An unexpected lesson on sustainability

My 14-year-old woke his Gen-Xer mom to her unhealthy consumer mindset.

After school one day last week, my son announced he was interested in improving his wardrobe. He wanted me to take him shopping for new clothes. This was music to my ears. “Wow”, I thought, “he cares about how he looks and doesn’t want to keep wearing those jogging pants and sweatshirts he wears every day”. It turns out I was only partly right. When he showed me images on the internet of the clothes he had in mind, I couldn’t tell the difference between them and his current clothes. But alas, at least he cares!

Anyway, to his request I immediately replied, “Yes, of course. I’ll take you to the mall this weekend.” He was happy and said sure. He then paused and suggested, “Or we could go to a thrift store.”

He stopped me and my mind in my tracks.

I thought of myself as a responsible parent who instills values in my kids and models good behaviour. I teach them values including caring for each other and our environment. Why didn’t I think of a thrift store as a first option?

Don’t I talk about global warming and the threat of climate change? I’m the one that warns not to run the water too long or leave lights on in rooms.

My son made me realize that I still have things to learn and unlearn. Again, he proves to be one of my greatest teachers, as I shared in Good Morning, Life!

The Aha Moment

This was a real ‘aha’ moment for me as I realize that I still have work to do to shift my ingrained consumer mindset. Rather than feeling guilty or beating myself up over my shortcomings, I will use my mindful awareness to learn how to shift my mindset.

It’s natural to go through a transition when for years my generation became accustomed to a certain way of living. This Story of Stuff video is a great watch that explains how we adopted consumer mindsets over time.

We followed fashion trends. Every season or two a new fashion would come along and we’d get rid of our pinned skinny jeans and run to the mall for the latest trendy clothes. We became accustomed to eating a variety of foods, whatever is tasty and convenient, without thinking much about how it got to our tables. Other conveniences and luxuries, such as vacations and home renovations may be enjoyed without huge consideration for their impacts on the environment and the resources expended in the process.

Let’s consider the dilemma.

The Problem

Climate change and the risk it poses to our economy and financial services sector is a big focus for my organization. While I was working and reading through climate analysis, the below chart caught my attention.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03036-x

The chart shows that the world’s CO2 emissions have been rising steadily, until . . .

The pandemic.

As you can see, in 2020 there was a sharp decrease in CO2 emissions. Then there is a sharp increase as things started going back to “normal”. My optimistic self reads this graph with hope. It shows me that we can reduce our carbon emissions. It tells me we just need to rethink what we consider “normal”. Our new normal can’t be our pre-pandemic normal because, as the chart shows us, that is leading us to big trouble. I’ll spare you the depressing graphs showing the scientific predictions if we don’t change our ways and keep going back to our old “normal” ways.

The Solution

The solution starts with awareness. Awareness of the issue and, more importantly, the knowledge that we all have a role to play. From my role at work, I know many governments, corporations and financial service companies are starting to take action but still have lots of work to do. But it will take everyone and there is a role for consumers to play as well. Households consume 29 percent of global energy and consequently contribute to 21 percent of resultant CO2 emissions.

At the individual level, as my son taught me, it can start with my mindset. I need to consider my actions and lifestyle with a new perspective. I need to think about the impact of my old habits on the environment. Below is a list of things each of us can do as a starting point to being part of the change to sustainable life on Earth. You will note that mindfulness is key. That’s because without being mindful we slip into old behaviour patterns and automatic pilot. We know that our old patterns aren’t working for us, so new behaviours are needed.

Actions for sustainable change:

  1. Be mindful about every purchase. Being mindful about everything we purchase will make a difference. We can always start by asking ourselves: Do I need this? If I need it, can I borrow it or purchase it used? How long will I use it for and what will happen to it when I’m done with it? In the case of my son’s shopping trip, we ended up going to two thrift shops in our area and he found some great “new” outfits. It feels good knowing he’s not adding anything new to our landfill sites.
  2. Be mindful about what we eat. Here are 5 basic tips for sustainable meal choices: prioritize plants, minimize meat (especially beef), select sustainably caught seafood, look local and eat mindfully. The food sector accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 percent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions. We should also limit the amount of food we waste.
  3. Be environmentally conscious with travel plansAccording to studies, motor vehicles are the leading cause of air pollution in the United States, though other modes of travel, such as planes and cruise ships, create greater emissions per trip per person. Globally, transportation accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of emissions each year. Therefore, being mindful about vacation and travel plans can make a big difference. In this article, the WWF has some good vacation suggestions including choosing where to go and how to get there. Using public or shared transportation and choosing destinations closer to home are better options.
  4. Educate ourselves. We need to continue to educate ourselves. There are a lot of informative studies that show what we can do as consumers. Throughout this blog, I’ve linked to articles with lots of information and helpful suggestions as a starting point.
  5. Advocate and influence for action. Pressure from consumers and voters will help ensure that our governments and corporations take necessary and fast action that is needed to make changes. Look for ways to be a positive influence in your workplace too. Where there are opportunities to make changes to old ways of doing things, step in with more environmentally friendly ideas (e.g. less work-related travel).

The New Horizon

Here we are on the precipice of a time that matters most for the future of our planet. The pandemic has given us a wake-up call and a chance to change our ways for a sustainable future. We all have a role to play.

Will we answer the call? Will we ‘Look Up‘?

Now is our chance. And we have a pretty narrow opportunity before it’s too late, as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests. The UN reports that it’s now or never to take action before the world becomes uninhabitable.

Time to change our mindset and our future!

Presence. Intention. Do Your Best.

Author: Barbara

Barbara Demone is a graduate of Ivey Business School at Western University and holds an executive level role in a government agency in the financial services industry. Her vision is to bring compassion, joy and love to the world, by being her best, most authentic self and inspiring others to be their best. She sees a strong correlation between mindfulness and authenticity with success and fulfillment in business and in life. Her goal is to live her life in presence and mindful awareness and encourage others to do the same. Barbara lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two boys.

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