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Sarah Nicholls: Changing behaviours in the name of sustainability or Ebenezer Scrooge?

15 December 2015 – Shifting gears here on the ‘It’s the little things’ blog. I had previously bounced around ideas on what, within sustainability, has the most potential for impact. As prompted by my Cambridge programme, I will now follow more closely with the themes given in our curriculum. This blog therefore focuses on the theme of sustainable consumption and behaviour change.

This is a timely topic for two reasons: one because of the Christmas season and two because of behaviour changes I am making in my own personal life as a result of embarking on the Cambridge journey.

Let’s start with the first – I am a day late in submitting this blog because my parents arrive for Christmas this weekend. And unhelpfully, it’s Tuesday, and I have yet to buy any Christmas gifts for them, my in-laws as well as other parts of the family who are thousands of miles away. Sure, I’ve been busy with events like COP 21 last week (incredible! – I’ve actually been cheating on this blog with this other blog, where you can read about my time in Paris) and the regular day job. BUT, my delayed preparation for Christmas has to do even more so with the principle behind the holiday. We’ve all made our lists, then someone clicks on that shiny blue hyperlink, and uses their own credit card to buy a gift. Is that what Christmas is really about? Or have we turned into mass consuming, never-ending shoppers who aren’t considering a) what we really need b) all the waste that goes into Christmas gifts whether from the transport, the packaging, the manufacturing, etc. c) and what truly makes us happy – I can tell you from the early findings of my dissertation, which is due next Summer, that life a’int about what Santa puts under the tree.

So, my conclusion to this first leg of sustainable consumption and behaviour change is that 2015 is the year of less gifts (we have all committed to buying only one gift per person) but 2016, for me, will be the year of no gifts.

Moving on to the second – it’s amazing to see how prevalent and all-consuming (not in the ironic way) sustainability can be when you apply it to your daily life. My Cambridge course has made me consider food choices (I am trying to eat more veggie and less meat), the extent to which I recycle (paper is great, but what about compost, plastic, glass, etc.), how I purchase essential goods (I have refused to get a new bike, and instead, I am the slowest person around on my old Oma fiets, a local reference for any Dutchies out there), when I leave work (while working 5 days a week, studying, getting married soon and moving to a new country are not the most conducive conditions for trialling work/life balance, I’ve certainly started to conceptualise the idea), how high I turn on the heat in the winter (I’m learning to layer up)…and the list continues.

But what do I glean from this second leg of sustainable consumption and behaviour change? Suffice to say, behaviour change is hard. I lose the battle on a daily basis to the point where I feel like a hypocrite. Although I am making small gains as well. I feel better; I am hopefully contributing more to the people around me and my wider communities; and I am conscious of this finite planet and how my individual actions contribute to the collective destruction of the beauty around us.

Call me a Scrooge, but I feel like these are small, yet good steps in the right direction.


17 January 2018, 16.00-17.00

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2018 intake workshop dates

Workshop 1: 16–22 September 2018 
Workshop 2: 31 March–6 April 2019
Workshop 3: 1–7 September 2019   
Workshop 4: 29 March–4 April 2020

2017 intake Workshop dates

Workshop 1: 2–8 September 2017
Workshop 2: 8–14 April 2018
Workshop 3: 2–8 September 2018   
Workshop 4: 31 March–6 April 2019

2016 intake Workshop dates

Workshop 1: 18–24 September 2016
Workshop 2: 26 March–1 April 2017
Workshop 3: 30 July–5 August 2017
Workshop 4: 8–14 April 2018