Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it
Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:
‘That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?
Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.
I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.
And yet… it happens. To all of us.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.
Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.
As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.
Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.
I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.
But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.
This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.
I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.
And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.
Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)
One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).
Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?
Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.
Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.
I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.
Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.
Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.
I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.
Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.
There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!
When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.
That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.
Yes, I want to hear from you!
Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.
This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.
Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.
Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.
Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!
Yes let’s avoid should and shouldn’t, the stress daily of trying to do the right thing can be overwhelming. I just listened to a mammamia podcast yesterday where they discussed ‘virtue signalling’, it’s one way of describing someone trying to show off their ‘green eco’ activity. Good luck with your revamped website.
I completely agree, Chris – it is tough enough navigating all these choices. I’ve heard of ‘virtue signalling’ but have to confess I didn’t really know what it meant, so having a good old read now. Ugh, more stuff to unpick. And thanks – as with all things, it is taking far longer than I thought!
Great post, Lindsay, thank you for taking this stance.
The internet can get a bit shouty sometimes. Just trying to do my bit, Naomi :)
I was shocked to read that the BBC are blaming asthmatics for climate change when it is climate change that causes a lot of asthma. My asthma has got worse over the last couple of years. They need to tackle the drug companies to make moe sustainable medication , not those who need it to live. I do feel guilty when I take medication because of the poor and sometimes excessive packaging the drug companies use. I do lots of other things to try and reduce my carbon footprint.
It was truly puzzling, Lois. I receive a lot of emails from people feeling guilty about medication because the packaging isn’t often recyclable. If people are sick and need medication, it is not their fault that it is not packaged sustainably! I think what we do as individuals is important, and yes we can make a difference, but we also mustn’t feel the burden of saving the entire planet on our shoulders. As you say, corporations and governments and companies have power to make change also, and they must take more responsibility, in my view.
My husband has chronic asthma and this BBC claim is something we have not seen! Does anyone have a link to this article blaming asthmatic people for climate change ?
Whatever has provoked such humility, I can only applaud you. As a long time reader I am inspired to be a first time contributor. Marianne Williamson wrote, and I quote “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”. Keep up the great work Lindsay, no judgement here!
It’s been on my mind for quite a while, Geoffrey! I think movements (and people) evolve, and what might have seemed more black and white when I started now has lots of shades of grey. I truly believe that individual actions matter, and that we can all make a difference with our choices, but I also know that it looks different for everyone, and there comes a point where choices just aren’t options for us. And that’s often the fault of the system (or the shortcomings in the system), yet the system seems to like to blame individuals. Anyways, there’s probably more to be said on this, in future posts! ;)
What a great response and quote Geoffrey. Couldn’t have put it better. And Lindsey I love reading your emails and posts as respite from the negativity that is too common in ‘do gooder’ circles (& I say that with love!) Maybe we are all getting virtue fatigue (it’s not easy being right all the time!) In real life I have found that the more I share my journey with people I get a really good mix of reaponses, positive and negative. I try to find some value in all of them.
That BBC article made me so uncomfortable – I’m on chronic medication too, and without it, I would fall apart – every now then I have to remind myself that the waste associated with that is NECESSARY, and I’m doing what I can with my time and resources to reduce out household’s waste overall.
Yeah it was a strange one Susanna, and I think it illustrates this point around ‘eco-guilt’ well, because it clearly brings the responsibility to the individual (a kind of, ‘why haven’t you checked out all the eco-friendly medication already’ tone) without addressing the real issues – drug companies and pollution. It could have been framed totally differently, so (for example) asthma sufferers felt empowered to ask their doctors for options, or write to drug companies, for example, rather than shamed into it. I know they were just trying to share the research, but blaming individuals who don’t have a choice isn’t a good angle, in my view.
Great food for thought! I am always open to ideas on self improvement. I certainly do not feel eco guilt, rather extreme frustration with my family who do not share my enthusiasm☹️. Sadly, my partner is one of the
‘…you are wasting your time, you can’t save the world on your own’ camp. *Sigh* guess I’ll just continue on in my own little way, doing what I can to reduce my own little footprint, cheers Sharron
Hi Sharron, it is good to hear you are feeling immune from ‘eco guilt’ (I suspect a few of us could use some lessons!) and glad you’re not feeling deflated by your partner’s attitude. Here’s hoping he gets on board – or at least partly so – at some point soon! In the meantime, thanks for sharing your positive outlook :)
Sharon, I have to comment.
I’ve been drumming it into my children’s head for years to reduce, reuse, recycle. When the shops recently all started to switch to paper straws my daughter came home and told me to stop. Lol. She said that she liked the plastic straws and I needed to stop because people like me were bringing in the paper straws. I laughed so hard. Alone we are only one person, but together we can make some noise!
Keep doing what you do hun, it does make a difference.
And Lindsay, thank you. I totally agree. Eco guilt had no place and everyone is most definitely at a different stage. I love to encourage the small steps people make, that way hopefully it will lead to bigger and better.
Love your post
Thank you for this thought-provoking article. While I have not really encountered eco-guilt, I guess I am the one on the other side – judging others and maybe even showing off my own progress. I have to remind myself quite often that I will achieve more by encouraging and leading by example instead of confronting people with their shortfalls. But I confess it is hard sometimes when I see so little understanding of necessary changes in our lives and so little willingless to do so. Anyway, let’s try to keep a positive attitude!
Hi Anita and thanks for your comment… and your honesty! I do think most people actually mean well when they are a little overzealous. I am sure I’ve done the same thing in the past – just letting my enthusiasm getting the better of me. Or maybe I’ve not thought about something from someone else’s point of view. But then there is a need to call out inaction sometimes, and disagreeing with ideas out loud can be an important part of the conversation. Sometimes, depending on the conversation. So it’s a balance. But I think we can disagree without being personal or attacking other’s choices. I also think there are forums and spaces where it is more appropriate (like the comments on the bottom of a media article), and those where it is not (like someone’s personal page!). Ultimately, I try to ask myself if I am adding anything positive or helpful to the conversation and also, if comments or discussion are being encouraged by that person. If not, I don’t say anything. A work in progress :)
Really appreciate you writing this post. As I try to live with less waste and encourage others to come along with me like my husband, it can be hard to stay motivated when social media highlights so many shaming and judgmental posts and comments. I find them easier to ignore myself but I find it creates a negative view of people trying to do their bit for the environment for people who think going ‘zero/less waste’ is a waste of time.
Thanks for your comment, Ruth. I think the combination of eco judgement along with unhelpful articles with click-bait headlines like “Thought going zero waste was helping the environment? YOU’RE WRONG!” – I could list some actual titles I’ve seen, but I’ll refrain (!) – it’s no wonder people feel disheartened. Or confused about what actually is the best thing to do. It really doesn’t help that so much media is owned by powerful men with an agenda to keep things exactly as they are…
Anyways, enough of the doom and gloom. Your actions do matter, everyone over here thinks so, and we will be hanging out to cheer you on! You being you, Ruth, and everyone else who is doing what they can! (Cue biodegradable confetti :) )
Oh my! So so so true and becoming so much more common!
Just this week I simply had to walk away from what could have been a thoughtful discussion that helped inform other people of a variety of different opinions, but that turned out to be a ‘I’m smarter than you and I’m going to make sure everyone knows it’ kind of situation.
As you say, there is no perfect answer to the environmental challenges we face, and everyone’s values and starting point vary. But in this community, I believe we’re all doing our very best with what we have, right now, and we must support one another in those efforts. :)
Hello Lindsay – great post thank you. We have got an electric car and some friends have suggested that the lithium in the battery is not very green – which I entirely accept, it isn’t, but I feel that it is my way of trying to make things a little tiny bit better. But I did feel so guilty.
Wonderful article! I know the feeling of being judged like that, for example “Your’re demonstrating for climate action to be taken, but yesterday you used the car, that’s not very consequent, is it?”.
I hate those situations, people eating a lot of meat judging me for eating it every once in a while because I’m “inconsequential”.
At the same time, I have caught myself doing just the same – judging my mom for keeping instead of donating, although I’m sure, she won’t use the stuff, judging my sister for going to work by car, judging people eating loads of meat. Not always have I expressed those judgements verbally, most of the time, they happen just in my head. But still, I’m secretly judging people although I know how much I hate it when people express their judgements towards me.
So, as I’m doing a year of “do something new/uncomfortable/different every month”, I decided that December (for November the goals are already set) will be about not judging people for their lifestyle choices. Instead, I want to just silently show how I do things, maybe inspire, maybe not, but definitely not judge people. Hopefully, after a month, I won’t have to do it intentionally any longer.
Thank you so much for the article, it made me reflect my own behaviour and I realized that I do just the things I loathe so much (a truth I did’nt want to hear, but well, I had to).
Love the idea of doing something new/uncomfortable/different every month. !
Great idea. I’ll have to think up some things to try. Tonight I’m going to take the bus with my neighbour downtown to support a cat rescue fundraiser where I got my kitty. This means we can have an alcoholic drink without worry. But concerned many of the silent auction items will be not useful or eco friendly. Hoping there are some tho and will bid on those. I think we all need to do our bit and not to judge others. Love your ideas. Very creative.
Thanks Lindsay. I completely agree with you.
Over the last months I have really enjoyed getting to know your blog and views.
I am on my own journey of 33 challenges over 33 weeks to improve step by step. Sometimes it feels trivial but I always remind myself that each step is better than doing nothing. Reading this article had me smiling and nodding along :)
I am a life long severe asthmatic. I have even been tracked and on a ventilator. I use the inhalers that work the best for me. Some inhalers do not work for my asthma, including the “greener “ ones. I don’t feel any guilt. It is a matter of life or death. My husband of 45 years is living with metastatic cancer. I use a lot of soap and water and also disinfectants as well as a dishwasher set on hot to keep things clean and keep him from getting infections as he has no immune system. I, again, don’t feel guilty. I try to be as green as possible, but there are also adjustments to make in my case. I guess I have just gotten to the point of walking away when confronted with the holier than thou and greener than thou people. My husband and I do our best and that is all we can do..our best.
Thank you so much for writing this, Lindsay. For me I think ‘guilt / shaming’ comes from various directions. A lot of it is from myself! The feelings of self-guilt and shame when I don’t live according to my own values, when I buy plastic, put something in landfill instead of finding an alternative etc etc. I think there is also a lot of ‘finger pointing’ from those who don’t want to change or don’t see the need to change. The attitude that if you stand up for the environment, and for living more simply that you are a party pooper, ‘tree hugging hippie’ who should be living in a cave without any electricity, I find very frustrating!!
I know I need to watch that I am not the one blaming others. I do get frustrated with people who don’t seem to care but try and remind myself that we are all at very different stages of the journey. Some people genuinely do not have any idea about waste, sustainability or climate change. That is not necessarily their fault but the fault of governments and large corporations in my opinion. Too much responsibility is placed on the individual. Thank you for inspiring me x
I’ve read all pro’s and con’s about “Zero Waste”. Then I decided what would work for Me . I can’t go 100%, but I can do what’s important to me , I’m slowly getting rid of all the plastic I’m able to , I use unpaper towels as much as possible , and I’ll have my bag’s for the bulk item’s from our local store next month ( I will be sewing them all up by then ). I’ve been saving cardboard and tuna and cat tins to make pincushions .
My family thinks I’m nuts…but as I’m cook, (or the kook) of the family , I am doing what I can . I just wish everyone would do whatever they can do to reduce , reuse and repurpose .
I get attacked in a retailer’s FB group when I ask for color suggestions for ink that is packaged in glass vs plastic. Frequently the attacker (usually the same person) states, “Plastic is NOT the problem! It’s straws and bags that are the problem! You people with your desire to throw us into history are so dumb!” or some variant of that.
Instead of arguing, last time I said, “You know, I started with plastic straws and single-use plastic grocery bags. Then I realized microbeads are a bigger issue than I understood, and now I am just learning about how many ways there are to lessen my personal impact on the environment. It is not for me to tell you what you bring into your home. I will, however, continue to avoid bringing new plastics into my home when I can. I still own plastic items. When they finally fail I will replace them with non-plastic. Tossing these functional items into a landfill is wasteful.”
Several people contacted me privately to thank me for not arguing with him. My absolute favorite fountain pen ink is Organics Studio’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Twilight Blue. Unless the packaging changes, I will be looking for a new favorite when I next run out. There are many inks out there. I’m sure I can find eco-friendly versions that are not in plastic bottles (or glass bottles in clear plastic bottles; I was horrified!).
Everyone starts somewhere. When we support them for a single change, they are more likely to make a second, then more.
Thanks for such a thought provoking post. I am also an asthmatic who uses medications in not so sustainable packaging. It took so long to get my asthma under control, that I am loathe to changes things. I am not going to put my health at risk. There are other areas where I can more effectively reduce waste. I can also try to reduce my asthma attacks by focusing on good nutrition, exercise and reducing exposures to triggers.
I also work for a drug company. I am aware that across the industry many are looking at ways to reduce waste without jeopardizing the safety of those who use the products. Like many noted above, it is a journey.
Totally agree with you Lindsay (as always!). I find that just going about my eco-actions without mentioning it too much does seem to have a positive effect on some others, who do notice and then start making small changes themselves.
What I struggle with is the endless guilt that I feel for not doing enough, or not knowing how to talk with friends and family who fly and cruise and buy plastic wrapped ‘convenience’ without ANY consideration of their actions. It’s as if I take on the feelings of guilt and shame on their behalf because I do not want to challenge them, or make them feel uncomfortable.
Many of the comments on this post mentioned the guilt WE feel, yet the push back from others is that we are the ones making them feel uncomfortable with our ‘virtue signaling’. Maybe everyone’s feeling guilty, but we are at least doing something about it!
And I know the argument that my individual decisions don’t really impact anything, but every time I go to a cafe and am presented with a paper straw or a plant-based option I think that the number of individuals who don’t have an impact is starting to add up to something.
The only ‘should’ I would use is that everyone should read your blog.
The thing that annoyed me about the BBC article was that we would have far fewer problems regarding asthma (and other allergies) if air pollution wasn’t so bad. It reads like the asthma suffers aren’t doing enough but they are just trying to live in an environment that is trying to kill them. I’m not asthmatic but have severe allergies to chemicals. I wear face masks and run air purifiers at home. I’m largely housebound due to chemical toxins in our air. The last thing I would need is to be made to feel guilty for using my air purifiers (made from plastic) and masks with single use carbon filters simply to stay alive in a toxic world. I really hope no one tries to ration, or worse, the use of inhalers because of this. Asthmatic patients probably have very eco habits at home through necessity if I had to guess.
I too, am trying to make changes in my life to be more eco friending, most of my friends and family are also concerned about the environment but are at different stages of changing there life choices. When I bring something up, I often get the “you are being difficult look.” But really is it that difficult to put the food you are sending home with me in container instead of wrapping it it plastic wrap.
Thoroughly enjoyed this – you have a lovely ‘voice’ on the matter and a non-judgemental understanding about what’s doable. I’ve tried to maintain the same approach in my blog for home educating families – we do the same really – educate people! This was most inspiring, thanks for writing! All the best.
Very, very well said. Your site has been SO helpful to me. I have enough guilt already about the things I’m not doing, yet trying not to feel guilt and accept my place in the journey.
When judgement makes people step off the (zero waste/green) way at whatever point they might be at the time, instead of keep going, this is really bad and makes me question the intention and sensitivity of the one who judges if they pretend to be align with the movement?
I love your website. We have exactly the same views on sustainability, the realistic application of “zero waste”, and building up an understanding, supportive community. While we all have unique views and lifestyles, we are all on the same side and a lot of folks forget that.