Is time the missing ingredient to living sustainably?

Picture of Madelyn Postman

Madelyn Postman

With little family around and not too many holiday traditions to keep up with, this floating period between Christmas and the new year is always a good time to take stock of the past months, clean out an overflowing inbox (I am relentless with my inbox zero target), and spend hours reading, watching videos and knitting. And to write about something that has been on my mind for quite a while — ironically, about time itself.

Though most of our Thoughts are about how businesses can become champions for people and the planet, this one is more about individual action.

There are many reasons why people don’t choose the most sustainable options and behaviours: for example a lack of knowledge, interest, time, money, skills, or community support.


Money can be a sticking point, whether we’re on a tight budget or have some cash to spare. It’s easy to think of sustainable products that are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, from organic food to electric cars to sustainable clothing. Of course, this short-term expense does not take into account long-term impacts like climate change and externalities (an external effect, often unforeseen or unintended, accompanying a process or activity) like pollution, or social impacts like human rights.

However, many sustainable choices cost less, like walking, cycling, or taking public transport, buying secondhand clothing, buying in bulk, or making your own food. And simply buying less stuff — or renting or borrowing items — costs less.


Even when we have the knowledge and interest in making sustainable choices, and perhaps some budget too, time can undermine our best intentions. Most lower-impact means of transport take longer to get from A to B. Driving at 60 mph has a 15 per cent lower carbon footprint than driving at 70 mph (source: How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee).

Making your own food takes skill and time, though batch cooking can make meal preparation more efficient. Bulk buying, sharing or renting items takes time to find the right places or platforms – and community support is needed too, like having a local plastic-free shop, a “tool library”, or a WhatsApp group of friendly neighbours.


The most convenient solutions are often unsustainable. Our personal carbon footprints are typically divided into quarters allocated to travel, food, housing (energy use), and everything else. The typically convenient types of travel, like driving with a petrol or diesel vehicle and flying, have the highest emissions. There’s an endless choice of convenient and processed foods which are not good for us, for animals, or for the planet. Some fixes for energy use at home, like turning down the heating by a degree or two and putting on a jumper, are simple. But at home often the most convenient (and unsustainable) route is to do nothing, since adding insulation, changing windows, or installing solar panels takes time, money, skills, knowledge, and community support…and there’s an ongoing lack of effective government measures that would address those challenges.

So what’s the answer? Have a look at the infographic we made based on Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad Are Bananas? and consider some of the top ten tips through the lens not of how much they might cost (or save) but also how much time they will take. What are the quick wins? For example, switching to a renewable energy provider like Ecotricity, Good Energy or GEUK (all Ethical Consumer Best Buys) doesn’t take long at all. Neither does changing your current account to ethical bank and B Corp Triodos, using the Current Account Switch Guarantee. It isn’t difficult to avoid animal products and cook up some healthy (and inexpensive) vegetables.

An abundance mindset

On a more philosophical level, do you have a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset? If you think that you lack time, there’s never enough time, time is money, you’re flat-out, chock-a-block etc., that belief becomes your reality. How much free time do we actually have available? Are you surprised to hear that it’s probably more than four hours per day?

The next time you need something from the shops, can you walk or cycle to a local store rather than a supermarket and perhaps get the ingredients to make something from scratch? Instead of one-click buying the latest gadget, sit down and read a book, or this guide on Shopping without Amazon by Ethical Consumer. You just might find that time slows down, you can savour the moment, and you feel happier.

Simon & Garfunkel can have the last word: Slow down, you move too fast / You got to make the morning last / …Let the morning time drop all its petals on me / Life, I love you / All is groovy.

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