Adopting a sustainable lifestyle does not mean you must relinquish all earthly possessions and retreat to a teepee in the woods for the remainder of this lifetime (although admittedly, this option does hold some appeal, no?).
When I tell people about the "greener" aspects of my life — whether it's my plant-based dietary choices, eco-friendly household products, or recycling and reuse habits — they often respond by saying, "I could never give up [insert pleasurable product/activity]" or, "That's way too much effort for me."
Their responses prove that sustainable living clearly has a somewhat unfavorable, uncomfortable connotation, and this presents a huge problem. Holding on to such hesitation is like closing the curtains on a play before it even begins because you think you will most definitely not dig it.
From my love for animals as a child to my studies in sustainable fashion in grad school, I've become increasingly interested in finding ways to adopt more healthy and earth-friendly habits. After lots of geeking out with green reading materials and documentaries, I've learned that it is possible to make sustainability an accessible way of life instead of a confusing chore.
Taking small steps toward this type of mindful behavior can be simple and — dare I say it? — fun. Let's debunk a few green misconceptions and explore the simple ways you can set yourself up for sustainability.
Myth: Eating sustainably is inaccessible and only for hippies/tree huggers.
Reality: Choosing organic, local, and fair trade products when possible is an easy way to lessen your impact. Not to mention, organic food is totally accessible, even if you're on a tight budget. These options are better for the soil that grows our food, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and they will more effectively nourish the body and mind, to boot. Keep it fresh and whole by disregarding packaged foods if preservatives are part of the mix.
A recent study by the Worldwatch Institute found that approximately 10 to 20 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, which damages ecosystems and results in financial strains to fisheries and tourism. The less we contribute to this widespread issue by continually buying plastic-wrapped (and often preservative-ridden) foods, the less of a mess it can be.
Myth: Disposable plastic is unavoidable.
Reality: Whenever I leave the house, I always bring reusable bags, water bottles, utensils, and food containers with me. Carrying these products around in a bag is such an easy way to reduce plastic waste, and these days many restaurants are happy to fill Tupperware in lieu of their packaging. As we are human and will not always have reusable options, consider supporting greener chains like Sweetgreen that use compostable or recyclable packaging and kindly refusing bags or extra napkins and utensils when ordering out. Lauren Singer's Trash for Tossers blog is a great resource for more ideas on simple ways to limit waste.
Myth: Eco-friendly home products are difficult to find.
I use the term "eco-friendly" to describe products that are not invasive to the environment, meaning they are manufactured ethically and sustainably, and do not contain toxic ingredients. Today, you can find organic and eco-friendly household cleaning supplies, toys, furniture, cookware, and more in almost every Whole Foods, and many natural food stores, boutiques, yoga studios, and, of course, on the interwebs. Although greener home goods may be the pricier option, think about them as an investment in the health of your home on all fronts: your body, your living space, and our planet.
Chemical-free essentials like natural cleaners are also easy enough to make yourself. I love making my own with tea tree oil, water, and white vinegar. You can fill a spray bottle with about ⅔ water, ⅓ white vinegar, and a few drops of tea tree oil as a general antibacterial surface spray. Mixing water with baking soda into a thick paste is great for grout and sticky cookware. Not sure how to concoct these magical cleaners and/or where to use them? Google it, test it, repeat.
Myth: Green beauty products don’t work as well.
Effective, organic beauty products are on the rise, thanks to eco-brands like Juice Beauty makeup, Acure Organics skin care, and Acquarella nail polish. Juice Beauty holds its makeup to organic certification standards beyond those set by the USDA. Acure Organics sources their 100 percent organic oils from a women's cooperative in Morocco. Acquarella's nail polish is nontoxic, odor-free, and responsibly sourced. You can also experiment with making your own products like toothpaste or deodorant and adding DIY oils to your skin care routine. I love to moisturize with coconut oil (it is truly a miracle) as well as avocado, sesame, and even extra-virgin olive oil.
Many chemicals in traditional beauty products are chock-full of junk that causes both external reactions and internal disasters. Studies have shown that ingredients like phthalate plasticizers and paraben preservatives — many of which are banned in other countries — are severe body pollutants that can disrupt hormone levels. These toxic chemicals can find their way into the water we drink and the air we breathe. Sound appealing?
Myth: It's challenging to find affordable, stylish clothes made sustainably and ethically.
Today, there are tons of sustainable clothing options made with organic materials available in stores and online. Brands like PACT, Hyde Organic Yoga Apparel, and even larger corporations like H&M, Timberland, and Nike all have large selections that are either made from earth-conscious materials like organic cotton or support the environment through sustainable corporate responsibility efforts. Vintage and secondhand stores are another fun option if you want to score some "new” treasures.
Approximately 97 percent of the clothes on racks in America were produced abroad, meaning tons of natural resources were used to bring them to us. Alongside softening our carbon footprint, purchasing secondhand and responsibly produced clothes will ensure that our dollars are not contributing to harmful working conditions in factories overseas.
Being a busy modern consumer doesn't mean we're excused from making mindful, sustainable choices that support the planet. It's time to drop all preconceived notions and start living a greener lifestyle. Don't knock it till you try it.
Peace, love, and sustainable happiness.