As the state of our planet hits the headlines with more and more frequency, many of us are wondering what we can possibly do to help. While you and I probably don’t have the power to single-handedly fix every environmental issue, there is enormous power in people collectively taking small, concrete steps to make a positive difference. So what can we do?
Faced with all the problems and all the possible actions we could take in response, it’s possible to feel either powerless (I can’t do anything that will help!) or overwhelmed (there’s too many things I should be doing!) But there’s one trick that has really helped me maintain a sense of hope and calm in deciding how to respond.
Caring for creation
I’ll be honest, I’m not especially great at sustainable living. In fact, I’d describe myself as distinctly average.
Like a lot of people, I really care about our planet. I believe we have a God-given responsibility to care for this world with the kind of compassion and nurture that reflects his character. I believe that the climate crisis is an issue of global injustice that goes against the heart of God.
I’m also a busy working mum who’s spinning a lot of (usually plastic-free) plates. Any decision I make has to take into account my family, my job, my church, my mental health and a whole host of other concerns. So overhauling my lifestyle to become 100% sustainable overnight feels, frankly, a bit overwhelming. And yet I know I want to do something.
My top sustainable life hack
But there’s one trick that’s really helped me, which I’d like to share with you. It’s the one thing that’s helped me make positive changes to the way I live without it getting to be burdensome or ‘too much’. It’s this: start with what you already love.
Picking something you enjoy and find easy just means you’re setting yourself up for a win. Our brains love the feeling of success, so this is a simple way to motivate ourselves. It’s a lot more effective than trying to take on every sustainable life change or project all at once, becoming swamped by too many changes, feeling overwhelmed and giving up.
Start with what you already love.
For me, I started with my love of being outside. I focused on our garden. I know not everyone has their own outside space, and we’re lucky to have even a small plot where we can sit outside on the few sunny days that Yorkshire sees. So what could I do with a small rectangle of concrete and gravel that would make the world a tiny bit better? We took up some of that grey stone (hello, better drainage and reduced flooding risk) and replaced it with a vegetable patch and wildflowers (happy bees and lots of home-grown food). I put out food for the birds so that I could watch them through the window while working from home.
The result? Last year we had three families of birds nesting within view of the kitchen window. We grow a lot of our own food and yes, I love that it’s free from pesticides that hurt the soil and kill bees, that there’s zero food miles involved because it’s literally the most local produce it could be, and that there’s no plastic packaging to contend with. But also, it felt easy to embark on because seeing plants grow makes me happy, and I might well have gone with it either way.
Having enjoyed all of this, adding in a compost bin felt like a manageable next step, which drastically reduced how much waste we were sending to landfill. Each next step hasn’t felt arduous, but I could never have managed doing everything at once.
What do you love?
For you, it might not be gardening that kickstarts the next sustainable change you make. I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I do highly recommend finding whatever it is that you do enjoy, and starting there. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Maybe you already get energised by exercise, so would enjoy walking or cycling more in place of driving.
Are you brilliant at choosing gifts for friends? Could you share your ethical values with them through the presents you give?
If food is what you’re passionate about, could you design a meal that involves local produce or less plastic packaging than usual?
You might not have time to change your routine or lifestyle even in small ways right now, in which case, perhaps signing the next petition that grabs your attention is a quick, simple way to show what’s important to you.
There is enormous power in people collectively taking small, concrete steps to make a positive difference.
Once you’ve figured out what your ‘one thing’ is going to be, take it one step at a time: you’re more likely to stick with new habits this way.
God gives us all different interests and gifts, so it makes sense that we’d bring different approaches to this. Far from being an obstacle to playing your part in sustainability and creation care, your unique personality and abilities are vitally important in the way you show up and make a difference.