In my everyday life, I feel like I’m doing pretty well when it comes to the environment. Sustainability has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it’s rare that I don’t make decisions with the planet in mind. Compared to most people I interact with on a daily basis, I know I am doing well on that front.
I grow a lot of our own produce, I hang dry my laundry, I walk and take the bus as much as is feasible for our current lives. We live in a smaller home and have made significant upgrades over time to make it greener. I bring a reusable coffee mug and water bottle at all times – I’ve completely done away with single use “to go” beverage containers. I haven’t bought a single piece of clothing or pair of shoes for myself in two and a half years. I’ve ditched disposable menstrual products and toilet paper for cloth alternatives.
That said, I still drive a car. I eat meat (even if most of it is ethically purchased from local farms). I buy my son the single serving nutrition drinks that he loves. I fly in an airplane a few times a year. And one of the big energy upgrades we made to our little home? It’s a 98% efficient furnace, but it’s still powered by natural gas.
The perfectionist guilt that comes with leadership
Before writing this blog, I considered myself to be a pretty decent environmentalist. Over time, I’ve pushed myself to make changes that are more and more in line with those beliefs. I biked and walked/ran to work often enough before I had my son, but plenty of things I do now are newer. I pay attention to the trash I create, especially single use plastics, to a much stricter level than a did when I was younger. And the decisions I make now that are harmful to the earth come with a whole lot of guilt.
Some of this guilt absolutely comes from the fact that climate change is here, and it’s just going to get worse. The irrevocable changes to this planet aren’t a future concern, they’re a now concern. And the longer we plod along slowly in pursuit of doing better, the worse it’s going to get. The best we can do now is work on damage control.
And yet? The biggest reason that I feel the burden of this guilt of non-perfect environmentalism is that I have somehow found myself a leader in the personal finance space when it comes to sustainability. I share the details of my clothing ban, I track my trash publicly, I write about how to travel more sustainably and how to make simple changes to your life to tread lighter on this earth.
Time and time again, I’m now called out as a “model” sustainability person, especially within the personal finance space. And that’s simply not true. I do things environmentally right maybe eighty percent of the time, but that means I fall flat the other twenty percent. Sometimes it’s because I just don’t know or it doesn’t cross my mind. But sometimes I’m fully aware, and I do it anyway.
Sometimes it’s because I’m tired. Sometimes because I don’t want to rock the boat (though often enough I do). Sometimes it’s just because I want to do or consume the thing, and too bad that it’s the wrong choice for the planet.
And if it wasn’t for the fact that I want to hold myself up to the standard of being a leader in this space, I think I could give myself a lot more grace about those choices. But when I know there are so many eyes on me, that I’m sharing my story in part to encourage people to make better choices, it feels extra heavy when I make the “wrong” ones. Or any choice that is less than perfect zero waste.
The beauty of “mostly” right
And yet, when I think about the advice I would give anyone else, I know that holding myself to that standard isn’t really fair. I’m human, I’m definitely not perfect, and I deserve to be able to accept those imperfections in myself. That doesn’t mean that I stop striving toward doing better, but that it’s okay that I’m not perfect now, nor will I ever be.
That extends well beyond the sustainability stuff. I’m not a perfect mother, or partner, or friend. I’m not perfect with money, or working out, or gardening, or decluttering (definitely not decluttering). But I’m working on being a better human in general, and that encompasses all of those things. And just like I would tell anyone else, doing things mostly right is pretty dang awesome.
Changing the world with “better,” not “perfect”
If everyone focused on doing things better – let’s say, eighty percent better – the world would look completely different. If we all chose to forego the disposable coffee cup four out of every five times. If we all cut out the unnecessary driving trip most of the time. If we skipped those new pair of shoes and the new pants – but bought that new jacket. If every single person with the means to do those things better – most of the time – our planet would be completely changed. (And, of course, big business would have to follow suit as well, because it’s not just up to individual actions)
I would so much rather inspire a hundred people to go out and switch their toilet for an ultra high efficiency one than inspire one person to go off grid and be net zero sewer (ie composting toilets, rainwater and gray water capture, etc). To be the reason that a thousand people finally remember to bring their water bottles and their coffee mugs when they are out and about. That impact is so much greater than being the reason that one person went full zero waste for a year.
And those hundred people, the thousand? Those smaller changes have the opportunity to grow into so much more. But if I’m going to really speak to doing things mostly right, then I need to let go of the burden of feeling that I need to be perfect.
Where do you land on sustainable actions? What inspires you best to do better?