If you think going green is hard… What if it’s about self-interest and living better?

That’s the question Connie Wu asked herself while she listened to Keilem Ng and Lance Lau’s TEDxTinHau Countdown talk.

Keilem Ng and Lance Lau share how they help communities take climate action at TEDxTinHau Countdown. Photo by Alex Macro.

People don’t like changing, even less so when being told to. Keilem and Lance started their talk with a story about people avoiding them on a recent Friday for Futures climate strike in Hong Kong.

Many of us are told that as long as we are alive and well, any disruption to the status quo should be discouraged. But no, we may be alive but are certainly not well. For example, I’m concerned whether the air that I’m inhaling is full of dirt and toxins, and that the water I’m drinking contains numerous plastic pellets undetected by our naked eye. We may have a flash of regret when picking up takeaway and using plastic cutlery, knowing that plastic is piling up in landfills and killing our marine life, and yet very often this guilt is gone in a blink of an eye, and so the vicious cycle never ends.

Yet many of us seem unwilling to close the value-action gap, i.e. our action does not correspond to our value system, in this case environmental sustainability. The term “going green” sounds like a daunting task which requires us to revamp our whole lifestyle, such as throwing away all things disposable, eating no meat, avoiding air-conditioning in summer and going zero-waste. After all, not many of us are as proactive as Keilem and Lance, who are brave enough to take the lead, go to the street to raise awareness of climate action and help others achieve their own green goals.

Going green is acting in self-interest

Adam Smith, the “Father of Economics”, believed that human-beings act in self-interest all the time. Going green can seem difficult, as many of us believe that it is a distant idea and has nothing to do with our own self-interest. Aside from the benefits of contributing to a healthier planet, and as Lance mentioned, making sure that parts of our city don’t  disappear underwater, what if going green can save our hard-earned money?

Have you considered buying a collapsible water bottle for HK$100 which can be used for years, in lieu of bottled water for HK$10 for 10 times? What about spending HK$79 on three washable face masks which last for two months in total, instead of HK$150 on 60 disposable surgical face masks containing degradation-resistant materials? Or the most obvious one, bringing your own bag so you don’t need to spend extra 50 cents when you do grocery shopping every time? Going green doesn’t necessarily mean researching and calculating the carbon footprint of every single purchase, but a bit of awareness and simple arithmetic can also help you make wiser choices.

Connie Wu shows that swapping to a reusable mask can be good for the planet and your wallet.

Going green is focusing on living better

You may think that spending a few extra bucks for convenience is still better (or cooler) than bringing along an additional water bottle or shopping bag each time going out. I used to think that too, until I moved into my current tiny flat. Suddenly buying less is no longer optional but mandatory, otherwise my freezer would be overflowed with pre-packaged microwave food, my wardrobe fast-fashion clothes which degrade after a wash or two, and my cabinet a chaos of plastic bags from times when I forgot to bring my own bag.

This reminds me of a friend of mine, who once said that Marie Kondo’s tidying/organisation method in fact “creates more waste”, as one would have to throw away things which do not “spark joy”. I would rather think of it as a way to focus on living better and buying quality over quantity – fewer items which last longer means fewer purchase decisions to make and less time to spend on tidying up your home at weekends, and instead you have more time and money to spend on things that really matter and “spark joy” in your life, like family, friendship and lifelong goals. Just make sure that anything you decide you no longer need is passed on responsibly, for example by finding it a new home, upcycling or recycling.

We can start with small actions Keilem and Lance mentioned that they keep telling people what should be done even when they are unwilling to listen, and for me this is a very powerful statement. Whilst the science behind climate change is clear, it can be perceived as difficult and inconvenient to make changes to your lifestyle. Our daily lives amongst our communities are where important first steps can be made. “Climate action isn’t something we should leave to the scientists and politicans,” said Keilem, and Lance concluded, “no one is too small to make a difference, and no action is too small to start with.”

Watch Keilem and Lance’s talk ‘The story we’ll tell in 2050’

You can #JoinTheCountdown and take your small step for climate action today, choose your action for 2020 at Count Us In. 

Connie Wu is currently studying for the Masters of Corporate Environmental Governance at the University of Hong Kong.

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