How Behaviour Matters: Becoming A Sustainability Influencer

Making lifestyle changes in order to align with new values is challenging. As I strive to reduce my household waste, I have been thinking about getting a hankie. Not just any hankie: it would need to be nice and soft; preferably with a cute print. Even better if I made it.

During a recent weekend off, I visited my sister’s place. Classic Winnipeg in November: by the time I got there, I had a running nose. “Could I get a kleenex?” Yep- it’s in the bathroom in the jar.


Imagine my delight at the jar of hankies for me to use and the accompanying cloth bag I could put them in post-use, destined for the washing machine! Next, I went to visit my sister in law and nephew. Again, runny nose.  Upon arrival, there it was: a cloth bag filled with used fabric squares. I was tickled pink, and a little ashamed: Do I live under a rock?

As it turns out, what I wanted wasn’t the perfect hankie: I wanted inspiration and accountability.

As soon as I got home, I ripped up a worn down flannel sheet and put the squares in a mason jar. Since then, I’ve also ripped up some leggings that are made of great bamboo fabric, but don’t fit me anymore and have lost some of their stretch.

My sisters are people that I relate to, who have, by action, inspired me to follow suit. Your influence on others is more than you know, so follow me in exploring how Behaviour Matters: Becoming a Sustainability Influencer.

Do: Share skills and ideas to create momentum

Call it what you want: a maker movement, DIY fever, hobbyist haven… the fact is, there has been a major resurgence of DIY trends.  Motivation to do it yourself can come from wanting to reconnect to family traditions (think baking, sewing, knitting, woodworking) or an awareness of opportunities for more sustainable/anti-consumerist mindsets, especially in using reclaimed goods.

The DIY trend is not only because of the access to marketing on social media or a platform like Etsy.  There are legitimate psychological benefits in becoming a maker. Not only does it increase a person’s satisfaction in terms of how they perceive their life (also known as subjective well-being), but it allows the extrinsic benefits of enjoying having customized elements to the home, and cost savings.

Related Post: DIY Home

Further benefits to the DIY movement is that there’s a place for anyone: from novice to expert. Community skill sharing is on the rise, yielding results that transcend culture and language worldwide! Repair Cafes are an international event concept that involves “…repairing together, knowledge transfer and social contact between neighbours”. An organizer can set up a community event with repair stations (oftentimes including appliances, electronics, bicycles, sewing) accompanied by repair experts, and community members that own a broken item. They learn alongside the repair experts and attempt to fix their own item.

Do: Be thoughtful about big decisions and celebrations

In a debate surrounding behaviour and environmental sustainability, Dr. Carl Hughes highlighted that major life changes like starting a family, moving, and retirement choices “represent an opportunity to plan differently, break old habits, and develop new ones”. A dramatically new change of home, time or people in your life can create space for brand new habits that align more with your values.

We want to fit in. Because of this, planning events stress people out. As a response to pre-event nerves, we buy piles of disposable items, and over-purchase food under the guise of “just in case”. However, large gatherings with family and friends are also a great opportunity to experiment with ways to reduce food waste and minimize (if not eliminate) single-use products.

How Behaviour Matters Becoming A Sustainability Influencer

It’s important to demonstrate that sustainable behaviour is not only acceptable but desirable. I have been to events where hosts borrow furniture, rent dishes, or even ask guests to bring their own plate. It’s a great way to engage people in reconsidering social norms and engage in bigger discussions. This fall, I had a party where I chose not to buy any plastic cups for the 30+ people in my house. Instead, I pulled out ALL of the mismatched cups/glasses/mugs for people to choose from. The unexpected benefit: almost everyone’s glass was different, so no need to write on them!

Related Post: How To Throw A Chic, Zero Waste Summer Party

Do: Keep up with the [eco]-Joneses

Jumping on the bandwagon when you notice a friend or neighbour taking steps toward sustainability can also make a big difference.  When you pass a house with solar panels, what’s your reaction? More often than not, I wonder: how much energy do they get from those? How much did that cost to install? Are there subsidies and how do they work? Turns out, I am not the only one.

A 2014 study in Connecticut indicates that the greatest factor in the rise of solar energy is peer influence. In a 2014 study, the analysis was focussed on the ripple effects of the installation of one solar panel within a half-mile radius, a one-mile radius and a one to four-mile radius. The closest catchment (½ a mile) had an increase in installations of almost one half within 6 months, whereas the houses further away ranged between 12% and 39% increase in installations. It is ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ all over again, but with a long-term decrease on fossil fuel dependency, and an uptick in asking the neighbours about their new panels. Access to a trustworthy consumer review is much more compelling than a sales pitch from the company itself.  

How Behaviour Matters Becoming A Sustainability InfluencerPhoto: Unsplash

As a result, solar companies have developed sales packages to have consumers buy together since a new customer is the hardest sell, but the rest of the neighbourhood seems to come in droves afterward. As an offshoot, there are also companies that build solar grids near communities making a group purchase: thus decentralizing energy production to more localized sources; both decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering the distance energy travels.

Keep on keeping on

The truth is, there isn’t one formula to ensure sustainable behaviour at all times for you, your friends, or your household. However, personal, incremental change does add up, and holds the power to buoy larger community action. Whether you are doing a BYOP (bring your own plate) potluck, learning to fix a broken appliance, or offering a [clean] hankie, you’re inching towards social norms that support sustainability.

Just remember: action speaks louder than likes.

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