Do you want to be more eco-friendly but feel like you don’t have the time, money or will power? Do you wonder if it’s even possible to live an eco-friendly lifestyle? Does that guilt bog you down and make it harder to decide what to do?
I felt like this for a long time (and still do at times) but I decided to focus on one small thing at a time and not worry about what other people are doing.
Is there such a thing as an eco-friendly lifestyle?
Everything and everyone has an impact on the environment – let’s call it a carbon footprint.
Some people go above and beyond to minimise their carbon footprint, while others ignore the issue or simply don’t care – and there’s a whole spectrum of people in between.
I really admire those who have managed to make significant changes to their lifestyle for the benefit of the environment. There are different lifestyles that people choose in order to do this (vegan, zero waste, plastic free to name a few).
There are so many different environmental issues to deal with – from the palm industry (and others) destroying rainforests to plastic waste harming marine (and other) wildlife.
Not one of the aforementioned lifestyles tackle all the problems we face or can fully mitigate your impact on this planet on it’s own. However, it would be nearly impossible to strictly follow all of them. So which one do you choose?
Does it make sense to live by one set of guidelines while completely ignoring another? For example, you could be a strict vegan but be throwing sackfuls of single-use plastic into landfill (I would imagine most vegans are not doing this but you get my point).
My answer – I choose a little bit of everything. I think of it as the tapas approach. I accept that I can’t do everything, so I focus on the differences that I can make on an ongoing basis, not just as a one off gesture or short-lived fad.
The tapas approach to living a greener lifestyle
These are some of the ways I try to minimise my impact on the environment:
- Food – I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 14, when my mum finally caved and realised it wasn’t a phase I was going through. Plus, I only buy free-range eggs and recently started buying organic milk.
- Transport – I have never driven a car and commute to work by foot (sometimes bus).
- Energy – I switched our energy to a smaller, more ethical supplier nearly 4 years ago. I also chose to pay a little bit extra for a green tariff, so all our electricity comes from renewable sources. We can’t do much about the gas we use (except trying to use it efficiently, of course) but at least our supplier does not source gas from fracking (high volume hydraulic fracturing of shale rock), which can have disastrous consequences for the environment.
- Possessions – While our house is certainly not minimalist, we don’t buy a lot of things. Our belongings have probably doubled since having our daughter but most of what we own is second hand (or third, or fourth in some cases). When we no longer need or want something, we normally sell it on or give it to charity.
- Household products – I buy eco-friendly products as much as my income allows (not as much as I’d like because they are generally, and frustratingly, more expensive than standard products).
- Baby stuff – Recently, I stopped using disposable baby wipes in favour of homemade reusable wipes (I’m using up the disposable wipes that I already had when we’re out and about but plan to start taking the reusable ones with me once they’re all gone).
- Waste – I try to reduce the amount of waste I produce and re-use as much as possible, including single-use plastic. This is just something that I learned from my mum, she from her mum and so on.
My eco guilt
I am not perfect – far from it – and I have a long way to go on my journey to a greener life. For example, I still buy food in plastic packaging – it’s pretty difficult to keep your food shop plastic free, when it’s everywhere in the supermarkets and there’s no plastic free shop nearby. I feel that I should make more of an effort, refuse to buy food with unnecessary plastic packaging and travel to somewhere there is a plastic free shop – but I’m a working mum and I don’t drive, so it really isn’t that easy.
Sometimes I feel guilty for not being vegan but it’s just not for me. At the risk of sounding extremely selfish, I don’t feel organised enough and I definitely don’t enjoy cooking enough. What’s more, I couldn’t reconcile being vegan with my other ethics.
If I was a vegan, I shouldn’t own anything made from animal products, so I wouldn’t be able to buy a leather bag, for instance, even if it was second hand. I am all about buying second hand and saving unwanted items from potentially ending up in landfill, so I would want to buy that bag. However, if I did, I couldn’t truly consider myself a vegan.
Perhaps I am overthinking things. I have a tendency to do that.
Don’t let the eco guilt hold you back
Not long ago, I made the decision to stop looking at the big picture and getting bogged down by the inevitable overwhelm of guilt that comes with it. I decided to take action, in bite-size chunks, one small change at a time.
I set myself a small number of realistic goals that I could achieve in six months to a year and then thought about what steps I could take to achieve them.
For example, I set myself the goal of reducing the amount of single-use plastic we consume as a family. To achieve this I have bought us reusable water bottles, made reusable baby wipes and stopped buying fruit and veg in plastic packaging. I also plan to stop using disposable nappies and to replace household products with plastic-free alternatives when they run out. It’s a good start.
Embracing just one lifestyle and ignoring the others just isn’t going to cut it if you really want to reduce your impact on the environment. On the other hand, it’s unrealistic (for most people) to try to fully commit to all of them.
So I’m not going to feel guilty about the fact that I’m not vegan or I’m not living in a zero waste home. I’m going to cut myself some slack and keep making small changes that I can maintain. One step at a time!
Do you take the tapas approach or have you gone for one specific lifestyle all guns blazing? Either way, you’re doing what you can, so I salute you!