Behavior Change
A Millennial's Personal Sustainability Survival Guide

When I was young, my grandfather placed stickers saying ‘Turn off if unnecessary’ on light switches, ‘Close the tap while brushing your teeth’ on the sink, and ‘Did you unplug all unnecessary electronics?’ next to the front door. Even though I thought it was weird and controlling at the time, they were my first introductions to sustainability. That, and I was the only one in my elementary school with a cotton handkerchief when all my friends blew their noses with fancy Kleenex pack-by-packs. I also grew up listening to my mother’s best friend, who worked with Greenpeace for over two decades, and became inspired by her exotic stories — chaining herself in protest in various places, or going to Southern Ocean to save the whales. I didn’t know back then that all of these unrelated small details would deeply influence me and shape me to become who I am today.

One thing led to another and fast-forward to today — I’ve transformed my career and am fueling my passion for sustainability, trying to see the big picture and shift to systems thinking. However, working in the sustainability arena and being constantly bombarded with catastrophic environmental news — climate-related weather disasters, declining bee populations, ingredients in our daily products causing deforestation, unmet sustainability goals, and the list goes on — it’s easy for me to lose hope and lose sight of the sustainable future we’re striving for, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

One of my instructors at UCLA, Nurit Katz, who is also the university’s Chief Sustainability Officer, told us in her first ‘Principles of Sustainability’ lesson that while it is indeed easy to be overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems we face today, it is crucial that we remain hopeful and keep focus on our goal. She highlighted the importance of changing how we approach problems, changing how we think and recognizing that we are all on the same planet.

This called for a change from within. First, I became educated about sustainability and what I could do to help solve these issues. For example, I started reading all of my food labels and eliminated products with ingredients that I couldn’t produce — with so few products left that I could actually buy, I started growing my own food. I reduced my own ecological footprint by making subtle but effective changes in my life, such as making sure I really needed something before I purchased it.

And then something incredible happened. I can’t take all the credit, but I realized over the years, some of the people close to me started to change as well. They started to listen and understand and, inspired by the changes I had made, they started to realize they indeed had the same concerns. Of course, some remained skeptical — for example, when my mom wasn’t able to find a plastic bag in my house, I heard her say to herself, “Even if she doesn’t use plastic bags for over 100 years, she can’t compensate for what her grandfather used in his lifetime.”

But more and more of us, especially Millennials, are longing for a sustainable future where everyone is healthy and free of toxins, renewable energies are powering our daily lives, companies are more transparent and there are more and more brands that we can trust (because of this, some are calling us "Aspirationals").

We’re a long way from that goal, but here is my list of suggestions for those who want to start somewhere:

  1. Get informed — read about sustainability, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and seek professional education if you can.
  2. Pick an issue you feel passionate about and act on it — this was a difficult one for me; I wanted to solve everything, overnight. I have to keep reminding myself that it is not possible, not one person will ever change the history of humanity nor have the capability to do it, and that is all right.
  3. Once in a while, you’ll see environmental or social news that is so devastating that you’ll lose the high and become disheartened — we’ve all been there. Try to see the big picture and realize that there is only one way to go from there: Up. Be patient and try to focus on positive news — there are many great accomplishments happening everyday.
  4. Question everything — From a very early age, we start asking ‘why’ and drive our parents crazy. Don't accept answers such as ‘it just is’ or ‘it’s been like that for years.’ Our generation is lucky to be born in the information age — everything is in our fingertips, we just need to be willing to learn, be responsive to change and act on it. Make sure you get informed from reliable resources and not from paid, unscientific papers.
  5. Start making small changes in your life to reduce your ecological footprint (here is a great tool to calculate yours) — experiment and see which improvements you can make in your life. I came to peace with myself and accepted that taking small steps are OK. You don’t have to become a vegetarian, bike to work everyday, try to shop locally for everything, and skip those lovely vacations abroad overnight. Changing just one of your habits will create a snowball effect.
  6. Ask your company about its sustainability efforts and get involved. Read your company’s sustainability report — if there isn’t one, volunteer to gather a team and publish one.
  7. Surround yourself with people who share your values — volunteer, go to sustainability conferences, join a non-profit board of your choice, follow sustainability experts, expand your network.

Before you know it, you’ll become the sustainability guru in your close circles and everyone will be asking you which brands to use and other ways they can start making a difference in their own lives.

Everyone is on his or her own journey and I’m curious about yours — what is your sustainability survival strategy?

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