This is the fifth article in the Sustainability Champion series. While this article can be read independently, we recommend that you read the first, second, third and fourth articles on what the program is about.
All this while, we have been talking about how you get on board with the sustainability challenge. Now, I am going to talk to you about the hardest part of the program: getting someone else, someone you live with, onboard too.
I will elaborate on why I think this is the hardest part.
My mother visited me recently. And since the moment she stepped in, I was constantly telling her what she can bring inside the house and what she can’t. I told her how she needs to shop if at all she is going to get groceries. By the second day, she had had enough. She labeled me crazy.
Frankly, I am not surprised. For a lot of people who look at how I live right now, it seems crazy. I understand. Why would anyone go beyond and choose sustainability over convenience?
But by the end of the week, that she was there, my mom got used to my practices. She even liked it.
So, this is my question to you today.
Are your housemates as sustainable as you are?
It was okay for my mom to come home and be surprised at my practices in the beginning. But if we were living together, I cannot imagine going through these changes without having her on board.
Imagine me trying to stop plastic while my mom brings in more and more, making my attempts futile.
“Honestly, it’s really challenging to get people you live with onboard. There are so many things you do to cut plastic out of your house, and then suddenly, your father brings home a disposable razor, or his favourite packaged pomegranate juice. While my mother was supportive from the beginning, getting my father to embrace this has been a slow process.” says Sreelakshmi, former Trek Coordinator. “Now, he reminds my mother to hand him the cloth bag when he goes out shopping. I see that as a huge step ahead!”
That is why it is important before you start on the 3-step process, to have an open conversation with your housemates about this. This could be your family or as in my case, friends, who I stay with.
Whoever it is, it is important to have them on board and set some common expectations.
Here’s some tips on what and how you should open conversations at home:
1. Talk about what you are trying to do
When I began my Sustainability Champion Program, I told Aswati, my housemate, that I want no waste from our house to go out and that I was hoping we can get to that stage within 2 months. I explained why I am doing this, and how I plan to go about it.
I realised that talking to her really helped her understand what I was doing. She seemed interested to join in too.
In most cases, you will not have such co-operative housemates. Which is why we will talk about point number 2.
2. Discuss if they want to be a part of it
Aswati was extremely supportive. She said she would do everything in her power to turn our house into a zero waste one.
In cases where they do not want to be a part of it, talk to them about what you are doing and focus on reducing your own personal waste. Over time, your housemates will see how easy it is, and how effective it is too. They will soon follow along. I have seen even the most stubborn housemates come around.
3. Set out rules that all of you will follow
Discuss with your housemates and talk about the do’s and don’ts that you all will follow. Be easy on them and don’t get too strict with them all in the beginning, especially if they are already quite reluctant. You don’t want to turn them away from doing this.
Me and my housemate decided to stop getting home deliveries as a conscious decision. This was awesome. Over time, she started talking to me about what are the things she is avoiding from her side to not generate waste.
“My husband comes from a very, let’s say, consumerist family. Like most of us. We are all living in a city where our necessities are just handed to us with Swiggy and other services thriving. So it is very difficult for someone who has lived like that to suddenly switch to a zero waste lifestyle. So we compromise – sometimes, when we order in, we make sure it is from places who gives it to us in compostable packaging.” says Swathi Chatrapathy, Chief Editor. “What I am happy about is that even my husband’s friends know my house is a no-plastic zone, so everyone is very careful about what they get us.”
Another example I can give you from my experience: I told my housemate that I will take care of all the grocery purchasing. Having gotten used to knowing where to buy what, this was easy for me. Also, Aswati doesn’t enjoy cooking. So, this simple arrangement meant that we were both able to reduce kitchen waste significantly.
4. Discuss what the consequences will be if either of you go astray
You can agree to point out better practices and not take it to heart in the beginning. This makes it easier to have each other’s backs.
Aswati and I are very comfortable with each other. This is why we do not hesitate to tell each other things we are not happy about. This made it easier for us to put each other on track.
These are a few points to discuss. You will have more – such as setting up the system at home on how you will do your audits, who will do what, how we will manage guests etc.
So, have the time to talk it out with your housemates before you even go further.
It is important to have housemates who are as crazy about sustainability as you are! When I was starting on my own sustainability journey, it was not easy. It was easy to give up. What I found to be helpful to keep me on track and stay focused was sharing what I was doing with my flatmate, getting her used to my practices and encouraging her and everyone else to get on board.
This has gotten me to become stronger in my efforts. And over time, it has become easy to get more and more people to adopt small steps to kick start their own journey.
This has been extremely rewarding.
It is the same phenomena with my colleagues at the office. Their initial reservations turned to pure joy and enthusiasm.
So, get started already! Convince your family, siblings, surprise someone with a gift or talk about your journey more in your social media. All of them are great ways to get another person involved.
Feel free to share these articles with them. Let me know how it goes! You can get in touch with me by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or just leaving a comment below.
Edited by Aswati Anand.