Children are very small when they begin to notice how their actions affect the world around them. Our job as parents and caregivers is to guide them toward making thoughtful choices, being kind and respectful, and caring for others while they find their place in the world.
Parenting with an eco-conscious mindset is a natural extension of these values. Learning about environmental issues and practising sustainability within our homes is an opportunity to grow and learn alongside our children in a positive and meaningful way.
Earnest first steps
Our journey to becoming an eco-conscious family began while experiencing infertility. In addition to treatment, we began to consider environmental factors such as single-use plastics and the ingredients in our personal care and cleaning products. We shopped at bulk stores, switched to natural products, used reusable containers, rode our bikes more, and adopted a plant-based diet.
When our sons were born, the overwhelming marketing to buy everything new and disposable had the opposite effect on us. Instead, we prioritized buying secondhand, using cloth diapers, and finding reusables.
As our sons get older, each new stage of life presents new challenges, but the framework stays the same. We aim to equip them (and ourselves) with sustainable habits and skills they can confidently take into the world in a way that cares for the planet and the people on it.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned so far in our family’s journey, in hopes that they might also help inspire your own family’s next steps.
Take it slow
Moving toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle is a major change for most of us, both in mindset and habits. It takes time and work to look at your home with fresh eyes, carefully consider what you truly need, define your values, research alternatives, and then make all of this part of your daily life. As this becomes the new normal, you’ll notice that you’re using and purchasing less, and living in the moment more.
What you can do
With so many options and facets of sustainability, it can feel overwhelming to even know where to begin. Focus instead on what feels easy and doable for your family, in this moment. This might include
- phasing plastic out of the lunch box
- buying this season’s clothing secondhand
- walking to school
- adding in one plant-based meal a week
Go at your own pace and make one change at a time. Be flexible and find what works for your family. Feeling good about the changes you’re making will keep you motivated to continue and grow. Ultimately, sustainable living must be sustainable for you.
It’s a team effort
Having a family meeting is an important place to begin. Consider the needs of your unique family circumstances (food allergies, budget, traditions), discuss your shared concerns, and begin with what feels doable. Finding the right balance is key. Be sure to keep these conversations ongoing, adjust when needed, and celebrate your accomplishments. Parenting is ever evolving as children grow, and the way you approach sustainable living will, too.
What they can do
Involving the kids at every age helps to build a scaffold of eco-habits to bring forward in their everyday lives. Being a part of these positive actions will build their sense of agency and autonomy. Kids can help do things like
- fill containers at the refill store
- sort the recycling
- turn the compost
- put the laundry on the line
- pick up litter in the neighbourhood.
They can surprise you with what they know and what they want to learn to do next! Working toward something together as a family is an ongoing bonding exercise, deepening your connection to the planet and each other.
Find your community
It does, indeed, take a village to raise a child, and other like-minded parents are out there! Look online for local Zero Waste or eco-parenting groups for practical tips and information, and make good use of your local library. Social media can also be a great source of inspiration and diversity in all the ways sustainability can be practised.
What you all can do
There are so many meaningful ways to connect with your local community as well. We make an effort to drive less, choosing to walk or bike whenever possible. This makes us slow down, notice things, and talk more to each other. Community engagement for your family could include
- picking up litter
- volunteering at a community garden
- joining the school council
- shopping at local small businesses
- sharing with neighbours
Sustainable living shows our children, in a tangible way, that individual actions have a collective impact. We aim to teach them to be active and engaged citizens who want to make a better world for everyone. Every one of us has something positive to contribute—and all of it matters.
Can’t recycle it? Reuse it!
With less than 11 percent of plastic recycled in Canada, finding new uses for things keeps them in use and out of the landfill. Try these suggestions or get creative with your own!
- Plastic clamshells and takeout containers make excellent storage for everything from blocks to hair accessories.
- Turn old clothing into reusable wipes, napkins, and produce bags.
- Use empty bread bags in the freezer or for pet waste.
- Turn takeout drink containers into seedling pots.
- Place lonely lids under houseplants.
- Use empty squeeze bottles as water toys.
- Make your favourite animal out of empty containers.
Eco kid essentials
A few key items can help you reduce waste with your kids. The good news is that you only need to buy most of them once! Check out your local natural health retailer for a great selection of eco-friendly products.
- cloth diapers and wipes
- stainless steel lunch containers
- washable snack pouches
- reusable straws (steel, bamboo, or silicone)
- bamboo utensil kit
- stainless steel water bottle/sippy cups
- cloth napkins and hankies
- bamboo toothbrushes
- bar soap, shampoo, and conditioner
- wooden comb or hairbrush