How to live sustainably without losing quality of life

As Aotearoa edges another year closer to its 2030 emission reduction targets, most New Zealanders agree they need to change their behaviour to make a difference for the planet.

Yet many people still don’t make meaningful change – and research from the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (EECA) could explain why.

EECA’s latest quarterly consumer monitor found that while 71% of people agree they need to make changes to their energy use to address climate change, 41% think that’s hard to do without reducing their quality of life.

But sustainable living advocate Kate Hall, also known as Ethically Kate, says she’s found being more conscious of the planet has improved her day-to-day life.

“I have people tell me, ‘the climate crisis isn't real, blah, blah, blah, why are you living like this?” she says.

“And I say to them, even if you are right, which would be great … I would actually still live this way. Because it benefits me so much - emotionally, mentally, physically.

“That's why I’ve stuck at [this way of sustainable living]. And that's why I see a lot of other people continuing down the journey of it, because it feels right. It feels good.”

Hall says while it can seem difficult to make lifestyle changes, people need to move away from the mindset of thinking they have to either “do it all or not at all” when it comes to living sustainably.

She says the new year is a great time for a reset and for people to start thinking about their values. She also encourages people to talk to others about how they’re making better choices for people and the planet.

“These conversations then lead to mindset change, which leads to sustainable actions that will actually stick,” she says.

“I also encourage people, whenever they're going to buy something in 2023, to just stop for a second and see if they already have something in their home that would fulfil that purpose and … if they do need it, how they can buy it just a little bit better.”

Buying ‘better’ this year

When it comes to buying “better”, Christine Langdon, co-founder of sustainable gifting service The Good Registry, says 2023 is a good year for people to think differently about how they shop and how they go about gifting.

“So often, we're giving people things that they don't want or need, and we know that there's a massive cost to the environment,” she says.

“We see things that are manufactured often offshore, and there's all of the emissions and production of those products, and then they're shipped to New Zealand and there’s emissions again, and then there's wrapping and packaging and distribution around New Zealand, and then often [those] things end up in landfill.”

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Langdon says The Good Registry, which allows people to make donations to charities instead of gifting physical presents, has noticed a shift in perceptions over the last few years.

“People were quite tentative at first, you know, [worrying that] people [will feel] like they're missing out if we don't give them the gift,” she says.

“[But] what we’ve found is that people feel really, really good [about donating to charity instead].”

Langdon says swapping to these kinds of gifts might seem like a small gesture when it comes to climate change, but every action counts.

“There are small things that we can all do which, while they might feel small ... they're all helping to inspire other people around us. And they're also helping to show businesses that we care about this stuff and to move businesses and governments in the right direction,” she says.

Taking action leads to more action

A bus in Wellington.

Professor James Renwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, says people’s small actions in everyday life will make a big difference in 2023.

“Anything you can do in your daily life that reduces your carbon footprint, your use of energy, like taking a bus more often or riding a bike or walking instead of driving, that all adds up,” he says.

“If every person in the country drove their car 10% less, that would be a big reduction in emissions from transport.”

Renwick also says people should talk about the climate actions they’re taking, so as to normalise them.

“We're all a bit frightened of looking different, so if no one else is doing any of these things, you might feel a bit strange about taking them on.

“[But] the more we talk about these things, the more we can think about them, the more likely we are to actually do something and then make a difference.”

Renwick says that everyone needs to make 2023 the year they really work to reduce their emissions.

“It might not seem like climate change is the big imminent threat right now but, boy, if we don't start the action in 2023, we’re going to get into trouble quickly from there on,” he says.

“But I believe New Zealand is a world-leading country, and I'd love to see New Zealand lead the world in this area. If we can show how it’s done, that's got to be good for us, as well as for the global climate system.”

‘A little more joy and kindness’

Hall says there are other great reasons to make 2023 the time to live more sustainably, especially after a difficult couple of years through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People's pockets sound like they're going to be tighter [this year], we're going to be more budget conscious. I think living more sustainably means you save money in most situations, so I think that's a really, really big benefit,” she says.

“We also need to come together as a community and as a team to look after each other and living more sustainably looks exactly like that.

“I think it's important we [live more sustainably] because it feels good. It brings a little bit more joy and kindness, and 2023 will be a good year for that because we all need it.”

This content was sponsored by EECA, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. You can find out more about how to make a difference at home and on the road every day in 2023 at Gen Less is backed by EECA.