Today we have guest blogger Sarah chatting about the psychology of making changes to live more sustainably – buckle up, this is a good one! (PS – use ‘ELLE15’ for 15% any order from their store! I don’t get any money for this – just a nice gesture from Happy Earth)
Hey everyone! My name is Sarah, and I am the founder of ‘The Happy Earth Company’ (@thehappyearthcompanyuk on Insta) – a fun and happy business dedicated to helping you make eco-friendly swaps to live more sustainably and making the planet happy! I run this alongside my day job, where I am also an NHS Art Therapist working in children’s mental health. When Elle offered me a chance to write a blog on ‘something I was passionate about’, I decided I would share some understandings and insights from my background in Psychology regarding how we as humans can make changes towards living more sustainably, as this is a big driver behind The Happy Earth Company.
Our children’s’ futures is something I care greatly about, not least of which the future of my 20-month old son and the world he is growing up to have to face. This made me want to do something purposeful towards the climate crisis and our collective need to live as sustainably as possible – cue The Happy Earth Company. However, I didn’t want to be yet another “bland, hessian, eco warrior, blah blah blah” brand that could be dismissed by the plastic product consumers of this world. Instead, I wanted to create a bright, happy and exciting brand that could appeal to people who don’t know how to make changes and encourage them to get excited about living sustainably.
The Eco-Anxiety Is Real.
We have all seen the headlines and the increasingly worrying reports about climate change in the media across our lifetimes. The most recent IPCC report (2022) in particular highlights the stark warning that unless emissions drastically fall, the window for adapting to oncoming climate change will imminently close. But it isn’t all doom and gloom – a liveable future is possible, we just need urgency, from all of us: every action towards cutting emissions and adapting to limit climate change matters now.
So how do we reduce our own personal impact on the planet? The so-called “eco-anxiety” is real (especially when information and the visual reality of climate change is so accessible on our phones, in the news and when we are ‘doomscrolling’ on social media)! More importantly, research has shown that eco-anxiety can make us less likely to participate in climate action (Stanley et al., 2021), likely because of the overwhelming feelings of “what difference does my small action actually make?” it brings with it. Well, the answer is this: your voice and your actions and most importantly, your consumer choices DO matter, because small individual changes add up to make a massive collective impact.
OK So My Choices Matter: How Do I Make Changes?
There’s actually a lot more to ‘making changes’ than simply choosing to do something and getting it done. One of the most well-known theories, the ‘Stages of Change’ model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983) actually suggests we go through a range of stages including ‘Precontemplation’, ‘Contemplation’, ‘Preparation’, ‘Action’, ‘Maintenance’ and possible ‘Relapse’.
Arguably the three most important elements of behaviour change are someone’s’:
- Readiness to change
- Barriers to Change
- Likelihood of Relapse
So let’s look at these factors in relation to living sustainably in more detail.
Readiness to Change: Do they have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
It can be so hard to challenge those friends and family members still stuck in generational patterns of thinking, or who simply don’t get that plastic doesn’t go away (for literally 1000’s of years…!), or that eating plant-based makes a difference, or that fast-fashion is a bad thing….(I could obviously go on!). And it’s HARD to think about how to encourage these individuals to make sustainable changes – because I am DEFINITEY not perfect, nor am I here to criticise or punish anyone for where they are at, and I’m sure you are the same. So how do we get these people on board?
I think it’s safe to say the information on the urgency of climate change is out there, but this needs to be presented in a digestible and positive way and balanced with positivity that helps people to feel driven and that they can make a difference. Think David Attenborough’s powerful messages of hope (such as this one, made at the recent COP26 summit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzF1LLbSepk) or the wonderful weekly round-up’s of ‘Happy Eco News’ from Consciously Elle!
Sustainable product technology has also HUGELY advanced in recent years, and there are an endless list of brands doing amazing things out there. Although we have started with a small product offering at The Happy Earth Company, we stock a range of INCREDIBLE and innovative eco-friendly products – all the basics you need to start making eco-friendly swaps and feel good about living more sustainably. Whilst we are excited to grow our product offering in the coming weeks, months and (hopefully) years, there are plenty of other businesses stocking the products you need to build on those eco swaps.
Barriers to Change: Is there anything preventing them from changing?
Secondly, we must be sensitive. In helping others to make changes, we need to strike the delicate balance of sharing our knowledge, whilst not alienating ourselves from people by being seen as a “boring eco warrior” (*rolls eyes*) or reaching the point where they stop listening to what you’re saying because it’s “more of the same”. People need to feel encouraged, not shamed or “told off” for their current practices. If people always just feel they “can’t get anything right” because there is always more they can or should be doing, they start to shut off and make excuses to protect themselves (normally resulting in scapegoating said eco warriors for being irritating and overdramatic (*rolls eyes again*)). Moreover, some people just aren’t ready to hear it or to change yet. And that is OK – there may be all kinds of emotional defences going on for them. What we need to do instead is be compassionate – to respect why their mindset is that way; sometimes people are scared to make changes or simply don’t know how to.
Another crucial way to help people make sustainable changes, I feel, is to make it exciting. We’ve worked hard to make our branding beautiful and I want to stock only products I truly get excited about – which I can safely say is how The Happy Earth Company has started and how we mean to go on. (Plus I wish I could show you all the amazing exciting products we have lined up in the pipeline – think eco-friendly body glitter, bath bombs, candles, unpaper towels, wildflower cards, shampoos, conditioners, makeup…SO MANY EXCITING THINGS!)
Likelihood of Relapse: What might trigger a return to their former behaviour?
Finally, we need to make living sustainably, sustainable! This means trying not to be ‘perfect’, but rather being ‘imperfect’ on our sustainability journey – and not beating ourselves up for that! To live perfectly sustainably is basically impossible, and quickly leads to burnout and feeling futile. It’s an overused, but very true, quote from Anne-Marie Bonneau who said that “we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”.
It’s also so important to surround yourself with people who align to your values. As a business, for us, we want to build a community where people can learn and also share information on how they have made sustainable changes. We also want to shout from the rooftops how much each sustainable swap means to us and to the planet – that’s why we offer discount to returning customers and each and every order we send out has a special ‘thank you’ message card and a little gift of some butterfly and bee wildflower seeds.
A final note.
So in sum, it is a perfect balance of being aware of information on climate change but staying optimistic, understanding you CAN make a difference, making swaps to wonderful and exciting sustainable products and remembering that we can’t be perfect and we will slip up from time to time along the way! And in getting others on board the sustainability train? The best thing is to lead by example – live with integrity and feel confident about the choices you make. Because it rubs off on others. I personally love striving to live sustainably and I notice how others are either encouraged to make their own changes, or at least becoming more understanding of my own. And, as I said earlier, those people who don’t ‘get it’ yet or are scared to make changes, are my EXACT MOTIVATION for starting this company!! Check us out – www.thehappyearthcompany.co.uk.
Thank you SO MUCH for reading
Lots of love and hugs,
The Happy Earth Company x
IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate