sustainable habits
Sustainable Living

Looking Back in Order to Create a More Sustainable Future

When working towards a sustainable future, it can be helpful to understand the habits that have shaped our behaviour. Looking at the history of the world around us, the people in our lives and their past, as well as the practices of our day-to-day lives can give us answers and ideas for how to build sustainable habits for a more sustainable future.

Fellow Climate Change Collective Blogger, Smelly Socks and Garden Peas, has started this conversation by looking at some sustainable habits learned from the past that could be implemented today.

Young child sitting on the shoulders of an adult at an Earth Day protest. Child has a sign on her back with the text "Let me grow up"

The recent “Returning to Past Habits post is a part of our Climate Change Collective series. In this series, one blogger writes a topical post and the Climate Change Collective participants write a response to their post, sharing thoughts or more information on the topic. Learn more about our Climate Change Collective at the end of this post and find our first in the series here: Climate Change Collective–What You Can Do.

Using the Past to Create Future Sustainable Habits

We can often look to the past with a doom and gloom perspective, identifying the progression to our current climate crisis. There is certainly a lot to learn by looking back. Those lessons don’t always have to be negative ones either.

Adapting what we see from the past can help us move forward with more sustainable habits and, hopefully, a way to lessen the speedy progression of climate change. Three areas we can look to and learn from are: our personal history, our relational history, and our world history.

Antique sewing machine can provide inspiration for sustainable habits
Photo credit: Pixabay

Looking at habits from the past

In her post, Smelly Socks and Garden Peas, looks at some sustainable habits learned from the past. She touches on ideas like mending clothing before buying new, growing our own food where possible, and preserving excess food items. These are all habits that were frequently used in previous generations that would have a positive impact on our planet today.

Looking at my grandparents’ lives, I can see many of these habits and others that naturally lean towards consuming less and using up what is on hand before buying new. My paternal grandma was a masterful sewer who not only could make her own clothes, but also mend and alter items. My maternal grandma would always have home-preserved items on hand. She also always uses and reuses everything–right down to the empty cereal bag from the box!

Sustainable habits like these were born out of a different time and culture where there was less access to the incredible abundance of “stuff” that we have now. We can learn a lot from a much simpler time of how to use and value what we have on hand before rushing to get something new.

globe pictured in light bulb
Photo credit: Pixabay

Looking at habits from history

Understanding where we come from and why we have certain habits can help us make necessary changes. There are two things that truly impacted our world that help me understand some of the problems we face today: planned obsolescence and the rise of plastics.

Planned Obsolescence

While one sustainable habit is buying well and buying less, manufacturers are actively working against us with a concept called planned obsolescence.

Planned Obsolescence:
the practice of making or designing something (such as a car) in such a way that it will only be usable for a short time so that people will have to buy another one.

Merriam Webster

Designing something to eventually fail to work was first done when a group of lightbulb manufacturers joined together and decided to limit the number of hours a lightbulb would last. The purpose was to create a need for people to buy more and buy often. We see this idea perpetuated today in our smartphones that need constant upgrading and our fast fashion that falls apart after a few washes and wears.

This article by Sierra Magazine includes a fascinating picture of planned obsolescence and how the idea grew from lightbulbs to touch on most areas of our consumer lives: “Built Not to Last: How to Overcome Planned Obsolescence.”

Understanding planned obsolescence and how this factors into manufacturing can help us make better choices in our purchases. It can also help us understand the limits that are placed on us as we try to repair and extend the life of our possessions.

Photo credit: Pixabay

The Rise of Plastics

I’d hope that I’m not overreaching by stating that plastics are an undisputed contributor to climate change. Pay attention in any Plastic Free July and it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by the number of plastic facts that are out there.

For me, it’s helpful to understand how and why plastic came to be and how it became mainstream. Knowing how and why something came into being can help us make choices to eliminate or change that thing.

The story goes that plastic was birthed out of a challenge issued by a newspaper at a time when ivory was in high demand. In an effort to help save elephants and reduce dependence on ivory, a reward was offered to anyone who could create an alternative. The alternative ended up being a type of plastic.

Plastic began to be mass-produced after the Second World War and then again during the 1960’s and 1970’s when consumers craved plastics to replace traditional materials because they are cheap, versatile, sanitary, and easy to manufacture into a variety of forms.

“Why we need to understand the history of plastic” Plaine Products

Post-war times drove plastic sales in a way that has never subsided. What was initially a well-intentioned creation made out of a desire to save one part of our planet, ended up being a detrimental part of climate change. This is worthy of keeping in mind as we pursue further product creations in an effort to stave off climate change.

Nature reflection of mountains and tree
Photo credit: Pixabay

Looking at habits from our past selves

Looking at our own lives is a great source of inspiration for future change. Not only can our past habits inform our future choices, but also can serve as reminding ourselves of how far we’ve come. Life is a constant journey of learning and changing. I’m the first to admit that I haven’t always been the most “green” person and can look at my personal habits as a source of knowing where I need to make changes.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

― Maya Angelou

One of the most visual ways I’ve been able to reflect on my choices was when I did a waste audit of my garbage. I was able to analyze my garbage from a set period of time and see just where I needed to make changes. You can check out how to do a waste audit here: How to do complete waste audit.

Even just taking time to reflect on questions, like the ones I pose in our post about conscious consumerism, is a great place to start. Honest (and non-judgmental) self-reflection is a necessary step towards new sustainable habits.

Sustainable Habits from the Past for the Future

There is a lot that we can learn from the past in order to make sustainable changes for our future. New sustainable habits can actually be old ones reintroduced to our lives today.

Where are you finding inspiration for forming new sustainable habits?

Climate Change Collective
Photo Credit: Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader

About the Climate Change Collective

The Climate Change Collective was born out of an exchange that took place between Michelle and Jamie in the comments section of a Jamie Ad Stories blog post. Jamie and Michelle both care deeply about the impact of human activity on our planet and wanted to find a way to keep the climate change message top of mind for everyone. A tweet was sent out, bloggers responded, and we’ve all now teamed up to create the Climate Change Collective!

The idea is simple. The members of the collective will take turns writing a monthly blog post sharing their concerns and unique perspective about climate change. After the post is published, the rest of the group will keep the conversation going by sharing a link to the post on their blogs along with their thoughts and ideas. If you’re a like-minded blogger and would like to join our collective, please get in touch. The more the merrier!

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  • JamieAdStories

    This is really interesting. I had started to wonder if things were being designed with a short lifespan. I know that some cars are hard to find parts for after five years. Great article!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks Jamie! Yes, planned obsolescence is a huge issue in my mind. It would be so nice if things were made to last.

  • Molly | Transatlantic Notes

    Smell’s post got me thinking about all this too and how much has changed environmentally since our grandparents and great-grandparents day. We have much to learn from them as we search to adopt a more sustainable way of living. Great post!

  • GWT

    I regularly here the parents say, they don’t make things to last anymore. And it’s true. Further if something got damaged or needed repairing, that is what you did. Like you my great grand mother was a seamstress, even worked in a top department store in London. But yes. There are tangible practices that can be put in place and the sooner the better

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!