You’re a city girl living in a small apartment, working in an office you need a car to get to and you thrive off convenience. You can’t live in a yurt in the mountains and forage for berries that have a 50% chance of poisoning you.
But you do want to have a better impact on the planet. You don’t want to feel like you’re contributing to this crisis we have on our hands.
So, what do you do? Is the yurt really the only way to make a difference and live a sustainable lifestyle?
If you want your lifestyle to be more sustainable but you don’t think that it’s possible for you, you’ve come to the right place.
This guide is for you. It’s here to help you discover what changes you can make in your life that work for you and make a difference in the world.
First of all…
What does it really mean to live a sustainable lifestyle?
You might have a very specific idea of what a sustainable lifestyle looks like in your head. Perhaps a life of sacrifice away from modern amenities in deep natural settings being truly at one with nature.
Well luckily for you, that’s not all that sustainability entails. Unfortunately, there is no one perfect definition of sustainability. Even less so for sustainable living.
But what we do have is a concept that was originally meant as an accounting framework for businesses to measure the impact of their activities on the surrounding environment.
It’s called the triple bottom line, and it’s pretty much the gold standard for measuring sustainability anywhere. Even your own lifestyle.
It consists of three pillars; people, planet and profit. Easy to remember as the 3 P’s.
Everything you do has an impact on other people, directly and indirectly, locally and across the globe. Whether it’s a positive or a negative impact will depend on what you do.
To live a sustainable lifestyle your actions must enrich the quality of the lives of the people who live on our planet (sucks for astronauts, am I right? I’m kidding, of course).
You also have an impact on the planet. Your footprint, if you know it like that. You can either have a positive impact or a negative impact on the planet.
By choosing your actions carefully you can have a positive impact on the planet, or reduce your negative impact. A sustainable lifestyle allows you to do that by protecting the earth’s natural resources and ensuring they don’t get exploited.
Which brings us to profit. Money makes the world go round, as they say. And in this case, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Profits act as an incentive for businesses to do better.
You can change the narrative with how you choose to spend your money and where. It’s called being a conscious consumer and it’s proved to be very effective.
A lot of people think choosing sustainable options is expensive, but there are a lot of sustainable changes you could make that actually end up saving you money.
If you’re going “Yes, ok, great. Now tell me how exactly I’m supposed to do this,” then bear with me girl. We’ve got one long ass journey.
The biggest focus areas
It’s impossible to focus our attention as consumers on every single aspect of all that is wrong in this world.
There is just not enough information or alternatives for us to have no negative impact on the planet or other people.
Often, we have to take it case by case. To look at a specific situation and make the best decision we can with the abilities we have at that moment.
If you’re here it means that you’re aware of our predicament and you want to know how you can stop it. But I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do. That’s not the purpose of this guide.
I want to give you the tools to decide for yourself what is in your capacity to do. Because each of us has a unique environment that we live in. We don’t have equal access to sustainable resources.
What I can do is give you some options if you have no clue what could even be possible for you. And I’ll do this by explaining the concepts I talk about on my blog. These are the areas I focused on when I started my own journey.
But by no means are they the only things you can do, so don’t feel like these are your only options.
Hands up if you knew this would be mentioned somewhere. Oh yes, this is the easiest, and most inconvenient way for you to live a sustainable lifestyle.
It’s the easiest because it makes the biggest impact in the largest number of ways. Climate change, pollution, water waste, biodiversity, there’s a list.
It’s the most inconvenient because there are animal products in everything, it has a bad rep socially and you always have to prepare your own food or eat the tiny, boring variety that is available.
But stick around, we’re not in the early days anymore. Veganism is on the rise.
And if you’re interested in going down this path, I’ve got just what you need. I have written an extensive article on how to be vegan that will get you started and help you stick to it.
The fast fashion industry is the third-largest polluter in the world and is a major contributor to freshwater depletion, it is the leading contributor of poverty in third-world countries and it causes a negative economic growth rate in those countries.
What a triple whammy. If those facts got you going there is a lot you can do to practice sustainable fashion.
In fact, if you research this topic it can take you down a rabbit hole, but the key takeaway here is just to avoid fast fashion brands.
And you can do this in multiple ways.
You can practice slow fashion. Slow fashion means that you buy less and not that often. You buy only when you need clothes and not because they are trendy.
A lot of people like to create a capsule wardrobe with quality clothes to help them practice this.
Or you can buy your clothes secondhand and resell/donate your old clothes. This is called circular fashion. It keeps clothes in society and not in landfills where they create all sorts of damage. It also doesn’t use up any more natural resources.
If you like your clothes new and want to support companies doing good for the planet and the people, you can buy ethical fashion. Ethical fashion companies use natural resources responsibly and pay their workers fair wages.
Natural And Sustainable Beauty
I’ve found that switching to natural beauty products was the easiest part of my own journey because I have access to amazing, local products.
Not only are natural, organic products better for your health, it ensures that less harmful chemicals end up in our water systems.
Because these products don’t contain any toxins that go down our drains and they don’t use pesticides to grow the ingredients.
It’s a good way to reduce water pollution and alleviate the water crisis, and perhaps your own health issues, if you have access to sustainable beauty products.
It’s not what you think, you don’t literally have to generate no waste at all. But what you can do is to minimize your unnecessary waste.
A lot of the ways we create waste in our own households can be fixed. There are reusable products for almost anything. And very often it’s a simple mindset shift that creates the biggest impact.
A good focus here would be cutting down your food waste. Food waste is a large contributor to rising carbon emissions and a lot of the waste is generated by consumers.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
This is the big one. The most well-known and most threating crisis we have on our hands. And the one we, as consumers, have the smallest impact in.
This is the one we protest about, because that’s how we’ll make the most effective impact.
Yes, driving the Tesla and changing your light bulbs is energy efficient. But almost every industry in the world generates carbon emissions. We fix this through regeneration, restoration and systems change.
You do that by campaigning. You don’t have to protest, but you can sign petitions, take part in raising awareness, writing to policymakers and voting for people who will improve the way our systems operate.
Ok, and you can also restore and regenerate your garden if you have one. And support brands who have regenerative practices.
Why do you want to live a sustainable lifestyle?
We could argue about the ethics of this all day. But that’s not what I mean.
I mean, what makes it important to you, personally.
We all have certain values that we hold in higher regard than our other values. A lot of times when we have to choose a sustainable alternative, it won’t tick all the boxes.
It might not be as eco-friendly or it might not have a very positive social impact. No product or practice can 100% live up to all our criteria at once, because many small businesses don’t have access to resources.
When that happens, we have to choose what we’re willing to support according to what we find most important.
Because when we channel our energy towards a specific problem, we are more effective at changing the outcome. But it doesn’t have to be limiting.
I know you want to do all the things, I do too. But sometimes it’s just about choosing the best available option for you. And next time you can support the other side of the trade-off.
Your biggest motivator
It’s important to hold on to the reason you wanted to change your lifestyle in the first place. If you have more than one reason, ask yourself what makes the biggest impact on you.
What is that one thing that drove you forward and gave you that push to think about changing? Write it down and put it where you can see it, or use it as an affirmation every day.
We’ll call it your biggest motivator. I’ll tell you why it’s so important later down the guide.
Coming from a place of love, not fear
I started my own sustainable lifestyle from a place of fear. I was afraid that if I didn’t change, the earth would explode. Literally.
So, I questioned everything I did, I frantically searched for the perfect solutions, I felt a stab of guilt every time I thought I was doing something wrong.
Only to find out two weeks later that, actually, this solution is not sustainable after all.
It would make my head spin. I was in a terrible state mentally.
And then something changed.
I watched a documentary (which is funny because it was a documentary that got me into this lifestyle in the first place) that made me realise just how much I love this place we call home.
It made me appreciate the intricacy of mother nature and our place within it. And that’s why I was so afraid of hurting her and our people. That’s why I decided to go forth with love.
Every decision I make comes from a love of our home and all who lives in it. Because when you come from a place of love, your judgement isn’t clouded, you don’t feel so anxious that something bad is going to happen.
And you can make a decision that’s right for you without feeling pressured. Going into this I want you to leave your fears at the door and allow the love you have for our home and its beings to drive you forward.
How do you start living a sustainable lifestyle?
One small change
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you can’t expect to wake up tomorrow and be the embodiment of all that is good and pure in this world.
That’s a terrible analogy. My point is, we have a huge problem and thousands of little problems within that huge problem.
How do you move a boulder? One chip at a time.
You have to start with one small change, one thing that will have an impact. Remember when you wrote down your biggest motivator? This is where you use that to decide where you want to start.
I started by giving up beef because it’s one of the biggest contributors to global warming (hence my fears that the earth will explode).
I didn’t end there, well because I’m not done making changes yet, but you catch my drift.
Start with one thing, keep at it until it becomes second nature and then change something else. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Or, alternatively, give yourself a time frame to change everything you want to change. A deadline, if you want, if that’s your style.
I got 99 problems but _________ ain’t one of them. Fill in the blank.
Do your research
Take your one small change and Google it (or wherever you source your information from).
Find out everything you can about it and then decide how you want to go about it. Get opinions from both sides (as in who’s for it and against it and why).
I tell you to do this because a lot of times there’s conflicting information. And taking a deeper dive will help you figure out what the best solution will be for your own life.
I don’t want you to see an article or a post somewhere along the line stating that what you thought was a good option turns out not to be. I’ve been there, it’s frustrating.
And if you hate ‘homework’ or you really don’t have time for this, you just want somebody to say “do this and this, avoid that”, then email me. I’ll do it for you.
Choose the best option for you
Your head might be swimming after your Google-scapades, so now is the time to recollect yourself. Ask yourself what your expectations were before compared to what they are now.
Is it even possible for you to implement the change based on what’s available to you (Your income, where you live and your circumstances)?
If everything went smoothly for you and you know exactly what you must do then jump right in. Today marks the start of your journey to save the world.
If you feel like you’re in limbo and it’s just not realistic or possible for you to do what you originally wanted, take a deep breath. Be gracious with yourself.
Is there a way for you to make a trade-off and choose an option that still makes a difference?
If not, permit yourself to let this one go. You are not tied to it. Make a small change in another area, your second choice. Don’t worry, there are thousands of little problems you can choose to fix.
Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it just right. Especially if your small change is a product.
Luckily for you, the sustainable industry is growing and you get to try out a few options to find what suits you best.
We live in a dynamic world with many creative solutions.
Nothing is set in stone
If you’ve been at something for a while and it’s just not making sense for you anymore, you have permission to stop doing it.
A part of living a sustainable lifestyle is to enjoy it. And if something feels like a burden on you, you should be able to let it go without feeling guilty.
You can always pick it up again when you’re better able to, or try something completely different. It’s yours to experiment with.
Another thing that might happen is a change in scientific thinking. Some concepts in sustainable research are like fad foods. You know, those foods that are good for you one week and bad for you the next.
Research just changes like that, it’s not always an exact science. So, if you find out that something you’ve been doing isn’t actually deemed sustainable anymore, find out why and change as you need to.
This journey is a series of constant changes, it teaches you to be flexible.
Easing the transition
Take your time
The biggest challenge you might face is overwhelm. It can be overwhelming to start something new, to figure out who you can trust, to wrap your head around concepts.
It takes a while to get used to. You can take your time to get used to the idea of making a change and ease yourself into it.
Break old habits
We are creatures of habit. We take a lot of things we do for granted because they’re just so familiar to us. And when it comes time to change them, we struggle to keep it up, or we simply forget to.
When you’re giving something up, find something else to replace it with. Build a new habit along with breaking an old one.
If your small change involves switching to a better alternative it’s easier to implement, but if you’re giving something up then you should find something you enjoy to put in its place to make it easier for yourself.
Set up fool proof systems for yourself
Life is a rush. It’s why we rely on convenience. And it’s no secret that a sustainable lifestyle is anything but convenient.
So, to make it easier for yourself, set up ways to make the sustainable option the more convenient one.
I like to shop online. And what I do is I only look through sustainable wholesale websites. These are businesses that I know and trust.
And the result of this is that I’m not aware of any other online shops that aren’t sustainable. I rely on businesses I know, making it difficult for me to find ones that I don’t. Convenient, yes?
Perhaps a simpler example would be to stock reusable shopping bags in your hand bag, so you can never forget them.
Be patient and kind to yourself
Cut yourself some slack. You are not carrying the world on your shoulders. Some things might not work out for you, and that doesn’t mean you failed.
If you don’t have the resources or the knowledge available to you, it’s no fault of your own.
Be patient and know that you may find a better way in time and you will succeed at your transition when you are able to.
Don’t feel guilty when you can’t get something to work for you, be kind to yourself in these moments and take what you need to care for your own wellbeing.
Getting around obstacles
Depending on where you live, your income, your health, your own knowledge and the amount of information you have access to, odds are you won’t be able to tap into every resource you need in order to live a sustainable lifestyle.
Some things just won’t be viable for you. It’s important to know that before you start this journey because you will have to make trade-offs.
However, the beauty of the imperfect state of sustainability we find ourselves in is that you can choose the next best alternative.
Do you know how annoying it is trying to find a sustainable clothing brand in South Africa that actually has clothes I can wear?
So, because I don’t have access to a suitable sustainable brand, I choose to go for South African-owned brands. Because it still helps the economy and provides an income for people in my own country.
It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
Sometimes if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. You could be searching for a solution from somebody else for years and not find it.
The one thing about the sustainable movement is that it creates the space for unique solutions.
In some areas there just aren’t enough options, so finding what works for you might not even exist until you bring it into existence.
If it means you have to do something major then take the leap. Who knows where it will take you.
Advocating for change
How amazing would it be to not have to encounter all these problems when trying to live a sustainable lifestyle? To not even have to look at a label, just trust that it’s good.
We have these problems because we’re trying to change in a system that doesn’t always allow us to do that.
So, what do you do when the system is lousy? You advocate to change it, of course.
Like the way I talked about combatting carbon emissions. Demanding better solutions from businesses, writing to policy makers, signing petitions, that sort of thing.
Honestly, for me, it’s one of the main parts of living a sustainable lifestyle. But if that’s not you and you’re not comfortable with it, it’s really not a mandatory thing. It’s just something I believe makes a big impact.
Dealing with being the odd one
I always squirm when someone asks me why I’m vegetarian, or why I’m so weird.
It’s not a great feeling knowing that you’re the odd one out. Because we’re such social creatures, being different has the risk of making us social outcasts.
If you’re worried about what your family will say and you don’t know how to explain, focus on your biggest motivator. Simply state one reason why, just a simple fact.
There was an episode on New Girl where Nick and Schmidt had a contractor who was vegan. And he simply said, “It takes 53 gallons of water to make one egg, and that’s why I’m vegan”.
I was really impressed, because it’s so simple, and yet so effective. Confidence is key, really. Knowing exactly what to say can help your case a lot.
But you always have the choice of keeping your private life private. You don’t have to proclaim it to the world if you don’t want to.
The mindset shift
I’m not going to lie, mindset can hold you back. The ideas that you, and the people around you, have about your lifestyle and your worldview has a significant impact on what you will and won’t do.
And there are two things I hear almost every single time I mention sustainable lifestyle to anyone who doesn’t know much about it.
“I could never sacrifice X and Y, I wouldn’t be able to live without it.” (mostly this is about giving up meat and cheese). And “Isn’t that like mega expensive? I wouldn’t pay that much.”
Here’s the deal, those arguments are mindset problems. Because when you choose sustainable alternatives as opposed to conventional ones, you are not sacrificing anything.
And yes, a lot of those alternatives are expensive. But they’re not the only options and, also, they’re not expensive, their price reflects their true cost.
Ever wonder why everything is so cheap? It’s because somebody else in another corner of the world is paying the price with their life.
Harsh reality, I know. I don’t mean to be a downer, but you have to understand what you’re dealing with here.
Quality over Quantity
When you’re used to buying stuff just for the heck of it, it becomes a habit. You get used to the fact that you have things available to you for cheap and when they break you can just replace it.
But now you’re trying not to harm the environment and treating labourers fairly. You can’t do that for cheap.
Remember when I said you have to break old habits? It turns out mindset is a habit too.
A little mantra that I always say to myself is ‘Quality over Quantity’. I let it sit in my mind whenever I’m making a big purchase. Because I’m a money hoarder and I need to reassure myself.
I know that whatever I’m spending my money on is going to last me possibly a lifetime and I won’t have to replace it because it’s quality, it won’t break.
You also need to let go of thinking you need stuff. You don’t need the 20 scented candles, or that 5th pair of jeans. You can find novelty and fulfilment in other areas of your life.
So, now that I’ve told you to lay off the stuff you’re probably thinking that you’re going to be left with less.
I was always hung up on less. Less waste, less consuming, less impact on the planet. I thought that if I kept reducing, kept trying to lighten my footprint it would be ok.
I would succeed in not harming the planet because I’m removed from it. It was a mindset of scarcity.
It turns out that kind of thinking left me constrained, limited, anxious and unhappy. Because as humans we are not removed from nature, we are apart of it.
Growing up, my family and I went on many holidays to the bush. The Kruger Park was my favourite place to visit.
In the bush when there is abundance, everything flourishes. But when there’s scarcity it’s a great cause for concern.
So, going into this, you need to shift your thinking from scarcity to abundance. You are not making sacrifices, you are choosing to fill your life with better, healthier and more positive practices.
Your lifestyle will be abundant in valuable belongings that have a life of their own. You will be filled with appreciation for how they came into existence.
You will gain more joy when you choose to bring new things into your life because they will have a positive connection with people and the planet.
You will have more meaningful experiences in your life with the people you love.
And rather than seeing your efforts as a reduction, you will be able to see it as a better utilization of our resources and being more purposeful with how they are used.
And you can have this mindset with everything you choose to do, not just with owning stuff.
You might feel sometimes that you’re not doing enough. That your practices aren’t sustainable enough. That you make mistakes too often.
That you can’t possibly call yourself sustainable because Sally on Instagram is doing this, this and this and that is waay more than what you’re doing.
Let me tell you something. No one can 100% call their lives sustainable. That person living in their yurt on the mountain eating weird foraged food can’t completely call their life sustainable (they stepped on an endangered mushroom).
You have to tell yourself that you are doing everything you can with what you have available to you.
If you don’t have access to the organic, regenerative, vegan farmstall Sally goes to, then how are you supposed to do what she does?
You are not inauthentic. And don’t let anybody tell you that.
Find your people
When you’re around people that don’t understand what you’re doing or why, it’s hard to cultivate the mindset to keep up the good work.
You have to find people who can support you and be there for you when you need advice or just a sounding board. People who actually know what you’re talking about.
Follow people on Instagram, strike up conversations, join Facebook Groups. You have the Internet at your fingertips. And if you’re shy and you don’t want to go approaching total strangers then email me, girl.
Having people around you that understand you and share ideas with you just makes this journey so much easier and way more fun.
It’s a journey, not a destination
There will be changes and there will be trade-offs and sometimes what you started out wanting to reach as a goal is not what’s viable for you and your lifestyle anymore.
And perhaps you came into this thinking that you’re going to make all your changes within a certain amount of time and that will be it. You’ll have your happily ever after.
It doesn’t really work like that. This lifestyle is a constant ebb and flow. Your life changes, the science changes, you learn things that you didn’t know before.
You’re on a journey from one place to another, and when you get there you won’t stay. Perhaps you will, but I think it’s our nature to keep wanting to move forward.
And I think you’re ready. It’s time to put your best foot forward.