To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

I’ve been planning to write this since I wrote about buying an iPad. I received some criticism for it (which was to be expected, given the nature of this blog), and that got me thinking.

Did I make the wrong decision? Did I abandon my morals? Am I a bad person? Have I fallen off the wagon?

Trying to live in a sustainable, ethical way isn’t always easy. There always seems to be compromise. It isn’t so much about the right thing to do, but the least bad thing to do.

I remember when I first stopped thinking about doing more, wishing I could do more, and decided to do something about it. I started doing postgraduate studies in Environmental Decision-Making, and I secured an internship at a UK charity called Tree Aid. Whereas at my previous workplace I was sometimes referred to as a tree-hugger (getting an internship at a charity called Tree Aid in no way helped this!), now through study and work I was surrounded by people who cared as much about sustainability, ethical consumerism, social justice and the environment as I did. Maybe they even cared more.

As someone who was just beginning this journey, I was expecting the people I was now exposed to to be hardened “greenies” (although what I thought that meant, I’m not sure). Yes, everyone was passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated. What I found surprising though, was all of them did things that I didn’t consider to fit with this image I had created.

There were the vegans who didn’t use animal products for environmental reasons, yet drank soy (soy production contributes to rainforest destruction).

There were families that wanted to connect more with nature so lived in the country, but had multiple cars to make this possible, including a four-wheel drive for the many trips into town for supplies, school and social outings.

There were people who would not step foot inside a department or high street store, and only bought ethical clothing, yet would shop for groceries at the supermarket.

There were people who took regular flights to visit projects or attend courses or seminars, or to travel to remote places to reconnect with nature and feel re-inspired.

At first I felt a little indignant. How can these people call themselves environmentalists when they fly/shop at Tesco/drive a gas-guzzling car?! Then I realised…they weren’t calling themselves anything. I was the one labelling them. They were just trying to do the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

Another thing I’ve slowly come to realise, is that you can be passionate about many things, but often they are in conflict with one another.

  • Believing in Fair Trade, wanting farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair wage, and wanting to provide a market for these products…whilst also believing in supporting local producers and the local economy, and avoiding high food miles.
  • Wanting to support organic, sustainable farming practices with free-range, grass-fed animals, whilst recognising that a vegetarian/plant-based/vegan diet uses less energy and is considered more sustainable.
  • Flying uses huge amounts of fuel, has a huge carbon footprint and is a massive source of greenhouse gases…yet it enables people who do great work on sustainability to travel and reach wider audiences to spread their message. It also allows people to connect with nature and remote places, or see social injustice and poverty, and feel inspired to fight for them.
  • Electronic gadgets mean mining, manufacturing processes that use chemicals, questionable working conditions and end products with short shelf lives that contribute to landfill…yet they are the main means of communicating the in 21st Century; if people want to connect, to inspire, to teach and to learn, these gadgets are necessary.

When faced with conflicts like this, we have to choose. How we choose depends on our situation, our resources, our experiences at that moment. It doesn’t mean we’d make the same choice next time. It doesn’t even mean we made the right choice this time – after all, making mistakes is how we learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.

When I bought my iPad, I made a decision, and I was faced with a choice. I wanted to be able to connect with other people online, and be a part of the sustainability online community. I wanted to be able to work online outside of home, and the freedom this gives me. I wanted to be able to read books, magazines and articles electronically, to learn more and feel inspired. The decision was to invest in a tablet. My choice wasn’t about whether this was the most sustainable thing to want; it was whether I could achieve this in a more sustainable way. Looking at options, there was no ideal solution, just a “least bad” one. That’s how I made my choice.

You know what? Sometimes, that’s how it is. We have to compromise.

Having to compromise sometimes doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my principles (tweet this). It doesn’t mean I care less about living a sustainable lifestyle, Fair Trade, social justice, landfill waste or plastic pollution.

It means I’m not perfect. But I’m doing the best that I can.

35 Responses to To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

  1. Agreed! I’ve been frozen by perfection and I’ve cost other parts of my life striving for the ‘right thing’ but the further I go along, I realise its more about cycles and balance and there isn’t one correct way for me or anyone to go.

    • That’s a really nice way to put it – life is about cycles and balance. So true : ) Sometimes I feel like it would be nuce to have one correct way to follow, but then I realise…that’s what makes life interesting!

  2. This was perfect timing for me, Lindsay. I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself lately because I have come so far but am struggling with perfection, which I feel I fall short on. Take for instance how I decided I had to replace a plastic comb that was disintegrating. I wanted sustainable and wood seemed the best choice, but it was so pricey I couldn’t justify the purchase. I settled on an aluminum one but while I am happy with the purchase in the back of my mind I hear this voice that says aluminum used way more resources to produce than a wooden comb would have.

    I have also found myself judging others. One example is Al Gore. He has this wonderful message about the environment but then travels by air to speak and lives in a very large home that must cost a fortune to heat and maintain. I have asked myself why he simply doesn’t use technology to give his speeches via Skype, or something similar. Yet that has its own footprint and who am I to judge him when I still have areas to improve upon.

    • Thanks, Lois. I thought I’d replied to you before but I’ve just noticed that it didn’t appear, so I’d best reply again! You are one of the most sustainable people I know, and you definitely shouldn’t be putting pressure on yourself! I aspire to be as sustainable as you : )

      That’s an interesting point regarding people who travel to spread the green message. In the UK people are much more disapproving of air travel than they are in Australia, probably because everything is very close and train travel is an option in Europe. When I lived in the UK I would have agreed; now I think that air travel has its place. I would rather people travelled to spread their message than didn’t, when all the climate change deniers are willing to travel to spread THEIR message. Ultimately it would be great if people didn’t need to fly…but right now it has its place. There is no doubt that Al Gore has been a great influence on others…

      • Lindsay, I find myself looking up to you and wanting to emulate your example. ;-)

        I don’t like air planes, but that dislike started long before I thought about the environmental impact it had. I agree with you that air travel has its place but I don’t believe we need as many planes in the air daily as we do.

        • Aw thanks!

          I’m totally with you on that. Even after all the tax breaks and subsidies the airlines receive, many still operate at a loss…it’s just not sustainable in any sense. I think air travel is a luxury and should be seen as a luxury – not something people can do every weekend. After all, it’s so easy to go to amazing places by train, boat or bus too…people don’t need to miss out by flying less.

          • I have been traveling by bus but am looking forward to the high speed rail that is promised in our area soon. It’s nice to sit back and not be a driver for once. ;-)

            • Yes it is! High speed rail will be awesome! You can be so much more productive when you don’t have to drive…reading, writing, planning, learning, looking : )

              • Oh yes! I hope it is built soon. The east coast of the US with a few exceptions is so far behind that it shocked me to see my area listed for high speed rail in the near future. I’ve got my fingers crossed it gets through planning and is built soon.

  3. Hit the nail on the head. Do I buy food from the shops near me covered in cling wrap or drive further and get food in my own containers? Plastic vs petrol burning. I eat meat, I prefer to buy the free range because at least the animals had a better quality of life but it’s always cling wrapped on a tray of some sort, some recyclable, some not.
    I prefer to buy from independent businesses but they don’t carry the free range products.
    I struggle with decisions everyday. I try to make the least bad decision. It’s not easy in this world and…
    There is so such thing as perfection.
    I just do the best I can each time.

    • That sounds exactly what runs through my head every time I go shopping! Where I live I’ve pretty much got a routine of what to get where now so I don’t think about it too much – I’ve made those decisions – but when I’m away from home and need to get something it can be very stressful!

      Same goes for when I need to buy something I don’t usually buy (which, aside from food, is most things). It does seem to be choosing the least bad option.

      Being a conscious consumer is a good thing, though! : )

  4. And my reason is that I just can’t stand contributing further to the mess this planet is in, I can’t stand the way we treat it, the animals etc that live on it and the way we treat each other. I feel a weird kind of grief at what has happened and is happening. So I just keep plodding on, doing the best I can. Like your blog.

    • Do the best that you can. That is all you can do. But it’s better than doing nothing, just because you can’t do everything : )

  5. Just learned about the concept of wicked problems (Rittel & Webber). Everything environmental seems to involve them, especially plastic…
    Here’s a bit about wicked problems lifted from

    Wicked problems have no definitive formulation. The problem of poverty in Texas is grossly similar but discretely different from poverty in Nairobi, so no practical characteristics describe “poverty.”
    It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure or claim success with wicked problems because they bleed into one another, unlike the boundaries of traditional design problems that can be articulated or defined.
    Solutions to wicked problems can be only good or bad, not true or false. There is no idealized end state to arrive at, and so approaches to wicked problems should be tractable ways to improve a situation rather than solve it.
    There is no template to follow when tackling a wicked problem, although history may provide a guide. Teams that approach wicked problems must literally make things up as they go along.
    There is always more than one explanation for a wicked problem, with the appropriateness of the explanation depending greatly on the individual perspective of the designer.
    Every wicked problem is a symptom of another problem. The interconnected quality of socio-economic political systems illustrates how, for example, a change in education will cause new behavior in nutrition.
    No mitigation strategy for a wicked problem has a definitive scientific test because humans invented wicked problems and science exists to understand natural phenomena.
    Offering a “solution” to a wicked problem frequently is a “one shot” design effort because a significant intervention changes the design space enough to minimize the ability for trial and error.
    Every wicked problem is unique.
    Designers attempting to address a wicked problem must be fully responsible for their actions.

    • Wow that is really interesting! I’ve never heard of that before…I’m going to look into it some more. This bit stood out for me: “Teams that approach wicked problems must literally make things up as they go along.” I feel like we can all relate to this!

      Thanks so much for sharing Lauren!

  6. I think that the fact that you are so mindfully aware of these issues shows how much you care. And it is only through caring that we strive to improve the situation. I think also that for those of us who are doing our bit to live more sustainably conflicts like what you mentioned continue to arise because society as a whole is still in a ‘transition phase’. If we were already living more sustainably (from industry to individuals) we wouldn’t be caught so often having to compromise. Choices would be more ethical and sustainability oriented. Our ‘transition’ to a more sustainable existence will still involve inner and outer conflict in many areas. Choosing to do your best whilst exploring better alternatives and educating others will still get my vote every time! Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

    • That is a good point you make about being in “transition”. You’re right; it would be easier if it were more mainstream. I guess our mission as bloggers is to open peoples’ eyes to different ways of doing things and making sustainable living more mainstream!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response Leah : )

  7. Thank you for the awesome post, Lindsay. Perfect is not an option. If we wait until we’re perfect to take action, nothing will happen or change. I think the majority of us do the best we can. This applies not just to the environment, but also to relationships, work and life in general.

  8. This is a great post and voices some of the things I have been thinking (and planning to blog about) in relation to coming out of No Plastic July. Milk is a huge thing for me – do I buy my milk non-organic and in glass bottles from a company who pays their farmers an unfair amount of money, or do I go for a fairly priced organic milk in a plastic bottle. I chose the organic milk in the end but it is a compromise I wasn’t happy making.

    • Thanks! I look forward to reading your blog posts when they’re written : )

      Milk can be a tricky one. We are lucky that we can get milk in glass from a local dairy – but it’s expensive and can be hard to source sometimes – they don’t make it easy for their customers! I actually now drink nut milk, and it’s surprisingly good and versatile, and I’d really recommend you try it out! (This is someone who used to love dairy, and never ever thought I’d say this!) I’m not saying it works for everything – definitely not bechamel sauce for example – but for porridge, smoothies, cereal, tea (is you’re a real tea connoisseur you may disagree with this one) and in baking it works great! Cashew nuts are a good one to start with. If you can replace some of your regular milk with nut milk, it saves packaging, transport costs and also your plastic/glass fair/unfair dilemma!

      Go on…try it! : p

  9. So true! I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I get ready to send energy bar wrappers in for recycling. It’s not the ideal solution, but honors my family where they are at right now. And love what you said about making mistakes being a path to learning.


    • Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa! I really like your choice of words. “Not ideal, but honors my family where they are at…” Perfectly put! When we don’t live alone, we have to acknowledge that the other people we share space with aren’t necessarily where we are at. Thanks for the reminder : )

    • That’s so true Bethany! I love the quote “β€œStart where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” It’s all about just doing your best : )

  10. Want to say sorry, because I was one of the critics of the Apple-i pad. Since I wrote, I mentioned, that I have to make a lot of comromises in the shopping for the family, but because I make it for so long, I do not think about it every day. If we would think about every item we buy, we wouldn’t be back home for hours. In Germany we have a lot of things in glass: milk, yoghurt, cream, quark, water, juice etc, but next week we move to the UK and I never saw glass-milk-bottles or glasses with yoghurt; the next problem will arrive: shall we eat the yoghurt from plastic or should we cancel eating it?
    Nobody can make that decision for you, only you by yourself! And we all do the best we can, how many posts said earlier. Let us do the best, that we can do and from time to time we can bent the rules to love life.
    OK now, please enjoy your i-pad, Lindsey!

    • Hi Suzanne, absolutely no need to apologize! : ) It was a good point and it got me thinking… I think there’s definitely a difference between making a compromise and being contradictory! Like I said, it is so easy to judge people who make decisions that we wouldn’t make (and I’ve definitely been there!) – but along the line somewhere, we all have to compromise with something! Moving country can be hard – I wasn’t plastic-free when I came to Australia but I was still pro-local, pro-organic etc, and I took a lot of steps backwards…like shopping regularly at supermarkets. Now I’m in front of where I was when I left the UK – so how will I manage when I go back to the UK?! Arghh!

      Good luck with your move! You’ll get there in the end, it’s all about small steps but in the right direction! You’re right – let’s all do the best we can and enjoy it too!

      PS Are you on Facebook or Instagram? I posted a picture of my “new” iPad case – it’s made out of the leg of an old pair of jeans! I think you might approve : )

  11. Thanks for this post! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who struggles with compromises.

    I’m vegan for almost 1 year now (in 3 weeks, exactly. I’m sooo proud of myself!) and I’m also trying to go zero waste, but veganism and zero waste doesn’t seem to be compatible (many vegan options are hard to buy in bulk – like mock meats, which I eat occasionally). So I’m doing my best in both of ’em! :)

    I love your blog so far, I’ll continue my reading!

    • Personally, I found veganism went better with zero waste, because meat/fish and cheese and other dairy is all packaged in plastic! I guess it depends where you live though, and what is available. I’ve seen that soy protein “meat” in bulk in some places. I’m lucky that I have a lot of bulk shops near me that also sell lots of health food things.

      I’m impressed you’ve stuck to veganism for a year! That’s a great commitment. I am planning on doing an entirely vegan month soon (I do eat eggs, but I also have a tendency to bend my rules if vegan food isn’t available – which is often).

      Thanks, and thanks for leaving a comment! Nice to meet you : )

      • I haven’t yet started to buy in bulk, because the only place I have found where there are lots of choices (not just nuts or candy) is a 30-minute subway and 15 minutes walk. Since it is not close to where I live, I was thinking I could go there once a month (to buy pasta, rice, flour, cocoa, chocolate, etc.) and continue to buy fruits and vegetables at the supermarket and , eventually, find a fruit store near me (and go to markets in the summer, even if there are not that close, too).

        That’s a lot of organization, but I am convinced that once well-organized, it will seem ordinary to me! After that, maybe I’ll find that being vegan and zero waste is not that difficult! ;-)

        • That sounds perfect! I think definitely that taking small steps and taking it slowly works best. Try to go zero waste for a few things then get that habit sorted, then look for what else to do. Small steps but in the right direction. Once you have new habits established you’ll wonder what you ever thought was difficult about it!

          Good luck!

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