How to have the (Green) Talk

You’re both nervous; your kid has felt this coming all week. He knows, well he’s heard things. Your mate Dave said his parents do it all the time—that everyone has to have the talk eventually, that as a society if we don’t get the talk, we’ll crumble. You’re so young and full of life, surely the talk can wait another year! Parenting is never easy, you both knew that eventually there would be questions that needed answering.

This marriage is a partnership, you’d have the talk as a family and you’d act on it as a family. Why are we doing this in the kitchen? I eat here! I don’t want to be triggered every time I need to eat! I eat a lot. Just breathe, it's just a conversation, it’ll be fine, there’s no reason to be so nervous. “Son, we need to talk about the environment.”

Believe it or not, having the ‘Talk’ about the birds and the bees, and opening a discussion about environmental sustainability are very similar. Both are like pulling teeth, both involve addressing a disinterested party (for the most part) and both can end in slammed doors and heavy tension. No one likes being told what to do, and direct commands with no room for discussion usually doesn’t end well.

i.e. “Don’t have sex”

If saying the above three words were ever effective in any way, half the problems in the world would be gone— this is what your mother would have you believe. No chance for infections or accidental pregnancy, no one has hurt feelings or an experience they’d rather forget. So logically we just wouldn’t do it right? Wrong. In that same vein as telling people not to have sex, telling people they should be environmentally conscious is just as obtuse. Telling people to care about the environment probably results in the same rotation of retina your mother inspires.

The fact is—unless you already care and are interested in the topic of environmental sustainability, you more than likely don’t want to have what often feels like a one sided discussion about it. There is a perceived level of superiority that is associated with people who are environmentally conscious, this can be a big hurdle in getting people interested and involved.

E.g. “Oh you’re a vegetarian? I’m a vegan.”

Sitting in a circle of people who are all knowledgeable and involved in the sustainability movement can be very intimidating, especially if there seems to be a certain level of one-upping occurring. You recycle and manage your waste responsibly; you’ve made conscious choices to help where you can. Though if you reach for a plastic bottle or a Big Mac you’ve committed a serious environmental faux pas that can feel like a criminal offence.

On occasion, I’ve deliberately left a room where there is a conversation about the environment occurring, or where I know there is someone who is ‘sustainably-superior’ to me just because I’ve worried that—

  1. My small contribution isn’t enough.

  2. I know so little about the conversation what could I possibly contribute? 

  3. I haven’t committed body and soul to mother nature therefore I’m unwelcome.

Tone, environment and audience should be the main three factors to consider before you have any kind of intense discussion. Think about it, when you want to break up with someone, do you do it in the middle of their birthday speech in front of all their friends and family? Do you have a discussion about the kinky stuff you’d like to explore with your partner in the bedroom, during your grandmother’s funeral?

Time & Place.

If your roommate was kind enough to organise dinner, it is not the time to launch into a rant on why processed foods are so bad for humans and how the manufacturing process is destroying our world. A better time to discuss the foods you’d both like coming into the house? After dinner, maybe even after dessert, maybe even after you’ve both had a second wine and are 4 hours deep into a Netflix binge. Something along the lines of:

You—“So that bucket of chicken we had was delicious”
Friend—“Anytime dude, I didn’t have to do anything!”
You—"Want me to cook tomorrow night? There’s a lot of produce in the fridge that needs eating or else it'll go to waste!”
Friend—“Well I guess if you want to cook why not?”

Boom. Communication. They don’t have to say yes or agree with you, but you’ve managed to have a light talk that could potentially change behaviours and open the lines of communication for further discussion. And you’ve done it all without waving your save the world flag in their face and strangling them with the details of their own carbon emissions.

It's nice to get to know someone before you try shove something down their throat.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—telling people what to do doesn’t work. They will ignore you or argue with you, that’s if they aren’t doing the complete opposite just to spite you. Even if its good for them, even if it’s the most logical thing for them to do. If you tell someone they have to do something, it's almost like a challenge light bulb goes off in people's minds, like you’ve awoken some deep seeded rage against authoritative figures (Parenting must be so hard, author gained +1 empathy during the writing of this article).

So in respect to effecting change and inducting people over to the (dark) green side, the best thing you can do is be the change you want to see in the world. If you change your behaviour to reflect your beliefs—people will notice, they’ll ask questions, they’ll make comments and before you know it, there will be an open discussion about sustainability.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

When questions do pop up, or comments are made be aware that there has been a stigma attached to the environmental movement. Similar to the ‘Angry Feminist’—the ‘Dirty Hippy’ has been used to lump together anyone with even slight sustainable behaviours and attitudes. So people may already be defensive to your behaviours without you having said or done anything directly to them.

Unfortunately that’s the world we live in. So what you can do? For starters, don’t get defensive. Beat them over the head with kindness, be open and welcoming, keep your tone and language positive and don’t expect anyone to have the same level of assumed knowledge as you do. While our attitudes to environmental sustainability are changing—there is still a massive chunk of society who only have very basic knowledge of what being environmentally conscious means. And that is ok.

We need to emphasise that everything counts, and no contribution is too small. Tim the vegan who walks everywhere and grows everything is great, he’s incredible!

But Greg, who just started buying the tuna with the ‘sustainably fished’ tag on the can and tries to use reusable bags for the weekly shop, even though he sometimes forgets to bring them—is just as incredible.

Don’t be scared to have the talk. We can all get down and dirty (with environmental sustainability) together.

Serena Lee