8 Mistakes Beginners Make When Transitioning to a Sustainable Lifestyle

Sustainable Living Mistakes

You might think it a good idea to move to a sustainable lifestyle, but many have found this hard. Not because it is hard, but because they did not prepare well.

Many of the more sustainable choices do not happen overnight, so you need to be prepared to spend time changing over and not count on being green tomorrow.

The more research you do, the greener you can become. This means not believing the first information you come across, and remember a company that spends a lot of money on advertising and promoting how green they are, may not be. The money they spent on this would be better spent on finding ways to save yet more on their carbon footprint. 

Find many sources and check your facts carefully before making a choice. Everything you buy has a negative effect on the planet, so buy carefully and only after due consideration if your intention is a greener lifestyle.

Unfortunately many companies make claims that are not true, or they make them in a deliberate way that is very misleading. Think about this; ‘our liquid is 100% sustainable, has no additives or chemicals.’ Sounds good, but what if this was fruit juice? That should be natural, sustainable and have no additives or chemicals. That is the way fruit naturally is, so the boast on the label is only telling you something that should happen anyway. What about the packaging and the journey to the store? How sustainable is that? This company is trying to look good without doing anything to make their product more eco-friendly. And there are companies who outright lie. Do not believe everything without checking. 

Going green should not feel like a struggle or a hardship. You should be happy about it and feel proud of yourself. If it feels too much like a dreaded chore, you are less likely to continue. Limit yourself to doing things you find easy and are prepared to continue doing. Undertaking too many changes at the one time can also be off putting, so start with one or two and when they start to come naturally, add a few more, until one day you find you are doing everything you can and haven’t even realized it.

Most people start a new project with excitement, which turns to doubt that you are doing it right, or that it really suits you. This can then become an inconvenience or nuisance, and that is when you feel stopping is preferable to continuing. Make sure you do not reach this point. What is right for you is not necessarily the things that are most popular, so choose your own road to greenness and not someone else’s. Start small and be content with even a tiny bit of sustainability.

Guilt and or inadequacy is another common feeling among new sustainable fans. They feel they are not doing enough, or see others who do so much more and feel inferior. Do not feel guilty. Anything you do will benefit the environment, however small, and as for others, well let them do whatever they want and get on with your own journey. Remember the tale of the hare and tortoise, (they raced and the hare was so pleased with his speed he messed about and the tortoise overtook him and won), that could be you. This is not about who is doing the most today, it is about keeping doing it. The winner is not the one who gets there first, but the one who lasts longest.

If you make a bad choice, do not waste time feeling guilty about it. Learn from your mistakes, do better research next time, and move on. Guilt is a worthless emotion unless you use it to avoid the same error next time, so go forward to the next time rather than wallowing in the past. What is done generally can’t be undone, so move past this and do the best you can.

You need to forget about others, be they store assistants who look at you dubiously for bringing your own containers, stores or businesses who do not appreciate you questioning how ‘green’ their products really are, or friends and family. This is your choice and your life, and while everyone will have opinions, some expressed louder than others, ignore them, be open to suggestions and help, but disregard the negatives. The classic expression of ‘you did that wrong’ is no use whatsoever. You should ask the speaker, ‘so how do I do it right?’ it should also be said, if the person really wanted to help they would say something more like, ‘why not try it this way?’ they would be helping with their advice and or experience and trying to help you move along without criticizing.

There is an important thing to remember; you may have chosen to go green, but did the rest of your family? Did you ask them about your decision, or decide alone? Do not try to push your choices onto other family members, it might cause a rift. Let them make their own choices. You can try to guide them, but gently, so as to avoid annoyance and bad feelings. Not only will this cause problems at home, it will make it harder if not impossible for you to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.

This applies to friends too. You can suggest they do certain things, but do not judge them harshly if they prefer not to, and don’t try to push them into doing what you want. This could be called bullying. Accept their choices as they accept yours.

1. Time

There are green living choices that take a lot of time to put into action. One example of this is growing your own food. Not only do you need to buy, or prepare, seeds and plant them, but you have to wait for them to grow and bear ‘fruit’.

Solar power is more or less instant once you have installed a system, but building up a supply to use when there is no sunlight, isn’t. While this does not take long, do not turn off your energy connection until you are sure you can provide enough for dark nights, cloudy winter days and even sunny but snowy days when a fall of snow blocks your panels.

Start slowly with small steps. This gives you the time to make sure your choice is the right one. Many people have jumped in to try and become green overnight, but few, (perhaps even none), have succeeded. This is a lifestyle choice and one you only want to make once. Changing your mind after the fact causes more damage than if you had done nothing.

A rushed choice is often a bad choice, so take you time and get it right. Do not be pushed into doing something just for something to do. Find the right thing for you and work towards it.

2. Saving Money

You can save money and be more sustainable at the same time, but perhaps not in the most obvious ways. Buying cheaper solar panels for instance will not necessarily save you money, or help the planet much, as they often work less well and last a lot less time. 

The way to save money is to grow your own fruit and vegetables, make your own items when possible, and mend and repair rather than replace in many cases. 

3. Myths

There are many myths and false facts surrounding sustainable living choices. The Internet is a wonderful place to find information, but it is also a forum for false facts and misleading information. People often post things as if they were the all-seeing expert on the subject, when actually, they heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend… and have no idea if it is true or not. 

One such myth is that we are told to ‘buy locally’ to save the planet. This is not necessarily true. Local produce grown in a non-sustainable, non-environmentally friendly way, is not as green as other items located some distance away and wholly made in an eco-friendly way. Once again, you need to do some research before you can take the ‘buy locally’ as fact.

4. Not as Green as you Believed

We generally tend to believe what we are told when shopping, so if a product is offered as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or with some other environmentally friendly tag, we tend to believe it and choose that product. However, this is often not true and many companies make this claim because they are partially green, not wholly. Read everything carefully and if you are uncertain, ask.

In the ‘danger to the planet’ list, first, right at the top is plastic. For that reason, many changed from plastic bags to cotton totes, thinking they were helping. A study by Danish government scientists’ states, ‘to cause less danger that a single-use plastic grocery bag, a cotton bag has to be used over 20,000 times, (apparently that equates to around 55 years of use). This is due to the massive levels of water and chemicals which damage the ozone in order to grow cotton. 

The answer – use a bag you already have and use it until it is no longer functional. Then recycle it correctly. Perhaps by then a different solution will have been found.

Remember the ‘plastic problem’ is about how people dispose of it, as much as the plastic itself.

N.B. Almond milk is another product touted as being better for the planet, but it isn’t. Like cotton, the amount of water it needs to grow makes it less green that normal milk. Try soy or oat milk. Neither is without a negative impact, but this is less than its competitors.

Not all of the best solutions are green, or may not seem so. Buying a plastic container that can be refilled might end up being better than an eco-friendly one that has to be thrown away. These are things you need to evaluate. The obvious or seemingly best can actually be the worst.

5. Unnecessary Buying

Buying a load of sustainable items you don’t really need is worse than buying one non-sustainable thing. Everything has an impact, even if it is only the transport to get it to the store where you bought it, and often your journey to buy things.

The Difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’. Impulse buying or ‘just because it was on offer’ leads to much waste. Buying less will also help declutter your home and make it easier to clean. This is a small step to helping the planet too.

6. Pride

Until recently mending clothes or buying second hand items was seen as a failure. You didn’t have enough money to buy new was how people saw this. Now that is no longer the case, (at least for people who care about the planet), and it is seen as the caring thing to do.

Buy used goods or swap when possible and be proud of this choice.

Make gifts instead of buying, and be proud of this too. Once again this is no longer seen as a low-income or overly ‘crafty’ person, but as a caring gesture.

7. Lack of Research

Many tend to go with the trend, so if something is said often enough to be green, we buy it in the mistaken belief it is the best. Often it isn’t.

Lightbulbs are one example.

Changing from old bulbs to greener ones is something most people have already done – or have they?

CFL bulbs are hyped as greener, however they aren’t. LED is the best option by far. They use less energy and last about four times longer, so need replacing much less frequently. Then CFLs contain toxic mercury, which LEDs don’t, so anyone who thought they were helping with their green CFL lights, is actually doing harm.

8. Washing by Hand

Washing dishes, or clothes, by hand may seem like a better choice, but it isn’t. This takes much more water than a dishwasher uses, and also to get dishes clean by hand the water often needs to be hotter than a dishwasher needs, so this uses more energy too.

To Sum Up

All in all common sense prevails here as just about in every facet of life. Learn all you can, make your choice, but do not jump in and try to do it all at once. A little at a time will make a difference. Do not strive to make others happy, make yourself proud.