The world needs more environmental advocates but there’s a fine line between being inspirational and overbearing.
If you want to encourage your family, friends, colleagues, or neighbour’s uncle to be more sustainable, these are the approaches we’ve found most effective.
Empathy has a huge role to play in the life of an advocate. Above all else, it’s important to be conscious of, and compassionate about, the barriers that other people face that might prevent them from living the holistically environmentally-conscious lifestyle you embody.
For example, money is a huge factor for a lot of people when it comes to making ‘simple’ changes to their daily habits, and rather than judging or belittling them, you could help them instead by brainstorming cost-effective solutions and alternatives.
A common lifestyle change environmental advocates like to propose (because it’s a great idea) is swapping fast fashion for ethical labels. Unfortunately, however, a lot of ethically-sourced and manufactured clothes are pricey – either because of the quality of the materials and ethical supply chain or because of green washing – and we can’t expect everyone to ‘shop responsibly’ and buy organic cotton tees for $100 a pop when they’re living week to week as it is.
A great solution to this particular conundrum is the humble op shop (also known as your local thrift or vintage store). Second-hand and reclaimed fashion is infinitely better for the environment and has the added benefit of giving your wardrobe a unique style. If you have a friend who wants to shop more sustainably but can’t afford green labels, spend some time researching the best op shops in their local area and take them on a cute shopping date!
Lead by example
Most people don’t respond well to scaremongering or being guilt tripped so rather than biting your friends’ heads off when they exhibit unsavvy behaviour, lead by example instead and show them first-hand the steps you take to live as sustainably as possible.
Next time you meet them for coffee, whip out your artisan, ceramic keep cup; if you’re flying with them, pack your delicious and nutritious meal in a whiz-bang metal travel container rather than ordering an in-flight meal; or if you’re having people over for dinner, show them how your indoor plants are flourishing thanks to the fertiliser from your home worm farm.
Talk about it habitually and lightly
The age-old recommendation “avoid using jargon” applies to every topic, including sustainability, so when you’re discussing the environment, try to replace technical language with emotive language.
People probably don’t want to hear about the intricacies of carbon taxes over brunch but they might be into a conversation about the amazing (and at times controversial) things the whimsical Extinction Rebellion protesters, most of whom are passionate youth, are getting up to in their global fight for their planet home.
Also, there’s no need to lecture people – especially your loved ones, what a bore! Try to broach the topic conversationally and make it a regular part of your repertoire, including on your social media channels.
Sure, there will still be people who swipe past your very eloquent and rousing Instagram stories, but the fact is that your family and friends respect you (presumably!) and your opinions. So the more you talk about the topic, the more comfortable with it they’ll be, and hopefully they’ll learn something, be inspired to ask questions or do some further research themselves.
Make it local
For a lot of people, the climate crisis still seems far removed from them and their daily lives, so rather than talking about global effects and future possibilities, find local examples to reference. Make the conversation as personal and realistic as possible.
For example if you live on the coastline anywhere in the bottom half of Australia, you could talk about the impact Equinor’s proposed deep oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight will have on our marine ecosystems and diversity, local tourism industries, and ultimately, the economy.
Bring the issue, compassionately and lightly, into their bubble.
The most radical thing anyone can do in the environmental space is be hopeful.
Some people switch off when they hear messages of apocalyptic doom and we get it; it’s overwhelming. So rather than revealing your inner sceptic and bombarding your family and friends with grim forecasts about the catastrophe facing our planet if humanity doesn’t get its act together immediately, fill them with hope instead.
Find as many promising, uplifting stories (and they do exist!) as you can and inspire people to make a difference by giving them something to believe in and fight for.