"If a friend decided they wanted to do something about the environment, how would you tell him or her to start? What's the way in? What's the most important step?"
Since Monday, over 120 people have responded to the question with their advice and opinions. It took my a while to decide, but finally I contributed:
"Re-evaluate the word 'need' and shop accordingly."
Other contributers offered more extreme suggestions like "go vegan" and "stop using your car for journeys less than 2 miles- walk or bike" and I'll admit that those actions might have a more immediate impact than mine. But if you're brand new to making green lifestyle choices, I think it's better to start basic. In order to make your green habits last, it's best not to over-commit yourself if you're not sure how much you're willing or able to do.
So for a first step toward going green, I would encourage someone to just sit down and think long and hard about the word NEED. A few things to start with:
- What does 'need' mean to you, and how does that definition differ for other people around the world? Or just a few generations ago?
- Make a list of everything you truly need. Compare that list to what you actually own.
- From the list of true needs, how are those needs met?
- Pay attention to what advertising is telling you about needs. How often does the word come up in ads? Or the concept? (Think planned and perceived obsolescence!)
- Before you started thinking about it, who defined your needs for you? Where did you concept of need come from?
- An important part of this transition is watching your language. You can curse all you want, but watch your use of the word 'need.' How often do you say it?
- What do you mean when you say need? Strong desire? Entitlement? True necessity?
- Think about what it feels like when a true necessity isn't met.
When you're able to separate your needs from your wants, you are already doing something good for the environment. It makes you think twice before buying anything frivolous. It makes you appreciate things in a different way, and it's hard not to act differently after such a mind shift. There's a difference between not wanting something in the first place because you understand that you don't need it, and pining after something intensely but resisting because you're told that refraining is better for the environment. If you're only holding out for the environment, you'll eventually snap and go on a spending spree. But if you can evaluate needs and wants and differentiate between the two, eventually you start prioritizing differently, and you start wanting less. Trust me. It's a liberating realization.