Greening your family – with less stress

Being human, we can easily become set in our habits and have a penchant towards shortcuts and laziness. It’s these attributes that have helped us evolve and become more efficient in some ways; but are also our undoing in causing us to be incredibly wasteful in other aspects.

Just as an example, the automobile has allowed us to get more done in a shorter amount of time, with less effort. Our trucks can move massive amounts of goods that could never be achieved with the horse and cart. The problem lies in not only the types of non-essential goods being shipped around the place; but also non-essential transport generally; e.g. driving a couple of miles to pick up some milk – and nothing else; or just driving around for the sake of it.

In your home, it’s these human attributes that can become very frustrating when trying to green your family; but bearing in mind these leanings, you can work around them to achieve a desired result.

The following are some ideas you can try – it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but just perhaps another perspective so you can come up with even more strategies specific to your family.

Educate – gently

People don’t like to be told what to do without knowing why they are having to do it. Understanding is the key to aquiescence. Telling your family they should turn off the lights when leaving a room as it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do probably won’t cut it.

Use family times such as dinner to outline the logic behind switching off lights, for example “sure, it only costs a few cents to leave a light on, but it all adds up and much of our electricity comes from the burning of coal, which generates pollution and other damage through mining”.

Your sales pitch for environmentally practice needs to be geared to your audience; whether it’s your partner or children. Probably one of the most important issues to get around is the “but it’s such a small thing” attitude.

The best way to approach this is to get them to understand that millions of people doing little things really does make a difference; either for the better or for the worse.

Softly, softly catchee monkee

With your green awakening, it’s possible you’ll awaken the evangelist within you. It can be an exciting time, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that your family will feel the same level of excitement.

A barrage of green “thou shalts” will probably meet with eye rolling and resistance as it will seem like a lot of hard work; so focus on one change at a time. It may seem like progress is excruciatingly slow; but even 1 change a month is 12 changes a year.

Visual reminders

Laziness doesn’t mean just physical laziness – it also refers to mental processes as well. Additionally, we are bombarded with so much information each day, it can be hard to establish new environmentally friendly habits. This is where visual cues come in.

Some people go as far as putting up post-it notes around the place to remind their family members to switch off lights etc.; but something I learned as a manager in the fast food industry is that too many signs have the opposite effect – people just start to ignore them or become blind to them.

More effective visual cues are ones that actually perform a function rather than issue an instruction.

For example, lets say you want your family to start cutting down on the amount of water being used for showers to 4 minutes maximum. The shower in a home is like a wormhole in space – time becomes a very flexible thing. I know that I often zone out in the shower and what seems like seconds can actually be minutes :).

Instead of trying to get your family members to accurately gauge the time they spend in the shower, spend a couple of dollars on a shower timer. There are digital models available, but the one we use is basically just an egg timer on a suction cup. By placing this next to the hot water control in your shower, all it requires is a flick of the wrist to get the timer working.

Location, location, location

If you’re wanting your family members to change a certain aspect of their behavior to be more environmentally friendly, make it easier for them to do so.

The kitchen bin tends to become a receptacle for everything – real garbage, recyclables and items that can be composted. If your recycling bin and compost heap is at the other end of the yard, chances are your family will be resistant to using them. It’s back to the laziness issue.

To encourage the proper separation of garbage, have different bins in the kitchen. If you don’t have room for 3 bins, then having a benchtop tidy for food scraps works pretty well and just a corner of the bench for recyclables will also work.

The location rule also applies to a lot of other cleaning type activities you’d like to see your family participate more in. Keep a full ranging of cleaning tools and green cleaners under the kitchen sink as the kitchen is the area most likely to be where a mess is made.

Getting organized

If you’ve ever done the weekly shopping and then heard the familiar “we’re out of X!” a few hours later; you’ll understand how frustrating this can be if it happens year in, year out. Often another trip will need to be made just to get product X.

There’s a couple of things you can do.

The first is to have a notepad or whiteboard in the kitchen where your family can add items to it as they use the last of them. Make whatever you used is firmly attached to something so it doesn’t wind up in other rooms of the house or the pen mysteriously disappears as they have a tendency to do.

Even the recording of items needed next shopping day can be a hit and miss affair; so buy in bulk those (essential) items you’ll know will get used before their expiry date is up and then maintain a minimum level. This is also a good approach for disaster preparedness.

Covert operations and the subtle switcheroo

As mentioned, change often needs to be a gradual thing. If on your next shopping trip you come back with an earth friendly version of everything; there may be a rebellion.

This can also apply to meals. Reducing meat consumption is a major positive step in cutting your family’s environmental impact – but by reducing portions of meat, it needs to be replaced with something else. If you replace it with more of a vegetable that no-one particularly likes; you’ll hit problems.

Meat eaters usually eat meat because they like the taste; so you can try experimenting with mock meat to see if you find a brand that hits the spot. There’s certainly a far better range of mock meat products available today than even just a few years ago.

Sometimes it also helps to hide greener food items in something else while tastes adjust. For example, I always ate white rice and despised brown rice. But when the brown rice had some type of sauce with it; then I didn’t mind it. After a while, my tastes switched and now I’m a brown rice fan – even without a sauce to mask it.

You can also start making the switch in other consumables around the home too. Start of with something like toilet paper and then make other gradual changes and talk about the changes as you make them; the logic behind it. While these items may cost a little more, bear in mind the other savings you’ll be making through having a greener family, such as reduced energy and fuel costs.

While on the topic of energy – substantial savings can be made by being a little sneaky when it comes to heating and cooling. Try turning down the thermostat on your heater and hot water service a little and see if it meets with any complaint. If no-one says anything, try a little more until such time the groaning begins; then backtrack a little. The same sort of approach can be taken with your summer air conditioning.

Make it fun, offer green rewards

Humans learn better through a reward system than punishment.. well, most of us anyway. While I’m a little old school in feeling that children shouldn’t receive special rewards for something they have been instructed to do by their parents in terms of day to day living; there can be some value in using positive reinforcement for issues that are challenging; particularly with younger children.

What is important is the nature of the reward.

For example, rewarding your children for remembering to turn off lights by giving them junk food somewhat defeats the purpose of the exercise. Make the reward more relevant to what they’ve done in an environmental sense. For example, perhaps taking them to a green festival or park and letting them know how their own efforts are reflected in the place you go to. It just gives an added sense of purpose to their positive actions.

If the gentle approach fails

Of course, don’t forget the more traditional approaches of getting your family to fall into line – screaming, cursing, punishment, digging your heels in, the cold shoulder, going on strike, asserting “because I said so” or a good old fashioned whipping – these can be stress releases too ;).

Do you have some strategies that you’ve found successful in greening your family? Please share your tips below!