Sustainable Commitment Contracts

Happy Earth Day! I know I’m a few days late, but better late than never right?

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic the amazing three days of climate striking and activism that were planned have been effectively cancelled. Like most other environmentalists, I had lots of plans for what I’d be doing this Earth Day none of which panned out. I had just gotten involved in planning my local strikes, but then covid hit and my university shut down and I was making a last second cross country move back to my hometown.

Luckily, a whole host of environmental groups banded together to make sure the 50’th Earth Day was still marked by celebration and activism. This resulted in the 72 hour long Earth Day Live stream from April 22nd until the 24th that involved discussion with a diverse range of activists, musical performances, and like any good earthy crunchy event yoga classes. While the stream is no longer live, you can still watch a lot of the content on the Future Coalition youtube channel and I highly recommend it.

For my part, I think one of the best things you can do to celebrate Earth Day is write yourself a sustainable commitment contract. Sort of like New Year’s resolutions, but it’s a list of things you can do to help the environment.

I wrote one for myself in October 2018 and it truly marked a turning point in my lifestyle and mindset. I was wanting to change my lifestyle for several months prior, but I was feeling overwhelmed with how far I felt like I needed to go to get my lifestyle where I wanted it. At the time, I was very focused on going zero waste and it felt near impossible to get to the point I wanted to be at.

Writing the contract helped me focus on a handful of tasks I felt were most important and accessible to me instead of getting overwhelmed trying to do everything all at once.  It was my way of setting specific goals instead of having a vague desire to align my lifestyle with my values.

Writing things down and getting to check them off of the list also helped to keep me motivated and celebrate my wins as I went along. It felt so good to be accomplishing what I set out to do.

However, there are a few things on my list I haven’t accomplished yet. For example, refusing excess packaging and utensils when I order take out. I tried this, but usually employees are so in their habits they’re just going to give you the extra stuff anyways. I’ve heard of some zero wasters being fairly aggressive with employees but I personally don’t feel hassling service workers is a good way to represent the movement. Instead, I now preference restaurants who allow you to bring your own containers in store or have environmentally friendly packaging. For example, there’s a burrito joint in my college town that just hands you your burrito wrapped in foil, no bag or extra napkins to deal with.

As you might be able to tell from the commitment I wrote, I was focused mostly on going zero waste at the time and wasn’t nearly as educated on the multi-faceted concept we call sustainability. Overtime my focus has changed and I’ve taken up activism, vegetarian eating, and local shopping as equally powerful ways to green my lifestyle. So even though I haven’t done everything on my list, it’s important to allow yourself some room for flexibility and growth.

Now, what types of actions should you set out to do? You can of course get ideas from the picture of my commitment above, but here are some other ideas:

Reduce consumption of animal products in your diet. Get involved in environmental activism. Green your transit as much as possible. Start picking up trash in your neighborhood. Campaign for green candidates. Shop locally.

These are just some of the goals you could set, and the are hundreds of other options. I encourage you to set whatever goals are exciting and accessible to you.

Now that we’ve covered a little bit on how you can green your lifestyle and how writing a contract can help you, how exactly should you go about doing it?

  1. Carefully consider why you want to live more green. What is your motivation? What will make you want to keep trying to change your lifestyle when you are tempted to go back to your old ways? For me, it’s because I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem as well as protect the future of humanity.
  2. Carefully consider which goals you want to put on the contract. Once you write it down you are committed to do these actions, so make sure you choose things you can actually do. If you’re like me and were overwhelmed by all the possibilities, it may help to brainstorm a larger list. Then highlight the things you want to do most and recompile a shorter list.
  3. Be as concrete as possible when writing out your goals. For example, “buy gifts locally” is a lot more specific than simply “shop locally.”
  4. Put your contract somewhere you’ll see it often. For me, that’s my journal but hanging it up on a wall is also a good option. Doing so creates a natural visual cue to remind you of your habit change effort to help prevent you from going on autopilot.
  5. Make it look nice. This is more optional but worth doing especially if you’re going to look at it a lot. I included a quote I learned from the Shelbizlee YouTube channel, “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.” This quote always makes me feel better and energizes me when I reference my contract. Include any decorations that help inspire you.
  6. Sign the contract and get going!

The reason I love these sustainable commitment contracts for Earth Day is that they embody the concept of Earth Day every day. If you’ve been looking for the nudge or motivation to change your life for the greener consider this it! For me, when times are crazy like during this pandemic it helps me to have goals. I find the distraction beneficial and it helps me focus on something positive, so right now might actually be the perfect time to start changing your lifestyle!

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being that type of person. I know everyone is in different circumstances right now during this crisis and has different coping mechanisms. If for any reason at all you’re not up for a lifestyle change right now I 100% respect that.

Happy Earth Day everyone and stay safe.

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