8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot!

I have had my fair share of waste-related disagreements in my time! There are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

We don’t choose our partners or friends based on their awesome ability to remember their reusable bags on all occasions. If we are lucky they will strive to do their best, and their best might still mean forgetting reusable bags once in a while.

It isn’t as if we are perfect! It’s better to try not to let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between our relationships and cause friction. In the moment, I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me when it comes to relationships is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same.

Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don\'t \
30 replies
  1. Minna (I Basically Travel)
    Minna (I Basically Travel) says:

    Hubby and I are very different in many ways but why we work so well together is that we do share the same values (and are nuts about each other! :-P ). Minimalism and simpler, more sustainable living are something we both really wantcto go for. We are nowhere near 100% zero-waste life but I try to make little changes all the time that would take me closer to it. (Judging by the stacks of recycling we produce on a weekly basis we still have some work to do…).

    I’m sure there are people who think I’m this odd liberal green hippie but as you said, leading by example is more likely to work than preaching. Friends and colleagues see us pulling out our thermos mugs for take-away coffees or a reusable box for a snack at the market and they start asking questions. I definitely get asked questions when I’m simply going for a walk with a friend and keep stopping all the time to pick up litter. (I can’t help myself, I simply can’t leave all the rubbish there, especially in a park or woodland!) Maybe it’ll inspire some – or convince others I really am the odd hippie lady!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I my view, differences don’t matter if values align! Opposites attract as they say. But opposing values – that’s never going to work. Of course, we can have differing levels of enthusiasm for different values.

      I definitely believe that these actions don’t go unnoticed. People may not say anything, but I think they absorb these things and think about them. I remember seeing a kid in a park pick up a plastic fork, and her mum was like “that’s dirty, put it down.” So the kid dropped it. I remember thinking, seriously, could you not have just popped it in the bin?! That’s such a great way to influence a kid. But adults are influenced too by these things.

      (I have to say, almost all of my friends will pick up litter they see in the street. It heartens me no end!)

      Oh, and I notice of course that your red cup gets yet another mention! Can I write a blog post where there is simply no excuse for you to bring it up?! I doubt it, but the challenge is on! ;) It will wear out simply with all the mentions!

  2. Eva
    Eva says:

    I agree with all of the above. But it is hard when you are genuinely excited about what you are achieving, and by sharing your milestones get put down as *stop making me feel guilty … I then start to thing about how my friend (s) view me, as that is not at all ever my intention, nor do I tell them what to do. I’m simply sharing what I’m excited about.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Eva! Haha, and I never said it was easy! I agree, that is why they say enthusiasm is infectious ;)

      I wouldn’t worry too much about other people feeling guilty, so long as you’re not imposing your opinions on them or telling them what to do. I run sustainable living courses, and I’ve delivered the content to a number of different groups over the years. In the last course, someone wrote on their feedback form that I made them feel guilty. It was only one person, and the rest of the feedback was great. I thought about it hard, as it is never my intention to make anyone feel guilty. And I concluded that I wasn’t making the lady feel guilty. She was choosing to feel guilty. That is different.

      I would guess the same about your friends. They know in their hearts that they could/should be doing better, and that makes them feel guilty. You are reminding them of what’s possible maybe, but you can’t make anyone feel guilty. That’s up to them.

      If you think about it the other way, there are people who you could lecture to all you like, argue with etc and they’d remain stone-faced and say that they simply don’t care. There is no guilt there at all. I’m not convinced we have the power to make others feel guilty. Any guilt we feel comes directly from within ourselves.

      Just my thoughts, but I hope it helps!

  3. Fairtrade Nomad and Optimist for Change
    Fairtrade Nomad and Optimist for Change says:

    Dear Lindsay,

    Thank you so much for sharing this article/blog.

    I’m so pleased to have found your website.

    I have been educating consumers and young children in Dubai and Abu Dhabi about fairtrade, ethical producers, sustainability and ethical consumerism for years.

    All these areas are still very much their infancy but with experts like yourself around the world championing a ”Life with Less Waste and Less Stuff,”

    YOU ARE A BEACON OF HOPE and motivate me to do more.

    Could I take this opportunity to invite you for an interview for fairtrade fortnight 2017 and possibly write a guest blog?

    Many thanks in advance!

    Your friend and supporter

  4. Mel
    Mel says:

    I tend to share what I am doing but not push it on others. I get support even from big consumers. I explain why and how I have tried to start and manage my journey. Quite a few people have asked for my list of small tasks to tick off and suggestions on different things. When people feel guilty about consuming, I explain they can do whatever they want but I have to be consistent and ensure my choices match my values and ethics. Frequently people will change where to eat or be happy to have coffees at a cafe rather than takeaway, or whatever else I need to do. People will also tell me about the small changes they have made since meeting me. I try to provide positive reinforcement and encouragement and remind them not to compare as we are all on our own journey. Awareness and small chanes is where things start and every bit counts. If it goes on to more and bigger things, fantastic. If on that one day, that one person had opted not to have a straw, it would not have ended up the turtle’s nose.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this Mel, you’ve worded it so well. You’re right, people are interested in small changes and that is the best way to get started on a journey. Most people don’t set out to “be zero waste”, they just decide to make a few changes and then make a couple more, and slowly head in that direction. I sometimes wonder if I’d have decided to go “plastic-free” so quickly had I thought about it more. I just assumed it would be easy because I had zero realisation of how much plastic I used! And by the time I realised I was too far down the rabbit hole ;)

      This is such a perfect example of how we can influence others without bossing, nagging or anything else. I’m so glad you shared this Mel – I love it! All those small actions add up to big change :)

  5. cheliamoose
    cheliamoose says:

    Two things I’ve found that help:
    1) Consistency. In that, when you first start making these changes, people may think it’s a trend, or a fashion. Continuing to do them quietly over the years means they take it as normal even if they ribbed you for it at the start. They might even start showing you their efforts :)
    2) Learn to counsel, not to advise. So often the response I hear to my own choices is a reflect of why people are conflicted about their own choice. Listen to it, and reflect what they’re saying back to them. You might help them come to a different choice, certainly you’re less likely to make them feel judged (with their own judgement!). If you really want to give advice, tell them a story about how you approached a similar dilemma. DO NOT TELL THEM TO DO WHAT YOU DID, but most people will connect the dots and it’s a much more comfortable way to take or leave advice.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Oooh I always love your advice Rachel! Consistency is definitely true. I think often our friends and family are skeptical that these changes will last, but when they see that they do, they are more willing to get on board.

      I like your thoughts on counceling rather than advising. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it like that. I definitely agree with telling stories. When I was preparing for my Tedx talk, the curator said – if you tell your story, you can’t be wrong. People can’t disagree. They might not want to do the same thing, or understand your motives, or see the point, but they cannot say that you are wrong because it did actually happen. I really liked that.

      Yep, I totally agree that people like to connect the dots themselves. There’s an added satisfaction, I think.

      • cheliamoose
        cheliamoose says:

        Ah it’s mutual admiration because I’ve gained a lot from your advice too! I’ve offered too much unwanted advise in my life (even when though it was often requested!) and I’ve learnt that telling stories has much better outcomes for me and the person I’m sharing with. I like the TedX curator’s take on it, I think there’s a lot in that. I think people have to connect the dots themselves. We’re all so diverse in our ways of thinking and doing that the most solid advice in the world still needs to be adapted for us individually.

        • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
          Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

          Goodness, listen to the two of us cooing! ;p

          That’s a good point though – people often ask for advice when they actually want to hear their own opinions/ decisions confirmed and reflected back rather than a different opinion! I’m sure I have done that at times too ;)

          Yes, let people join their own dots!

  6. Susan
    Susan says:

    Lindsay, I hope you realise, you are responsible for giving me the guts to contact a warehouse and ask if I could not only purchase from their warehouse but to get them to put it into my own bags and they were so encouraging it has given me confidence to do other tasks.
    You are responsible for me walking a trolley from the beach all the way back to the shop while muttering under my breath, “that it doesn’t matter what others think of what or why I am doing this, just that I know I am doing the right thing!”
    You are responsible for me not being able to walk past rubbish and walking home with handfuls of it also muttering the above!
    You are responsible for me making trips (on my bike!) to the local markets to not always purchase but to drop off what was previously thought of as rubbish! Last week I gave bubble wrap to a lady that sells candles and you would’ve thought I’d given her a slab of gold! She was so stoked I thought of dropping it off and the lady who I give my tomato punnets to can’t thank me enough as she uses them for berries she sells.
    You are also responsible for me wanting to get involved, so I went along to help Boomerang Bags and I came home so encouraged. It was fantastic to talk and listen to others while making bags, about their journeys and not feel like an outsider.
    You are responsible for me always removing items from the bin without complaining to then be put into the compost or recycling because my family members are still learning. I notice that the egg shells are now left on the sink to be rinsed out and dried and then crushed to be composted, instead of going into the bin so setting an example is working. I had a friend stay last week and she sent back an email to say what an inspiration I was and yet I never told her anything, I just showed her what and why I was doing stuff when she asked.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Oh my goodness Susan, this is such a lovely lovely comment! I almost wanted to cry, but all I could imagine was you pushing a rickety old trolley from the beach whilst muttering under your breath and the rest of the town standing on street corners with their mouths wide open and eyebrows raised and it made me laugh so hard! So I’m kind of half laughing and half crying!

      That is so so awesome! You have done so many great things, And now of course I feel that I immediately need to go out and do more good things – not that it is a competition, but good deeds breed good deeds!

      Boomerang bags is such an awesome initiative. I don’t really sew but if I did I would definitely be involved. Awesome that you were able to meet like-mined people. I truly believe that they are out there in everyone’s community – we just have to find them!

      Bubble wrap is like gold to people who need it! I give any that I get away on Gumtree and it always goes within the hour. I love being able to pass it on to people who would otherwise buy it new.

      Thank you so much for sharing this – you have made my evening! Actually, scrap that, you have made my month! ;)

      • Susan
        Susan says:

        Glad I made your month, though that wasn’t the intention, but hey, now that my eyes have been opened to waste, I can’t ignore it anymore, though the muttering does help!
        Yep, Boomerang Bags is awesome! I love that everything is donated, from where they meet (in a processing shed at a winery), to the material from Vinneys. There is no money involved other than purchasing the logo stamp and some ink.
        I found that there were other tasks I could do when I went along, without sewing. I ended up stamping the logo onto the material and another lady who hates sewing was ironing them so that the ink sets.

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      Thank you for sharing, Susan. Your comments, especially about the trolley, are inspiring. I appreciate all the practical ideas you have suggested. Best wishes, Kate
      P.S- Thanks Lindsay for your wonderful, non-judgemental blog. I have read your book Less Stuff and am also slowly working my way through your blog post archive. Thank you for your time and efforts.

  7. Carol Irwin
    Carol Irwin says:

    Last summer for a family activity where each child received a gift my husband gently mocked me for useing an old map book as wrapping paper and when that ran out for useing the paper packing from some mail order gifts. After the event he spent ages peeling the sellotape off all the paper unasked so the paper could go in the recycling bin. It seems that sometimes family are more supportive than they want to admit.

  8. Corina
    Corina says:

    Such a great and timely article! I was having this exact conversation with my neighbour yesterday. She has led by example and over time her hubby has become more and more involved. I however joined the sprint to waste free living more recently, deployed a few nagging techniques and am frustrated when hubby still brings home plastic bags =S
    So many great tips here, exactly what I needed to read :)

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Corina! I think with families it works especially well. It’s amazing what people will pick up over time. I think people like to see that it is working and a long-term thing rather than a fad before they commit themselves.

      That isn’t to say I don’t nag a little on occasion either ;)

  9. Abbey Zoglmeyer
    Abbey Zoglmeyer says:

    I loved this post! I’m slowly trying to aim towards zero waste and have been working to reduce the amount of plastic I consume but it is very difficult to get my family involved as I am 18 and living at home. They support me to an extent, yet continue to make mistakes such as put food scraps in garbage as opposed to leave on the bench for me to compost and I am forever reminding them to recycle items that have ended up in the garbage instead of recycling. In our home, they support me but I still must live under their rules and if I want to do eco friendly things such as start a compost I must do it myself!!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Abbey :) Ah, families will always be difficult, I suspect! But in time it gets easier. Habits rub off on people – eventually. Have faith and give it time. Good on you for getting the composting going. Yes, you’re right, if we want change we do have to lead. But hopefully you will lead and they will follow :)

  10. Heady
    Heady says:

    I definitely struggle with this, particularly with my partner, and am always trying to remind myself of that fact that it is MY journey and MY choice, and if I want things done a certain way then I can only do them myself and REQUEST not DEMAND that my partner/family support me. Then just hope that I rub off on them. Its definitely hard not to nag.

    I’d love to know how others have gone about sharing their ideals with family and friends, particularly in regards to receiving gifts. i.e. Christmas gifts from grandparents. I am soon to have my first child, my baby shower is coming up soon, and I’m mulling over how to politely ask my guests for eco-friendly, zero waste or even second hand gifts. It feels awkward enough requesting certain types of gifts. I don’t want to sound like a bore or an ingrate giving a big list of rules to follow. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Looking further ahead, this may become a regular request with future kids birthday parties etc. EEEKK.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Haha, I’m with you – it is hard not to nag, sometimes! And easy to fall back into bad habits, even though we know they don’t work. my husband is super supportive – but will he make his own deodorant?! No! He will use it happily and he likes it, but he will not make it. I measured all the ingredients out once, and they sat on the counter for months. Eventually a lemon fell out of the fruit bowl and toppled them over. So now I resign myself – if I don’t want him to buy any, I have to make it. That’s my choice.

      I’ve written about this a few times before (mostly around Christmas presents, but the principle is the same). For your baby shower, I would say, keep the rules SIMPLE. So maybe choose one rule, and stick to it, rather than a list. Eg “everything is second-hand” – but no other rules. I’d avoid “eco-friendly”, because if your friends aren’t into sustainability they might have different ideas of what eco-friendly actually means! There is lots of junk made in China labelled “eco”, and if you don’t need it, it doesn’t matter how “eco friendly” it is.

      If it were me, I’d write a note about how it was important to me to be low impact / eco friendly / sustainable as possible, and make one request: second-hand clothes, or whatever. Of course, some people might not be able to do that – but that’s more about them meeting their personal needs (to buy a gift) than yours. Gift giving is complex!

      If I received any new goods, or anything I specifically didn’t request, then I would donate it, take it back to the store to swap for something I did want, or sell it on eBay to someone who does want it. That might sound mercenary, but I think if I make my feelings known and they are ignored, I am still free to do what I please with the gift. Guilt is not a reason to keep something I don’t need. Of course, there’s no need to tell the person who got the gift.

      Saying that, I have never been to a baby shower so I don’t really know what type of gifts people give, or what the expectations are. But I do know that communication is key :)

  11. Lian DeAbreu
    Lian DeAbreu says:

    I am so thankful for this article, I took this crazy time to be extra eco friendly cause we have time now and for real, the earth need help
    But hubby is in totally different mindset and today i think we reach breaking point
    I literally google “I am eco friendly but my husband is not” and ur article pop out
    I feel so much better after the reading
    Thank you!!!


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