These are 7 things you shouldn’t do when beginning your sustainability journey — the things I wish I knew starting out. It would have saved me many research-induced headaches and DIY fails.

Photo: Uliana Kopanytsia

So you want to live more environmentally-friendly. Here are 7 things you shouldn’t do when beginning your sustainability journey.

1. Throw Everything Away

A misconception about being in alignment with the environment and practicing sustainable living is that everything you have and previous decisions/purchases are harmful to the planet. While that may be true, what’s just as—if not more harmful to the planet, wildlife, and other species is throwing everything out and starting over. Often items end up in landfills or in the ocean because there is no end-of-life disposal or care for those things. Instead, recognize that you’ve grown and are learning more. Use this knowledge to make better-informed purchasing choices with sustainable values.

2. Take Brands At Their Word

It’s not enough to hear it, you need to see it. If a brand claims they’re “environmentally friendly”, “conscious”, “sustainable”, “purposeful” or anything else, ask questions and seek out those answers. How are they respecting and prioritizing the environment? What is their production? Do they have a waste policy? How will they reduce carbon and waste? What do they cite within their impact report? Here’s what to look for.

Related: What Makes A Brand Sustainable

3. Try Everything Out

I remember feeling like I needed to try everything out—each new blog post I read had a new tip or brand to keep up with. But, I burnt out rather quickly. Instead, I recommend focusing on 1-3 things. Start small and achievable. I recommend one of these attainable and low-cost sustainable living strategies.

4. Pass Judgment

It can be so easy to pass judgment and be critical of others—especially after you learn all this new eco-information. Years ago, I remember going to the grocery store and being hyper-aware of all the plastic and types of casing/materials that weren’t recyclable or easy to dispose of. I imagined that observation was like how Edward Cullen felt when he woke up on day one of being a vampire and realized he could hear everyone’s thoughts. He wasn’t seeking that out—it just came to him. It took me a while to realize that I needed to be kinder to myself and less judgemental because I was shopping from the selections that were available to me—as many of us are. In reality, I couldn’t avoid plastic altogether—I could only reduce it where I could. Instead of celebrating reducing my single-use plastic, I fixated on the plastic that still came home with me and that was filling grocery store shelves. Sustainability is about choosing the best options to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle, which is what I did and what I still try to do.

Recognizing Judgement

If you find yourself being critical of yourself or others, use this as a time to pause and reflect. Ask yourself if you have control over this thing or situation. What is the best option for the environment and your lifestyle? Is there an option with better packaging? Is this compostable or recyclable? Can you repurpose the item? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, consider if there is anything you can do to try and get better options more accessible. Reach out to let the brand and the store know you’d like to see more environmental options. And remember, the best way to bring about environmental change is to be politically engaged—this means local elections, too.

5. Go Off The Grid

Unless you’re properly trained in how to live off the grid, this may be dangerous. Don’t jump to the extremes after learning about the environment and deciding you want to be in better alignment with nature and the ecosystems. Instead, if your goal is to live off the grid, take the time to create a plan and gather resources. Utilize training and education, build a community of those who have the same goal, and practice.

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6. Drop Everyone Who Doesn’t Want To Make This Lifestyle Transition With You

I’ll admit, I’m disappointed that not all of my loved ones have the same drive and passion for the environment that I do. I sometimes feel isolated from them and like they’re missing out on knowing me because we don’t share these lifestyle practices. But, it’s important to diversify our lives and work on strengthening our boundaries—with ourselves and loved ones—to remember that our relationship doesn’t have to be environmentally friendly in order to be healthy. While of course, this would be fabulous, the truth is not everyone cares about living sustainably and we can’t let this shut us down or limit our own decision to live according to these environmental values.

Honoring Others

Not everyone reacts the same way we might when learning or presented with facts and new information. Some people may need time to process, figure out a budget, deep dive into research, and see where they may be able to identify sustainable patterns in their life. Just because someone hasn’t adopted your new values, doesn’t mean they never will. It’s important to respect that relationship while being a positive and non-judgemental or preachy example of what sustainable living looks like. Who knows, maybe after seeing how you’re able to still enjoy movie night, make delicious meals, and any other favorite activity or tradition, that person or those people will be more open to learning about the changes they can implement.

7. Follow Eco Influencers Blindly

On the other hand, once you find a community of people who share the same values as you, remember not to follow them blindly. Continue doing research and asking questions. Just because your favorite eco-influencer posts their routine, doesn’t mean it’s sustainable or the most sustainable for you. There may not be anything wrong with it from an environmental standpoint, but it may be adding more waste or lead to overconsumption if you don’t truly need what that influencer is sharing.

Leaning Into Community

Build community while still asking questions, having healthy discussions, researching brands, and swapping fun tips. Eco-influencers are a blast and I loved discovering that corner of the web. But, like everything else, not all information is true. Don’t pitch your tent before you’ve had a chance to see the resources and facts. Also have compassion, empathy, and understanding because eco-influencers are people on their own sustainable living journey too. They’re not going to be perfect—and neither will you.

Looking to build community? Check out Ethical Influencers, a group of people all over the world who are trying to use their social media to showcase how they’re choosing to live ethically and environmentally.

That’s my take on the 7 things you shouldn’t do when beginning your sustainability journey. Do you have any tips to add?

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