Many of my past jobs have been with non-profits. It was the world I submerged myself in at the start of my college career in Environmental Studies. Fast forward to last year, seven years after taking my first non-profit job, and I switched paths dramatically when I left my role as a Volunteer Coordinator to pursue freelance photography. It wasn't a decision I made lightly, but I was an artist at heart, and my non-profit salary did very little to address the $60,000 of student loan debt looming over my head. I thought photography was the perfect way to be creative and make a living.
In this new field, I have a lot of corporate clients. I do headshots for businesses, retouch photos for major online retailers, and help small business owners create and market their brands. I find my job rewarding with one major exception: the priorities of the industry. In this commercially-driven work environment, profit comes first and after that, convenience. Environmentalism and stewardship for the planet are pretty low on the list. This has caused a lot of issues for me, internally, as I battle with how to address this mindset and work in this field at the same time. There have been many instances of the people around me making unsustainable decisions, and I haven't known how to respond.
I wrote this article mainly for myself, to remind me of how I'd like to ideally tackle these situations as they arise, but hopefully it helps you too. Maybe you have a coworker that never recycles, a friend that throws cigarette butts on the ground, or a plastic-happy relative. If we can all address these issues (however small) on an individual level, we'll see widespread change.
So, without further rambling, here are my tips on how to react to unsustainable mindsets.
1. Don't get angry
When someone does something inconsiderate, anger knots up in my chest. It's a logical response, I think, to be angry or upset when someone is apathetic about their impact. But getting angry and either silently seething or scolding the person has never worked out for me in the past. While sometimes I simply can't help having this response (like when I saw two fisherman throw a bottle into a lake in a wildlife refuge), I recognize that its never done me any good, and in fact, might be doing more harm than good. Silently seething only harms you. Scolding the other person might make you feel better, but it will be almost guaranteed to just piss the other person off, causing them to reject your ideas even more. Instead, take a deep breath, calm down, and think before you respond.
2. Assume they have good intentions but are simply uneducated on the matter
Another thing I constantly have to remind myself of is that I went to school to learn about the human impact on the environment for four and a half years. I know far more than the average person does. After I calm myself down from the initial shock and anger, I usually try to remind myself that they most likely just don't know, or don't realize the magnitude, of the problems they're contributing to. Just because you know something, doesn't mean other people do. People in today's society are so bombarded by personalized advertising and news segments that it's difficult to learn things outside of what google thinks you'll click on. Despite having most of humanity's knowledge at our fingertips, it's becoming more and more difficult to broaden your horizons. Try to keep this in mind when seeing someone engage in unsustainable behavior. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
3. Share your argument
Now you're assuming that the other person isn't aware that their decision is causing a problem. The next step is to educate them about how it is, and why they should care about it. This will obviously differ from person to person and situation to situation, but remember not to argue or sound irritated. (I have a habit of getting defensive during these types of conversations, and its something I am working on.) Have the courage to speak up. After all, it's not just a personal opinion. Unsustainable decisions affect us all. It is our responsibility to share what we know with others so we can avoid further destruction of the life on this planet and the resources we all rely on.
4. Assume support
One of the most beneficial things you can do in this conversation is to assume that they will care when you teach them why they should. Assume that, of course they would want to make a change after being taught about why it's so important that they do. While this won't be the case for everyone, it greatly affects your chances of them siding with you. If you act like it's a change they obviously should be willing to make, they'll feel more encouraged to make it, like it's a given.
5. Support their good decisions
Let's say your conversation went well, but even if it didn't, it's important to support the people around you when they do good things. Realistically, no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes and judgement calls. We all contribute in some way to the degradation of the environment. Try not to get caught up in everything that someone does wrong, and instead, mention it when they do something right. Show support and make others feel proud of themselves. After all, it is a nice feeling when someone acknowledges a good deed.