3 dead easy ways to live more sustainably right now... and how to pursuade others to do the same

Tim Cotter knows how to change people. In fact, he's built a career around changing the behaviour and culture of communities and organisations, tranforming people's relationship with the planet and helping them to live more sustainably.

Tim trained as a psychologist, worked in organisational change for 12 years, then decided he'd use his talents for the good of our planet and established Awake, a sustainable behaviour change consultancy.

As to what inspired him...

"It's simple. Plan A is not working. The very definition of unsustainable means it cannot continue. How can we continue acting in a way which cannot realistically continue? Kind of insane when you think about it. As a behaviour and culture change specialist, I decided a few years ago that this is the world's biggest culture change project, so why would I put my energy anywhere else?"

Too true. We simply can't continue to live the way we are. We, the earth, the plants, the animals, just ain't gonna hold up. According to Tim, the three most important actions people can take right now to reduce their impact on the environment are:

  1. Buy local, especially food
  2. Eat a lower environmental-impact diet
  3. Buy green power, then reduce your power use so that your overall cost is the same.
Yes! Simple yet powerful. Still though, making changes to live more sustainably takes commitment and many people get stumped, never moving beyond intention. Well, at least not for long. Tim says what stops people from living more sustainably over the long term is habit. "Many things we do are on auto-pilot and we don't even stop to think of their impact."

"Most of our systems and cultural environment is set up to support this too. For example, the culture sees car transport as the desirable norm, and infrastructure investment reflects this. So we are supported to drive everywhere. Similarly, unsustainably-produced food is the most readily available and affordable. We have to go out of our way to buy more sustainably. There is also a lack of consideration of the true cost of things. If something is unbelievably cheap, it usually means someone or something is bearing the cost elsewhere. Probably the environment or the workers are being exploited."

The way to overcome these barriers, says Tim, "is to set up your environment to support good habits."

"Make it easier to reach the compost bin. Get a timetable and work out how to get to work on public transport. Decide where to buy more sustainable goods and make a realistic commitment to go there. Vague intentions or promises won't help."

"Look at what you are valuing when you make unsustainable decisions, and work out how else you can meet that value. If organic food is too expensive, maybe find a way to change your diet to balance the extra cost (e.g. less meat). If you get relaxation and excitement from travelling overseas, work out how you can get those things closer to home. Sustainability is not necessarily about changing your values, but about finding better ways to satisfy those values."

"Practice being awake and aware. Catch yourself when you are taking the easy, cheap option and ask "what is the true cost of this? Am I operating from my better/higher self?"

On inspiring others to make changes in their lives, Tim says the best way is to show people how easy it is by example. "Demonstrate that you made changes to your life, the sky did not cave in. And you are happy with it. Also, help them and make changes with them. If you are advocating public transport or biking, then work out a route and go with them the first few times. Offer to come and help them set up a compost system, or go shopping at the local market. That way they have a positive experience, and you can help them overcome the hurdles which come up."

He also says giving people choice is critical. "People respond much better if they feel like they negotiated the best way for them, rather than complied with your demands to keep you happy."

Know anyone who could use a soft nudge? Could do with a little elbowing yourself?


  1. Because of the picture I thought this post was going to mention cycling. However, it certainly compliments Tim's suggestion of catching public transport to work.

    My tip - Move to a place nearer to the services you need and work. We spend so much of our lives getting to and from work. That's time that could be spent working on our relationships or doing something we really enjoy. I now live in Adelaide CBD and rarely have to venture out of the city block--I do for work from time to time (I am self-employed) and to go on adventures. But everything I need is within easy walking distance.



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