of course, a place for shame as a tool for change. Check out NYU Professor Jennifer Jacquet’s take on how shame can be effective in moving large corporations and government organization towards critical environmental action. However shaming your friends may not be the most effective way to influence their behavior. Instead, you can enable them to become more sustainably minded by their own free will, (with a friendly push).

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