5 Main Barriers to Sustainable Living and How to Overcome Them

5 Main Barriers to Sustainable Living and How to Overcome Them

As the threat of the climate crisis grows more dire, there is an increasing effort by individuals across the world to play better roles in fighting the crisis. From activism to citizen science, more people are taking proactive action to tackle the climate crisis. A lot more are playing their parts through making conscious choices in consumption and their lifestyles; adopting a sustainable lifestyle. 

But transitioning to an eco-lifestyle is quite frankly not an easy one. Like any other form of ideology or lifestyle concept, adopting a sustainable lifestyle is wrought with a number of challenges and barriers. Instagram influencers might make it seem easy, with their flat lays and bright pictures, but it really is not. This transition requires a dogged determination to always stay grounded enough to make the alternative eco-choice even when there is a more convenient, and cheaper alternative. And sometimes, you have to get your hands dirty. Literally. 

These challenges are quite real. ‘Eco-shaming’ people who haven’t gone green isn’t the way to go. Advocates who have long jumped on the bandwagon must remember where they started their journey and acknowledge the barriers other beginners face, exercise empathy and put forward suggestions on how best to overcome them. In this article, we will try to do just that.

Say no to disposable plastic and use organic cotton produce bags. Credit: Sacked Store.

In discussing the barriers to sustainability, it is crucial here to understand that there is no one-size-fits all for sustainable living. Personally, I define the sustainable and ethical living as do better, don’t harm the environment, don’t harm animals and treat everyone fairly. From this definition, you see that there can be many facets to sustainable living. Going zero-waste, ditching plastic, or buying ‘pre-loved’ clothes are all means to a sustainable end; each necessary in relation to treating our environment better. 

This knowledge will help you overcome the mental barriers and pressure to do some particular “thing” or buy some particular “eco-friendly products” or live in a particular manner in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. You need to decide for yourself the route to take in this journey as each individual’s wants, needs, knowledge, budget, household and living situation is different.

Now below are a few of the under-emphasized challenges in the transition to sustainable living and suggestions on the best ways to overcome them.

1. Breaking old habits

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard for a chain smoker to quit nicotine? The power of habit my friend! One of the most difficult challenges in transitioning into an eco or ethical lifestyle (or any lifestyle for that matter) is breaking our old habits. Why? Because habits are the details that make up who we are. Now experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit so, the challenge here is to dedicate yourself to breaking your habits for that entire period of time.

A tactic I have found very useful as I became more ‘eco-aware’ is to form new little habits rather than trying to break the old ones all at once. I took small steps and continue to build on them. It may also help to draw up a timetable and tick off your sustainable accomplishments, day by day. That way you can see for yourself the progress you’ve made and celebrate the little ‘wins’ as your old habits slowly wither.

Related Post: 22 Steps Closer to Zero Waste Living: Disposable Items to Stop Buying Right Now

The key to getting rid of old unsustainable habits though is make the decision to get started. Exercise this commitment by saying it out loud, or writing it down, or telling a friend or family member or announcing it on Facebook. And then by all means work at it. If you need support as you start your journey, join Facebook groups, sign up for eco lifestyle newsletter or follow eco lifestyle influencers on social media who offer daily tips and guidance.

5 Main Barriers to Sustainable Living and How to Overcome Them
Breaking old habits is hard but not impossible. Going zero waste takes the commitment to start and a little discipline. Credit: Shutterstock.

2. Cost, pricing and accessibility

Cost is one of the biggest challenges to living a sustainable life. From paying higher for thermos flasks to electric vehicles, going green can often bite down hard on our budgets. This challenge is even greater in sustainable fashion where the cost of some fast fashion items is literally a penny on the dollar when compared to ethically made clothes.

My advice here is for you to explore offline options or to shop within your neighbourhood. Even though your favourite Instagram account might have inspired you to adopt ethical fashion, you will find that buying the brands advertised there may often be expensive. The good news though is that those brands are not the only ethical brands available. You may not know this, but buying from the thrift shop in your neighbourhood is also a good form of slow and ethical fashion. When you go offline, you discover that a lot of the things we project to be the ideal components of an eco-lifestyle are quite readily available in our neighbourhood. 

Related Post: Affordability and Ethical Fashion: Why Price Still Matters

For instance, I live in Nigeria. Ordering a pack of hemp t-shirts from a brand that I really love say, in New Zealand is bound to be difficult. However, if I visit the open-air markets in my area, I most certainly find t-shirts, handmade by artisans in my neighborhood. 

3. Convenience and availability

The biggest trojan horse that corporations have offered is convenience. Products like plastic sell in the billions because they offer convenience. You walk into a cafe, get your coffee and throw away the cup, no strings attached. No need to carry anything.

Now an eco-friendly lifestyle may not offer such seamless (and destructive) convenience, but the good news is that you can tailor your sustainable choice to your peculiar convenience. For instance, if you are making the transition to reusable cups, you can create a system where there’s a reusable cup in your home, one in your car and another in your office. That way, there is always one within reach when you need a coffee to-go.

4. The herd mentality at work

As far as I know, there is not one office rule, policy or regulation that works to prohibit employees from acting sustainably in their workplaces. The problem here is that for most of us, an important aspect of work in our offices is the ease of assuming personalities we are not. I have seen individuals waste resources in the workplace because it would seem odd to their colleagues if they didn’t. And this worry is valid in a sense; the herd mentality in the workplace is a lot like the movement of a faceless mob. Still, despite the frustrating attitudes of our co-workers and employers, we can still make a difference. The key here is to do so at your own desk, in your own cubicle keep the green torch burning. I have written here on how you can achieve this and possibly win the company over, even if you are a junior employee. Kate Hall has also written an excellent article on this influencing work colleagues to go green.

Simnple Zero Waste Kit
Bring a simple zero waste kit to work and insure your colleagues to do the same. Credit: Jennifer Nini

5. Feelings of shame or humiliation at being different

This is the barrier that no one wants to talk about; the fact that we might be ashamed to go green. No one wants to be the guest that refuses to eat meat served at the dinner table. Or the killjoy who interrupts the meal to ask the waiter why there are so many plastic straws. Nobody wants to be that guy or girl because that guy or girl is weird. Being that guy is not cool. And truth be told, while the sustainable lifestyle is gradually gaining prominence, vegans and eco warriors don’t always have the best reputations when it comes to being cool because their seeming moral ‘superiority’ can induce eye-rolls instead of awe.

The only way to overcome this is to always keep the big picture in mind, and to be confident in your own skin. Taking this approach means it will become easier for you to remember why you choose to make greener choices and will feel less awkward when explaining to others about your choices when they ask.

At the end of the day, the transition to a sustainable lifestyle is not an easy one. The choice needs to be personal and the going wouldn’t always be smooth. Take each day as it comes, know that no one is perfect, surround yourself with the right support network and share what you learn, the wins and the fails. Each day you do this and you’ll get better at it until you finally have a sustainable lifestyle that works for you.

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All images via Pexels and Unsplash.

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