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The Power of Habit for Building Everyday Sustainability

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. All opinions are 100% mine.

New Year. New Goals. Greener Planet!

I’ve never been much for setting New Year’s resolutions. They always seemed ridiculously out of reach. That is, until I realized that making small changes to personal habits can make a big difference. Ten years ago, my husband and I decided to reduce our carbon footprint. We achieved some large gains by shortening my work commute (which is now zero because I chucked my 9-5 job to become a travel blogger), purchasing a home with solar panels and transitioning to cars with a high MPG.

That said, I have a sustainability guilt complex because I’m a nut for travel and my air flights throw a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, I need to make a lot of adjustments elsewhere in my life to compensate.

It’s doable though, and anyone can have a positive impact on sustainability by consistently making small changes. The Nature Conservancy has published an Everyday Sustainability Guide that suggests seven easy steps for making our planet a little greener and a little more sustainable.

I really identified with step #1, which is “leaving behind the all or nothing mindset.”  The concept is that you don’t have to become overwhelmed by making drastic changes in your behavior or lifestyle. You don’t have to do as I did and buy a Prius or solar panels. But you can make smaller changes to your everyday habits, which can accrue earth-friendly dividends in the long run.

California El Dorado Forest hiker on bridge

On Making and Breaking New Habits

Charles Duhigg wrote the best-selling book “The Power of Habit”. In it, he identifies three elements to creating a new habit loop: routine, reward and cues. New habits are created through repetition and routine. But you need to get your brain acclimated to the new routine by using rewards and cues. For instance, I wanted to implement a habit of using my own reusable grocery bags. The esoteric reward is less plastic in the landfill, but my greedy brain needed a more selfish reward. By bringing my own bags, I was rewarded by avoiding the $.25 fee for disposable bags. My cue is to spin out of the car and pivot to the trunk where I grab my bags before going into the store.

I’ve tried to bring small sustainable habits into not only my home life but by travel life as well.

Running errands in Downtown Redwood City developing sustainainable habits

Two Small Sustainable Habits I’ve Already Developed

Reusable Bags

I’ve institutionalized the habit above and am very consistent about bringing my own bags while doing my shopping. I have extended this to my travels and always bring a small tote bag that I can use for shopping and laundry.

Reward: Save $.25.
Cue: Keeping the bags at the ready, either in my car or in my luggage.

Walking Whenever Possible

Weather and time permitting, I make a point of walking my errands to the post office, doctor’s office, drugstore and movie theater. I bring this habit on my travels, usually preferring to walk over taking taxis.

Reward: Exercise and fresh air.
Cue: Rather than defaulting to the car or a taxi, I always ask myself if I have the time for a walk.

Read More: Last summer, I walked all over Bristol UK looking for street art and Reykjavik Iceland looking for baked goods and weird museums.

Tallinn 100 Olle Koht drinking beer

One New Sustainable Habit I’m Going to Develop

The Nature Conservancy guide recommends picking just one specific thing that you can get behind and be consistent about. My goal this year will be to eliminate plastic water bottles. I have largely accomplished this at home by stocking reusable bottles in the cupboard. But traveling to a country with a dodgy water supply makes meeting this goal very difficult. I’ve gotten sick all over the planet (thanks Mexico, Ecuador and Portugal!), and am keen to avoid it. But, I have always felt guilty about purchasing and tossing all of those water bottles.

One good way for avoiding the bad bacteria is to drink good bacteria in the form of tasty craft beers, which you can see me doing above after a long day of scoping street art in Tallinn Estonia. However, staying hydrated with water is necessary too. So, I talked to Santa about it and he got me a SteriPEN UV water purifier for Christmas. This gadget sterilizes tap water, eliminating 99.9% of bacteria, protozoa and viruses. I’ll be taking it on my upcoming trips to Mexico and Colombia. I’m also going to look at implementing some additional suggestions for how to travel with a more sustainable ethic.

Reward: Not having to purchase bottled water.
Cue: Just leave the SteriPEN in my bag so that it’s always packed.

What one new sustainable habit can you develop this year? I encourage you to get the Nature Conservancy guide to get some ideas. Please report back here and comment below with your ideas.

Click here to sign up for the Everyday Sustainability Guide.

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Friday 11th of January 2019

Go you! It's so important to make these little changes and inspire others to do them too! I have reduced my use of plastic a lot in the past year (still struggling with some essentials) and am cycling or using public transport as much as I can in the city! It's inspiring to see how many people are joining the gang and are talking about it on their platforms!!

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