What is stopping you from living a more environmentally sustainable life?

Originally written on R-zero, a guide for people who wish to live more sustainably. Every month, I share 5 tips to reduce waste and save resources, detailing the impact each tip has in terms of sustainability, as well as the money and time you’d be saving or spending.

Before starting this project, I ran a tiny survey that I asked friends and coworkers to fill. The survey had only one multiple choice question (did I mention it was tiny?) that asked:

What is stopping you from living a more environmentally sustainable life?

People could answer by selecting up to 3 of the following answers:

  • I don’t have enough time
  • It’s too expensive
  • I live with other people
  • It’s too complicated
  • It’s not a priority for me
  • It requires too much effort
  • I’m already as sustainable as I can be
  • I don’t know how to

If you didn’t answer the original survey, I invite you to do so now. Think to yourself: what are currently the obstacles that are stopping you from being more sustainable? There are no right or wrong answers. Even the “it’s not a priority for me” is perfectly acceptable for several reasons. Keeping these perceived obstacles in mind is important because when we consciously identify what the limits are for us and what we are most afraid to sacrifice (money? time?), it becomes easier to recognize the changes that don’t require us to sacrifice it at all.

At the time of writing, 68 people answered the question above, and the results are as follows:

In my opinion, this is an extremely positive outcome.

If we exclude everyone that answered that living more sustainably is not a priority for them or that they are already doing everything within their reach, we are left with 80% of people who would likely be interested in living more sustainably if it weren’t for a couple of concerns. The good news: these concerns can easily be addressed.

I don’t have enough time + It requires too much effort

While it’s true that some gestures require time, dedication and a bit of effort, there are plenty of things that can be done almost effortlessly and that, in reality, might be a time-saver in the long run.

Once we start being mindful about our use of limited resources, we very naturally start to become aware of situations where we could improve our habits — such as, for example, closing the tap while brushing our teeth to save water. Effortless, right?

For some quality insights on how this awareness and mindfulness helps the transition to sustainable habits, I recommend listening to the first episode of the podcast Practical(ly) Zero Waste.

It’s too expensive

Since being more sustainable is intrinsically connected with less consumerism and making the best of what we have, it’s much more likely that you’ll end up saving money. I invite you to read Bea Johnson’s How to Get Started guide, where she suggests that two of the steps for a more sustainable lifestyle are reducing (what we buy, what we need) and reusing (what we already have). Doing these shouldn’t require any upfront investment.

So, speaking directly to the 14.5% of you fearing the monetary burden: rest at ease; so far this lifestyle has only made me save money. From personal experience, I can tell you that I’ve been saving more than €150/month when compared to my old habits — and I’m not even taking into account all the things that this mindset has prevented me from buying impulsively. It’s €150 in day-to-day regular cost reductions (e.g. smaller water bills).

Side note: €150 might not sound like much if you’re not reading this from Portugal, but, to give you a bit of context, the Portuguese average gross income in 2018 was €1.170,30/month (pre-tax and including bonuses)[1]. If you’re reading this from, let’s say, California, where the average gross income was closer to $2.918,45/month[2], it would be (very roughly) equivalent to saving an additional $320 each month[3]. We can’t make such a direct correlation as the living costs, taxes, and price of different goods are also not directly correlated, but it should give you an idea of how much it represents to the average Portuguese salary.

I live with other people

I know this is tricky. As I mention on my about page, my boyfriend and I often disagree on what’s worth doing or not. Some gestures that seem natural to me, he considers them to be a potential compromise on comfort, to be beyond our responsibility or to not be impactful enough to be a relevant effort. And that’s ok. It might mean that we share fewer things (like toothpaste), but it doesn’t mean we can’t share a home. Having aligned mindsets does go a long way, especially in avoiding frustrations, but there is always room for different levels of individual commitment even when everyone is on board.

There’s a positive outcome to this: living with someone who’s a bit more sceptical keeps you questioning if you’re becoming irrational or making counterproductive choices.

That being said, once your housemates and family realise that you are saving time and money, you’ll at least have their curiosity.

It’s too complicated + I don’t know how to

When we first start contacting with sustainability, it’s very normal to get overwhelmed. There’s so much to do and so much to learn; sometimes we try to do it all at once and we just end up giving up altogether.

That’s why I’m going to be sharing only 5 steps each month, which you can try at your own rhythm, and of course focus on the ones that make sense to you. It’s easier to incorporate new habits into our routines if done gradually. Soon, some will blend into our life seamlessly and you’ll find yourself wondering why you ever did things differently.

I’ll tell you exactly the impact each of those gestures potential has, in terms of time, money and sustainability, and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth a try.

Thank you for your interest so far! It means that you care about preserving this world of ours and for that, I am truly thankful.

All sustainability tips are first posted on the website https://r-zero.xyz and if you want to keep up with the news, you can follow the project on Instagram @rzero.xyz or subscribe to the newsletter.

See you soon!


  1. PORDATA, Contemporary Portugal Database
  2. United States Census Bureau
    The value used was calculated by dividing the per capita income in 12.
  3. This value was calculated using the annual gross income. For the Portuguese value, multiply the monthly value for 14.

Frontend developer at SingleStore. Juicy details at rafaelaferro.com.

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