Easy Being Green: Small Changes Make a Big Impact

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I’m not the ecowarrior I want to be — or think I should be. Sometimes it’s all so overwhelming — the sheer gravity of what we face and the seemingly complete inaction of so many. So that’s when I decide it’s time to step back and reevaluate.

I try to start by reminding myself how far we have come. I know it doesn’t always seem like we’ve moved the scale much at all, but it has moved — and in significant ways. Just this year Conservative candidates and leaders acknowledged that climate breakdown is a real issue, a substantial proportion of Canadians voted for climate action and millions of people marched to push for more substantive action.

Although I don’t have the data, my sense is that the changes are not happening linearly but at an ever-increasing rate.

I know there have also been huge disappointments, such as the failure to come to an agreement at the most recent international climate talks, but governments and corporations are continually moving up deadlines and increasing targets, which helps me maintain hope. If commitments continue to escalate at a growing rate then maybe, just maybe we can actually get on top of this in time.

As for my personal actions, —  I attempt to set goals and re-evaluate what my family and I are doing frequently to minimize how overwhelmed I get by the colossal changes we need to make. This way we can continue to improve without having to make huge leaps at any one time.

I believe this approach works better with the natural fear of change. I often aim for one or two changes that I can feel positively about. For example, you could increase the frequency that you eat plant-based meals, decrease the number of grocery items you buy from outside of Ontario or buy more organic. You could also identify places you drive to regularly that you could walk or take public transit instead, or commit to wearing your clothes a bit longer before upgrading.

Once you’ve made these types of switches, it doesn’t take long before they simply become part of your routine. One commitment I made years ago was to never buy a coffee or tea without a reusable cup. It was a small change, but once I made it, I never went back. Once you have adopted one change, it becomes easy to add more.

It may feel harder to make changes once you have got the low-hanging fruit, but if you struggle to make more shifts in your own life, take a break and think about the bigger picture and broader impact you could make.

There are many opportunities within local organizations helping to educate others and advocate for governmental action — creating momentum for our communities and making significant impacts. Sometimes it may be good to take a break and evaluate what you’re doing.

Alternatively, consider making a competition with family or friends. You could compete for who makes the least amount of waste, how often you get around without driving, or even take turns writing down reasons to continue to work and live more sustainably.

There is a fine balance between not becoming complacent while also maintaining positive mental health and not putting too much pressure on ourselves.

Just like our New Year’s resolutions to improve our physical health — every day is a new day to take action, and occasionally it really is ok to take a day off.

Stacey Danckert is co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN)