Have you heard of the intention-action gap? I have over the years but it only really hit home with me last week when I lifted up a plastic tub of natural yogurt in the supermarket. I switched from individual yogurts to a large tub a few years ago to reduce our waste. Then I switched from sweetened, flavoured yogurt to natural yogurt to improve our health. As I reached for the usual tub this time, it struck me that it is still plastic. Yes, it is more re-usable than the little containers and saves on non-recyclable little pots and lids. But it is, at the end of the day – or even the century to be frank – still plastic. I want to avoid buying plastic and stick to natural, recycleable and / or reusable products. So why am I still reaching for it?
Because it falls into the intention-action gap. The space between what a person says they would do in a certain situation and what they actually do. You know it. You’ve been in that space. Whether you are well up on behavioural economics or not, you can identify with being in that gap. Now more than ever we need to close that gap when it comes to actions that have an impact on the einvironment.
I put down the plastic tub and looked into my trolley. I had been mentally congratulating myself on have bought loose peaches and apples in another aisle. Looking down after my eureka moment, I saw I still have a long way to go. I headed for the till and paid even though I only had half of what was on my list. Once outside, I set off for another supermarket to try my luck there. Leaving there a half hour later out with glass bottles of milk, glass jars of natural yogurt and meat packed in lunchboxes I brought from home, I saw that small but conscious behavioural changes can make a big difference.
Over the last while I have been making small changes and thought I would share them here with you.
Lose the Routine
If, like me, you get into a routine of buying pretty much the same groceries every week in the same supermarket, I can understand you. But you need to shake things up. Take a little time and really look at what is on offer in your usual supermarket. Try out other shops and markets too. Having done this, I have found that I can actually get what it is I am looking for. From bin bags to milk to oil, vineagar and meat, I have swapped out a lot of our usual shop over the last year for greener alternatives. You don’t need to do it all in one go, but keep your eyes open and you will be surprised what has come on the market.
Broaden Your Horizons
Related to the point above, look at what is on offer in shops you don’t usually associate with with green groceries or sustainable fabrics. In a chain local to us – something along the line of Boots – I went in to print photos but remembered while there that we needed soap. I buy bars and like to get them at markets on holiday, unpacked. With no holiday coming up and no soap left in the bathroom, I looked to see what this chain might have. There I found several soap brands in plain cardboard packaging. Not a speck of plastic to be seen and no palm oil either. Win. Similarly, while browsing a high street chain for linen trousers, I spotted that they had a new sustainable fabric range. Buying anything from their other ranges suddenly seemed idiotic.
A lot of what we buy, we can perfectly well do without, and not suffer in the process. After reading last year that kitchen roll is not as environmentally friendly as it might seem at first glance, I swore not to buy it anymore. To be honest, anying paper towels can do, a washable cloth can do too. Even if that mean wiping up sick or cleaning dog poo off a shoe. We still had a few rolls of kitchen roll in the house, so I have been saving them for the really dirty jobs. Being so frugal with their use, one roll lasts me months. Once they are used up, I am not buying them any more. You adapt to the new way of doing things very quickly. Using the same logic, we have done without clingfilm and tin foil for the past year too. By using lunchboxes or simply putting leftovers in the fridge with a plate on top we have managed perfectly well.
Buy Better Quality & Take Better Care
Often it can seem like the ecological alternative is a lot more expensive and sometimes it can be. But since the environmentally-friendly items are not disposable, rather designed for repeated usage, they work out no dearer in the long run. I have always used washable dish cloths instead of wipes in the kitchen and face cloths instead of wipes in the bathroom. Now I have moved on to using cloth napkins when we have parties or simply when we have friends over. Decent quality will last a long time if you take care of it well. The same goes for clothing, decor and toys – this is where the action-intention gap really gets tricky. Avoiding buying fast fashion and whatever happens be be on trend. Stick instead to classics that will last.
Basically what I am trying to tell you here is to think. Think of the pros and cons of what you are buying, not in terms of convenience or financial cost, but in terms of environmental cost. Think about every element of the product you are planning to buy. Where has it come from? What is in it? How and where has it been produced? How will you dispose of the packaging? How long will this product be in your home before it too hits the bin? Look at your trolley content and imagine how many bin bags the waste from it will fill.
Closing your action-intention gap in relation to greener living may seem like an impossible task. It isn’t. But if you don’t start, you are not doing anyone any favours.