It’s about progress, not perfection.
If you’re an active participant in the sustainability community, you will have heard this phrase repeated often.
This statement usually gets thrown around in the following circumstances:
- a person gets into a heated discussion or debate and uses it as their “get out of jail free” card,
- an individual has made a very unsustainable decision and uses this phrase to justify their poor choice i.e. purchasing a meal from McDonalds or making a coffee with a Nespresso coffee pod, or
- someone feels inadequate about their choices, and particularly when they are around a “greener” person
I’ve uttered "It's about progress..." many times to myself, particularly when I’m dying for a takeaway coffee and forget to take my KeepCup with me or when I’ve purchased food that’s not organic. I’ve even said this to appease a friend or family member who I suspect might be thinking that I’m judging them for not being as green as I.
The concern that this phrase raises for me, however, is how many people are unwilling to make sustainability decisions that mean real sacrifice. They instead pick the “low-hanging fruit” such as purchasing organic food or buying an organic cotton t-shirt.
While these decisions are to be applauded of course, I encourage people to go bigger, and ask deeper questions of themselves, for example:
- Do I really need that organic tee when I have five tees like it?
- Is the ‘organic’ plastic packaged food product imported from Peru/Italy/USA really sustainable?
- How sustainable is ‘sustainably-farmed’ fish and meat if I consume it every day?
- Why do I have so many items in my house and why do I keep buying more?
Years ago, my younger sister made a remark about how she felt that people and businesses who label themselves or their products “eco-friendly” don’t seem to be making genuine attempts to reduce environmental impact and that the “buying better” rhetoric they espouse is justification for higher prices and making themselves feel morally superior.
She raises valid points.
I don't want people (like my sis) to reject eco lifestyle ideas because they feel it is a marketing ploy to manipulate them into buying more expensive goods or because it makes them "feel good" to take the moral high ground because they’ve bought consciously.
And when I see environmentalists failing to lead by example, I can see why others are cynical. But there's no such thing as a 100% sustainable lifestyle in modern society... that I know of.
So in light of this, here are the five most common sustainability-related trade-offs that even the most committed greenie makes:
1. Meat consumption
Environmentalists eating meat is as paradoxical as “eco fashion”.
If you’ve watched Cowspiracy you’ll know exactly what I mean. The amount of environmental damage caused by land clearing to raise livestock is ginormous. Environmental issues aside, there is also the unethical treatment of factory farmed animals and the moral dilemma of treating animals as commodities.
I come across people who call themselves “eco-conscious” who aren’t actively reducing their meat intake which does the sustainability cause harm. No wonder lay people are confused!
So if you consider yourself to be a conscious individual but don't want to give up meat completely, you’ve only got two options:
- you actively reduce the amount of meat and fish you eat (“Meatless Mondays”)
- you source sustainably-farmed meat and fish.
2. Buying stuff, and promoting stuff
As a committed environmentalist and content marketing entrepreneur, I am open about my own struggles with accepting sponsored posts on this blog and promoting materialism in my digital business.
How does one make honest money without promoting consumerism?
It's a tough question I've wrestled with a lot over the last couple of months. So here's how I deal with it:
- As an environmental blogger, I have a Patreon page where I encourage readers to make pledges to help keep Eco Warrior Princess as ad-free as possible. I also try to practice minimalism, keeping only the things in my life that add value. I rarely buy new things and before I make a purchase, always ask myself: Do I really need this?
- As a digital marketer, I have chosen to help only mindful businesses reach more people.
Making these decisions helps me to sleep at night.
Related Post: Eco Warrior Princess Transparency Report August 2016
3. Having children
This is such a deeply personal issue that it can often be difficult to raise the topic without being judged a child-hating feminist (child hating no, feminist yes).
But here’s the truth: we know that an increasing population puts pressure on the earth’s finite resources. We also know that every human born into this world has a negative impact. Environmentalists find themselves divided on this topic. I myself have been reluctant to explore this issue and only recently opened up about in a recent post when I shared my own story.
So while logic plays a role in our sustainability decisions, so do our emotions. Should you decide that having a child is essential to living a fulfilling life (and really, what right do other people have to make you feel bad about this?) then I imagine as an eco-conscious person, you will make every effort to negate your family’s environmental impact.
This may involve:
- finding alternative solutions to disposable nappies;
- educating your child about the role they play in our wider eco system;
- borrowing toys from a toy library rather than buying them;
- teaching your child the value of growing and eating whole foods and organic food;
- helping them understand what happens when they litter etc
This will help your child to grow up with a healthy respect for our natural environment rather than making choices that will further damage it.
Related Post: Should We Or Shouldn't We Keep Having Children?
4. Non-renewable resource consumption
Skeptics often accuse sustainably-minded people of being hypocritical. They say things like:
“If you're so concerned about the environment then perhaps you should stop using your cars, opt out of society and go out and live in the forest.”
Environmentalists aren't Luddites or even hippies - we’re not against technological progress and don’t want to swap our lives for an Amish community or hippie commune. (Well I don't anyway...)
But there are things we can do to reduce fossil fuel consumption such as avoiding the use of your petrol-guzzling car and replace it with sustainable modes of transportation such as cycling, walking or taking public transport; reducing electricity consumption by avoiding the use of the heater and air conditioner or by installing solar panels on the roof of your home.
To influence others to more sustainable behaviour we must lead by example and that starts with reducing energy consumption or finding alternative renewable sources of energy.
5. Air travel
When Leonardo DiCaprio took a private jet from Cannes to collect his environmental award, he received much criticism about his carbon footprint - and rightly so. As much as I adore Leo for bringing global attention to climate change issues and championing conservation, his actions smelled of hypocrisy. And even though he is said to be a "CarbonNeutral citizen", reduction and minimisation of waste should be the aim, not the bandaid solution of planting trees to offset carbon (don't worry, I still love you Leo!).
Now most of us don’t have access to a private jet but many of us do take frequent trips interstate or overseas. Some environmentalists have been bitten by the travel bug so badly that they spend most of their time travelling. And while I encourage experiences over material consumption, travel - and air travel particularly - comes at a huge environmental cost. A cost many environmentalists conveniently refuse to address, as Leo demonstrated.
So what’s the solution? Well there are only two choices:
- don't travel (the most sustainable option); or
- offset your carbon.
And if you’re as rich and privileged as Leo, offsetting your carbon isn't enough - you MUST avoid taking private jets!