A sustainability plan isn’t just for big corporations
Do you have a personal sustainability plan?
Yes, I’m assuming you said no. Why? Because every single person I’ve ever asked that question to has also said no.
Why is that?
Oh, they’ll sometimes go into a description of the things that they’re doing that are “green.” But there are no clear goals. No clear measurement techniques. It’s just a random selection of the latest trendy “green” actions and products.
It’s time for that to change.
When is the last time that you heard about a successful business doing 100% of its marketing without tracking the results? Or latching onto a few random marketing trends without doing a cost/benefit analysis…and relying 100% on those few things? How many entrepreneurs wander their way into success, without a clear idea of where they intend to go, and how they intend to get there?
Sure, there are probably a few. Random chance alone assures that. But do you really want to rely on random chance for your own success, and the health of humanity and the world in general?
Think of someone who wants to lose weight, and tries to do it by having a diet soda now and then, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator every once in a while. And who doesn’t own or use a scale.
Does this sound like someone who will make an appreciable difference in their achieving their goal?
It sounds to me like they don’t really have a goal at all!
Think of the last time you wanted to accomplish something. How did you decide what to do? How did you get yourself to do it? And how did you know when it was done?
I’ll bet you started with a plan of some sort. That’s what we do when we really want something: we make a plan. We set up list of things that need to happen, and when they need to happen. And we create measurable goals and waypoints so that we can track our progress.
So if you haven’t done that for your own sustainability, or even for your own success, then are those things that you really want?
It sure doesn’t look like it.
I’m betting they are, though. The problem here is that the human brain is really bad at thinking long term. A five-year success goal is pretty long term, let alone the kind of timeline we’re talking about when it comes to improving this biological system in which we live, and upon which we rely.
So let’s close that gap. It’s actually pretty easy. Take 10 minutes right now to get started.
A simple sustainability plan
Start where you are:
I have a composting toilet system that I built myself. It’s a fantastic way to capture resources and reuse what would otherwise be pure waste. It’s also clearly not for everyone, at least at the beginning.
Permaculture principle number one is to observe. Survey the landscape. In this case, the landscape is your lifestyle. What is your current environmental impact? Social impact? Personal conditions?
Know where you are, and start there.
Or get really specific and collect a few years’ worth of electric bills, water bills, and heating/gas/oil bills. To use that data effectively, you’ll need to know your average use for any given month. If you don’t have those files on hand, never fear! Most utilities will be happy to supply historical data for your address.
A few others great ways to measure your impact are:
- Tally the amount of garbage and recycling that you generate each week.
- Track your Travel- distance, frequency, and mode of transportation. Don’t forget your commute!
- List the toxic and/or non-renewables in your home
- Track your specific moment to moment energy usage with a point of use energy monitor or whole-home energy monitor
What is plan if not a set of goals, and strategies to achieve those goals? I’ve worked with a lot of people who get excited about the strategies, and I totally understand why. There are a lot of intriguing new techniques and technologies for improving sustainability–and none of them are worth much without a solid set of goals.
The best way I’ve found to make sure that the goals you set are worth your effort is to make sure that they are SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. What does that mean?
Specific: Wanting to feel “happier” is great–and what does happy mean, exactly? Some people would quickly achieve that goal through chemical means. I doubt that drunk or numb is what most people mean when they say “happy.” It’s important to very specific when you set your goals. Your unconscious mind is a powerful tool that will seek answers for you even when you don’t realize it. If your goals aren’t specific, the solutions that come up likely won’t be relevant to what you actually want.
Measurable: Making a goal measurable ensures that you can know if and when that goal has been achieved. If you can’t tell that the goal has been achieved, you may spend too much energy chasing it, even if there’s nothing left to chase. Conversely, it’s also hard to tell if you’re having a hard time making progress, or if your strategies have actually been counter-productive!
Measurements involve numbers. Set a goal to reduce your electricity bill by 50%, or by $20, per month. Both are measurable goals that let you know not only that you’re making a difference, but also exactly how much of a difference.
Achievable: A SMART goal has to be something that you, personally, can achieve. You can’t set a personal goal that the US will cut its oil dependency by 50%, unless you are personally responsible for at least 50% of the US oil use. Are you? I didn’t think so. That’s an over-the-top example, but it’s an important lesson. Goals that rely on other peoples actions, especially when those people are not involved in the goal setting and planning, are completely useless.
Relevant: Are you clear on your core values? This is one of the places where knowing them really matters. Why? Because every single goal you ever set has to be relevant to your core values, or at the very least, can’t conflict with them. Anything else is a recipe for disaster. Make sure that the goals you set are in line with each other, with your core values, and with the “big picture” of what’s going on in the world around you.
Time-bound: Have you heard of Parkinson’s law? You may not know it by name, but I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Guess what happens, then, when you put no limit on the time available? It never gets done.
Make a strategy to achieve those goals
Remember, just buying products that say “green” or “organic” is not a strategy. Some of these products have their place as part of a larger strategy. Some do not. Some of them are scams. Know your options. Do the research.
Those same SMART criteria that apply to goals can apply to your strategies. These are the specific, measurable actions that you can take every day, once a week, or once a month that will move you closer to achieving your goals.
To be most effective, rank your goals and pick your top three. Then, work hard to achieve just those. That doesn’t mean give up any other sustainability practices you’re already doing, though! Just be sure not to take on so much that you burn yourself out.
- Master the “Eff words” – effectiveness vs efficiency.
- The “Half” project from build it solar.
- Custom reports from me.
Evaluate your progress
Evaluation is critical! Every week, return to step one to take a look at where you are after following your plan. Return to step two to evaluate and modify your goals. Return to step three and modify your strategy to account for your new information.
What are you waiting for?
These are the bare minimum of a rough outline to get you started. If you’re looking for more, I can work with you to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan custom tailored to your specific circumstances and needs. Using the principles of permaculture, I’ll help you discover your core values, your limiting and empowering beliefs, and the impact that your current lifestyle has on you, your community, and the world. We’ll then build a plan together, one that draws upon your strengths, fortifies any critical weak spots, and most of all, is totally accomplishable.
Drop me a line for more information and a free consultation.
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