24 Jul Why I won’t be sustainability shamed (and you shouldn’t either)
Last night I posted on Instagram about “green guilt” and the shocking statistics that show how many people are exaggerating how eco-friendly they are to maintain a “green social status”.
I have to say I was initially surprised at how high the figures are (26% of people surveyed admitted to it but I’m sure it’s probably even more common than that – we’re just ashamed to say).
My post resonated with a lot of people and encouraged them to share their thoughts, own experiences and advice on how we can fight back against the “green police”. In fact, sustainable lifestyle blogger Making Roots even shared her personal experiences in a response post which is well worth a read if you need a bit of extra strength against the pressure – even conservationists struggle with this!
I’ve shared my experiences of this before – and I’m often getting into lengthy social media debates about it. My personal ethos is “guilt free sustainability” and Ethical Hour is founded on this belief, driven by the desire to provide advice, celebrate small steps and empower people to be more ethical and sustainable in their own way.
Fortunately we don’t see much green shaming in our community (and it would be tackled head on if we did because it’s just not part of our values) – but it’s not uncommon elsewhere online and I’ve previously written about my own struggles with green shaming and criticism here.
In the ethical community, we’re driven by our values. We’re all trying to align our lifestyle to what we believe is right or wrong – which is really difficult sometimes! But because we’re working with often black and white views and strong opinions, we forget that ethical living and sustainability is complicated.
Doing the “right thing” often means compromising one value for another – which is why my advice to anyone starting their journey is to get really clear on which values matter most to you. That doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for caring less about the others, it’s just that everyone’s different and has different personal priorities.
For example, I’ve recently spoken out against the straw ban – an odd stance to take for someone who champions sustainability, no? I’ve faced quite a bit of stick for it on social media but personally I don’t believe that campaigning for the ban was the most effective course of action.
Firstly, it’s allowed major brands to take the easy way out and benefit from a lot of good PR whilst still leaving the majority of the pressure on the consumer to recycle properly when they’re finished with the product (read this post for more on this topic).
But more importantly (to me), there is a massive accessibility issue around banning straws and I believe that many of the campaigns have ignored disabled people’s needs in favour of a move that is going to have a relatively small impact on the environment in the long run, because it’s simply not a big enough change.
I see the point that it’s a step in the right direction and that it’s raised awareness, but if we exclude disabled people’s voices from the conversation then we’re never going to achieve sustainability for everyone, and we’re opening up space for green guilt and sustainability shaming on those who do need straws.
Another common debate that divides opinion is around meat and dairy. I was shocked to learn the impacts of these industries when I watched the ‘Cowspiracy’ documentary and have since worked hard to cut down the amount of meat in my diet (as Making Roots points out – cutting 50% of meat from your diet can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 19%) – but I’ve received a lot of criticism on social media saying that this isn’t enough.
I really admire and support my vegan friends and I enjoy sharing vegan food with them. However, personally I struggle with a long term health condition that often means my diet is a struggle to manage and food can be a particularly difficult area for me (something I don’t talk about online) – so while I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and talk openly about my ethical food choices, veganism didn’t work for me.
I have been on the receiving end of ‘vegan shaming’ for “not doing enough” when I’m just trying to do the best I can in the situation I’m in.
This also came to a head recently when I shared a video of our local dairy and their milk float, which allows you to fill up your glass milk bottle any time of the day or night with fresh, locally produced milk.
For me, supporting a local small business (who I know look after their animals well) and reducing plastic where I can is important – but again I faced criticism for drinking milk at all – with a lot of people rolling out the statistics about the carbon footprint of animal agriculture as a stick to metaphorically beat me with. (Although it’s worth noting that many plant based milk alternatives have a high carbon footprint and environmental impact too).
It’s important that with these complicated ethical and sustainable issues we encourage healthy debate and provide all the facts so that people can make informed decisions that work for them, their lifestyle needs and their values – and that we don’t shame them for doing so. But it’s also important to remember that people don’t share their whole lives online and you don’t know what offline restrictions and challenges they’re working with.
If conscious consumerism is going to save the world, we need to work together to make it happen. Educations is an important part of this journey, so it’s good to share facts, statistics and opinions, but this should be done in a way that empowers others, rather than shaming them.
As I’ve said before in this post:
“Respect everyone’s journey, even your own. People within the community are not the enemy. We all share the same goals – we’re just trying to get there in different ways. You may be ahead of others – if so, support them. You may be behind others – in that case, seek their support.”
There’s no room for sustainability shaming here.