The most sustainable thing you can do – be conscious

Be it a trendy youtube video, that guy from high school that loves lengthy paragraphs on Facebook (hey, it’s me!), or even your own SustainSU blog, everyone has heard some variation of the following: “Bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, eat less beef, and carpool whenever possible!”

While all these tips are extremely valid and are reasonable hallmarks for a sustainable lifestyle, there is one action that supersedes the typical advice given to everyday people – environmental consciousness.

Well, what does “environmental consciousness” even mean? Let’s break it down.

When I describe environmental consciousness, it means the act of considering the environment in our day-to-day actions. It means valuing sustainability enough that you take it into consideration when making your decisions. It means sacrificing convenience in favour of sustainability occasionally.

Evidently, this is quite a subjective description of sustainability, and blurs the distinction of what is and isn’t green. However, objective definitions place too much focus on actions rather than mindset. Through an objective lens, sustainable behaviour can be perceived as an all-or-none response, failing to acknowledge the middle ground that exists. It also fails to acknowledge that sustainability is often not the governing consideration in making decisions, and sometimes is rightfully trumped by other factors, like convenience or cost. 

Ooh, how mystical. Photo by Gabriel Hemery.

Okay, this all sounds nice, but let’s cut with the philosophy and get specific. How does this actually look?

Say you are traveling home for the holidays. In Canada, and especially Alberta, this often means long and boring highway journeys through the prairies. But you know a hometown-friend who is more than likely also visiting family these holidays. Now, you’re thinking “Oh, I haven’t talked to this friend in quite some time, and our schedules might not line up perfectly, and if I have to listen to them play their niche techno music for 3 hours I am going to lose my mind.” As an avid techno listener, I recognize the credibility of all these concerns. However, taking into account the emissions for that long of a journey may be enough for you to reach out and ask that friend if a carpool is possible.

Another example, referenced in a previous post, is the Zero-Waste Stations around campus. It can be tempting, and completely intuitive based on how we have disposed of waste for most of our lives, to toss that garbage from lunch into “Landfill”. But the aforementioned consciousness might make you sacrifice that convenience and properly sort your trash.

Waste Station on Campus
Avoid regular bins and find these well labeled zero-waste stations around campus!

Unfortunately, being conscious in this frame of mind is not a simple snap-of-the-fingers change. It is not something that can be actively taught, like how to ride a bicycle. It’s a slow and gradual development. And if you’re not there yet, that’s perfectly okay (another post to come on this, so I’ll leave you on this cliff). Those common sustainability tips mentioned beforehand are often good starting points for building this awareness.

The point is this: we can all practice sustainability to varying degrees, but the most influential action that can be made is to be environmentally aware. The defining element is not if your carbon footprint is smaller than the next person’s, but rather if you find yourself thinking about how your decisions may affect the environment. This is a necessary mentality to begin to identify areas in your life where you could act more environmentally-friendly. And it is only through this mindset that we can consistently make small sustainable acts become habitual and amount to a sizeable effect.

So don’t necessarily feel the need to ditch your truck in favour of a bicycle, or go zero-waste tomorrow. Simply start to ask yourself how your day-to-day actions may affect the environment.

Colm O’Fuarthain

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