Even the most dedicated eco-warriors sometimes find it tough to inspire planet-friendly behaviour change in others. Sarah Ford-Hutchinson, from the University’s Department for Social Responsibility, gives us her top tips for encouraging your friends and family to live more sustainably.
1. Understand yourself.
First things first, start with you. Make a list of the sustainable behaviours you do: using reusable items, eating less meat, opting for a renewable energy supplier or not flying within the UK. Ask why you choose to do these: your motivation may be just as much about saving money and fitting in as about reducing carbon emissions. Then make a list of the sustainable behaviours you’d like to do more of in the future.
When you understand yourself and the sustainability journey you are on, it’s much easier to explain to others. This honesty is a great place to start when encouraging you friend or family member to open up about their behaviours.
2. Ask questions and listen.
Let’s face it: not everyone cares about climate change or biodiversity loss because the effects on individuals in Scotland can be hard to detect. While you may be able to start a conversation with one person about planetary health on a global scale, a better tactic for another person might be to start with them as an individual.
Ask what matters to them, and listen in a non-judgemental way. What will matter to them in the future? Once you understand an individual’s values, you can tailor your conversation about sustainability to the things they care about. Financially stressed? Cooking bulk veggie meals and using them for lunches can save SO much money. Plus the act of cooking can be a great stress-reliever.
3. Make change together.
It’s well-known that peers strongly influence a person’s behaviour. Agree to some goals with your friend or family member: “let’s not use disposable plastic all week”, or “let’s take the train rather than fly to visit each other”. Doing something together is more likely to succeed, and empowers them to tackle more complex behaviour changes in the future with your support.
4. Celebrate small steps…
Ditching disposable cups isn’t going to heal the world, but it’s a really great start. When your friend makes positive changes, celebrate them. When people feel good about their actions, they’re more likely to keep doing them and more likely to make greater changes that seemed undesirable before. Remember, it’s a journey.
5. … and the bigger picture.
Now your friend is a reusables pro, discuss how their individual actions can make greater change: by influencing others. Write to your local MSP together; sign petitions calling for the government to set tougher targets for greenhouse gas emissions; influence a friend. When your friend begins to ‘own’ this new sustainability strand as part of their identity, they will feel more confident at influencing others.
6. Look after each other.
Influencing others is hard, and it can easily drain your energy. Having conversations about reusable cups while the arctic warms can seem exasperating. Recognise when you or your friend are experiencing eco-anxiety, or feeling powerless, and talk about it. Change is absolutely possible if we remain positive and action-focused, but we all need a time out to rest and collect our thoughts.
For practical advice on how to be more sustainable, as well as volunteering opportunities, project funding and suggestions for how to incorporate sustainability into your studies, visit https://www.ed.ac.uk/sustainability/students
Illustration: Frannie Wise