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Environmental success, now in shame-free colours

Illustration by Belle DeMont.
Illustration by Belle DeMont.

The data is out there. If we don’t make big changes, our planet could be in serious trouble.

As the green movement continues to grow, people around the world are making more and more efforts to be environmentally friendly. It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t concerned and doing what they can, but there’s a flip side. Not everyone is on board.

The questions is: what do we do about our friends who don’t want to play along and how do we learn from those who do?

Naysayers: Say good-bye to shaming

What happens when someone says no to doing their part? Well, for some, the answer might be to shame the naysayers.

The environmental world is no stranger to using human emotion to their favor. Remember that video about the sad orangutan losing his home to palm-oil farmers? What about the image of the sea turtle with a straw in its noses? If you’ve seen them, chances are you haven’t been able to shake the image and that’s no accident.

Employing shame has been a tactic used by countless movements for centuries, and there’s a reason it works (sort of). Anyone who has felt the burning twinge of shame knows how powerful it can be. And yes, that image of the sea turtle prompted (mostly) a world-wide ban of plastic straws, but on the other hand...

How many of us take that burning twinge and turn it into something positive? The numbers are low. Sure, you feel bad about yourself, but then what? The problem with shame is that it’s short lived. Eventually, the feeling fades and you’re onto the next thing, without making any substantial changes that might help the world.

Plenty of factors go into a decision for a more green lifestyle, and face it, being shamed often results in a rejection of the idea completely.

Fortunately, instead of sticking to that old tune, today’s environmentalists are shifting their focus to tools and tactics that make people excited to get on board. The fact is, the people who are actually making a difference in the environmental world today don’t employ shame tactics. They’re smart enough to know better. I mean, if your friends are trying to make you more eco-friendly by making you feel like crap every day, how long are you going to keep them around?

Educating and empowering people to use their own knowledge to make better choices is the wave of the future. Let’s set shaming aside once and for all.

Yaysayers: Make it personal and make it trendy

In true millennial fashion, competition is the ultimate motivator. “Zero waste challenges” are beginning to pop up across social media, with people challenging their friends to go waste-free for a week, month, or longer while documenting their journey online.

The newest social media challenge involves a before and after style photoshoot. People pose in front of a green space or beach covered in litter, and then retake their photo after collecting all of the trash. The feeling of pride, combined with the virtual pat on the back from all of their followers is ten times more motivating than shaming from behind a phone screen! And it also happens to be a selfie challenge well-worth getting behind.

Tips about giving new life to old fabric, using reusable water bottles, or wrapping Christmas gifts in newspaper plaster the internet encourage us all to take the leap into a greener world. Everything is at our fingertips, and although it may seem shallow, making environmentalism “trendy” might be the perfect way to push the needle further.

Theysayers: Visit an environmentalist near you!

Every eco-friendly millennial trying to save the world has their own methods, but what seems to work best is giving people something to aspire to.

For Rebecca Dupuis, a member of the Cape Breton Environmental Association (CBEA), it’s all about subtle suggestions. When her brother, Dylan Yates, started the CBEA in 2017, Rebecca saw that spreading awareness through education and fun was a lot more successful than using fear tactics.

“Although it’s true, sometimes sharing the data about climate change and how scary it is, doesn’t resonate,” says Rebecca. “CBEA focuses on hosting community clean ups and speaking to youth in our community about taking care of your planet and having fun doing it.”

When it comes to her friends and family, Rebecca leads by example. “When I go out to eat with my friends I always encourage them to skip the straw and push for environmentally friendly takeout containers,” says Rebecca. “If a restaurant only has plastic containers I’ll usually just say no thanks.”

Wesayers: Some of us are already there

We can’t reverse the damage done by previous generations, but the Millennial and Gen-Z generations are determined to heal what we can. With a commitment to a sustainable world where we can all live, work, and play at the forefront of our minds, we’re ready to make the necessary sacrifices. If we don’t, who will?

The green-wave is catching on, proving that small personal changes and demanding better of large corporations does make an impact. Let’s work together to spread the word and encourage others without sounding like pushy, know-it-alls. After all, isn’t that the millennial way?

Lessons: Want to make a real difference? Inspire your friends through your own actions, educate them about the option to go green, and support them as they discover their own fuel to make a difference. Shame-free success is for everyone! 

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