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How to become more environmentally friendly

Most of us would love to be more environmentally conscious. However, when people are busy it can be hard to keep up good habits. Try these solutions. 

For more from Alice Boyes, including her column on tackling the downsizing conversation, click here. 

Make it part of your identity

We get our self-esteem from multiple aspects of our identities. Our skills in the workplace, being a good parent, even how physically attractive we feel can be domains that contribute to our sense of self-esteem. Try thinking of being environmentally conscious as part of your identity. For example, you might think of 40 per cent of your self-esteem as derived from being a good family member (parent, daughter/son, brother/sister, aunt/uncle), 20 per cent from your job, 10 per cent from your artistic or musical abilities, 10 per cent from your physical fitness and 10 per cent from being a good ‘world citizen’, including supporting the environment and contributing to charities. These percentages are just examples. Think about what’s true for you, and what your ideal is. Behaviours that are driven by our core values and sense of identity are less vulnerable to the external environment and factors like feeling fatigued. 

Use your smartphone to get location-aware reminders

Some smartphones have the capacity to help out with reminders. For example, you can tell ‘Siri’ that as soon as you pull into the supermarket carpark you’d like to be reminded to get your cloth bags
out. Another example of a location-aware reminder would be setting a note to bring your own container inside when you arrive at your favourite Thai takeaway. You can also set reminders for when you leave a location – for example, a reminder to put your recycling bins out when you’re leaving home. I use location-aware reminders and find they work brilliantly. 

Make environmentally-friendly choices within arm’s reach

Make the most environmentally friendly choice the most convenient. Make the most wasteful choice the least convenient. A recycling bin that’s under your desk is going to get used more than one you need to walk down the corridor to use. Another example – you might put your vegetable scraps bin right under your kitchen sink and your rubbish bin further away, rather than the other way around. Likewise, if you’re wanting to reduce your use of food packaging from restaurants, you might keep a box in your car with an assortment of clean containers. Sometimes a tiny change makes a significant difference. Try an experiment and base your choices on your personal data. For example, you may find that if you keep your cloth supermarket bags in the car rather than in the cupboard, you’re more likely to use them. Monitor how many times out of 10 trips to the supermarket you remember your cloth bags when you use one strategy versus another. 

Reduce cognitive loopholing

Cognitive loopholes are excuses you give yourself. For example, if you’re drinking beer at an event that doesn’t have recycling you might say to yourself, “It’s okay if I don’t take my recyclables home because I’m tired / no one else is doing it / I recycle when I’m at home.” Another common cognitive loophole is telling yourself “It’s okay to be lazy this time, I’ll be better next time” or “I did the right thing previously, it’s okay if I skip this time.” 

Set a time to review your environment-related habits

Maybe the first Saturday morning of each new season you review and improve your environment-related systems and habits. If you’re in charge at your workplace, you could also set a recurring time to do this at work. If you’re not in charge, you could ask to be given that role/responsibility. Ideally, have a routine for when you set up new habits and then set a time a few weeks later when you can evaluate and tweak them to stay on track. 

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