With all of the negative headlines and stories on the news, it is important to reflect and look within ourselves to understand why we try to live sustainably. Our consumer culture right now does not promote a sustainable lifestyle so it can be very difficult to maintain one. There is constant pressure from every angle to buy the newest jacket from Urban Outfitters or the coolest phone from the Apple store and not think twice about its carbon footprint and ethical impacts.
It is much easier to turn a blind eye to everything that is happening to our planet and do nothing to change it. It is easier to pick up that super cute graphic tee you saw online from Forever 21 that is $10 rather than go searching on Depop for the perfect leather jacket that is $80 or higher. It is easier to just pick up any chicken breast out of the dozens you see at the supermarket rather than navigate the vegetarian/vegan aisle and look for a plant-based alternative that you might like. However, two years ago I got to a point where I physically could not turn a blind eye to what was happening-- the atrocities in this world were too massive to ignore.
This is why we must remind ourselves why we go the extra mile, and more often than not the extra step, to make the more conscientious choice because we both know that it is better for you, the planet, and others across the globe.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
I am a rising junior at The University of Vermont, which is home to an exceptional environmental program and spectacular nature spots across campus and the surrounding area. Vermont, the “Green Mountain State,” is known for its vast mountains and valleys of lush greenery-- but also its people. Vermonters are unlike any other people I have met (I, however, am from southern New York and grew up very close to Manhattan so I may be biased). Vermonters are incredibly friendly, caring, and have immense pride in taking care of their land. Only until I moved to Vermont for the first time two years ago did I realize that there is not a single billboard in Vermont. Why? They’re illegal!
“It would ruin the landscape,” my good friend Em explained to me, who is a native Vermonter.
This sense of caring permeates my campus-- you will not see a single student or faculty member carrying a single-use plastic water bottle. Trust me, I’ve tried to spot them. Why may you ask? Because they will be shamed all the time for holding a piece of wasteful plastic!
No, I’m just kidding. It’s because the Student Government Association banned all on-campus retail and dining areas from selling single-use plastic water bottles. On top of this rule, there is also just a widespread awareness of the impact plastic water bottles have on the environment. It has become trendy to carry reusable water bottles. You can customize your water bottle with fun stickers and pick fun colors to add a pop to your outfit!
When I see my friends or even strangers doing their part to live sustainably, it motivates me to do the same-- maybe even better. If there are lots of people following sustainable lifestyles in your life, we will feel a healthy pressure to keep up our good work.
My friends are also conscious consumers and value living sustainably. We both support one another in making good choices and it really helps us to stay motivated. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who also want to live sustainable lifestyles is a great way to not lose steam on this journey.
Spending Time in the Outdoors
Being around nature reminds me of why I do what I do, grounding and validating me in my sustainable lifestyle choices. Although camping is the bane of my existence, I really enjoy going on nature walks to clear my head, go hammocking with friends or by myself, and hiking when I can. I love to be in nature just to breathe-- literally because our world is so fast-paced these days that it’s hard to catch a breath.
Sometimes I even like to just lay down a towel in my backyard or on my campus, and listen to calming music and notice all the beautiful nature around me that I am thankful for. I am thankful for the trees that offer shade; the grass that provides a cushion; the birds that bring gorgeous melodies to my ears; the flowers that grace me with its stunning presence and honey-sweet scent. I am thankful for the sun-- helping bring light into my life.
Watching sunsets is my special time where I remind myself that this is what I am fighting for. I used to go on sunset walks when I wanted to have a space to breathe and look up. Realizing that there is a greater force out in the world and seeing how small I am-- feeling the power of the earth and what true and epic beauty it offers.
I also suggest meditating in the outdoors, although I can be very distracted (thanks ADD), it allows me to practice awareness in such a way that I don’t get too often as an undergraduate student. It reminds me how much I enjoy the simple things in my life and helps me to pay attention to small details and not get lost in the bigger picture.
Reading the news and learning about the environment in my classes ignites my passion to live a sustainable lifestyle because I am constantly reminded of the impacts of individual choices. In order to shift our societal values, what better place to start than with yourself? I am a firm believer in following what you preach so I take a lot of pride in buying almost all of my clothes from Depop or other online/in-person thrift stores and being a vegetarian. I am also now doing my best to go zero-waste while on a college budget.
Hearing about atrocities happening around the world like the Amazon burning fuels the flames to my sustainable lifestyle. It can feel very paralyzing to see these painful images and hear about horrible things happening to the environment, but living sustainably is one way to positively impact the planet. You can choose to turn your sadness and pain into action!
In addition to the environmental damages occurring, it's important to read about positive developments in the sustainability field to keep morale up. I often find incredibly interesting articles to read about new means to reduce our carbon footprint and our waste. Learning about these new innovations helps me to maintain hope that we are moving forward towards a future I would be proud to be a part of.
Ever since I was a child I have been incredibly empathetic-- sometimes to a fault. After years of thinking it was a weakness, I realized it is actually a strength and a tool I use that helps me make my decisions. In conflicts with friends, I do my best to approach the matter in an empathetic way, and I do the same with living sustainably. My empathy reminds me of who is suffering, how it might feel to be in their shoes, and how I would want to be treated.
In today’s world, a lot is made unsustainably so I don’t scold and hold myself accountable for everything-- only the aspects that I can control. A healthy dose of empathy is a wonderful tool and way to stay motivated to live sustainably. It constantly impacts and betters my decisions as a conscious consumer and can allow us to build a better world for ourselves and generations after us.