Dismantling the Perfectionism of Environmentalism
‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly’ - Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef.
The evidence is there to highlight the climate crisis we are facing. We are constantly told we need to make changes if we are to tackle this, yet we live in a world where it is near impossible to be a perfect environmentalist. Our society is riddled with comparison to family members, friends, celebrities and strangers, driven by our addiction to social media, which often leaves us feeling somewhat inadequate in our sustainability efforts in comparison to the eco influencers we see online.
The problem is, we spend too much of our time worrying about what others are doing and what isn’t sustainable in our lives, but forget about what is. It is too easy to discredit ourselves for the things we’re not doing, but too hard to praise ourselves for all the good we already do every day. Despite what it may seem on social media, no one is the perfect environmentalist. I’m Rhiannon, MSc Sustainability graduate, Co-Founder of a plastic-free business and a Clean Energy Specialist at Good Energy, but I am not a perfect environmentalist – and that is okay.
I’m torn between feeling extremely lucky to be part of the generation who are so motivated to make real change and feeling a tremendous amount of pressure to ‘solve’ the world’s problems. We have all heard the facts. We have just twelve years left before irreversible damage is caused to our planet, which risks the security of our future. We now face a critical time-frame that no other generation has faced before. There is a level of pressure to make the next twelve years the most sustainable we can, otherwise, our future children will likely pay the price. The spread of environmental awareness is incredible and needed, but it does not come without the unwanted feeling of pressure and guilt.
The indefinite list of global problems can be overwhelming and knowing where to start on your sustainability journey can be daunting. As an environmentalist myself or an ‘eco-warrior’ as my parents call me, I feel a certain level of responsibility to live the most sustainable lifestyle possible. However, this idealistic lifestyle is unrealistic and inaccessible to many, including myself, due to factors out of our control.
Growing up in a small village in the South West of the UK meant that public transport was never an option for me. My nearest train station was a fifteen-minute drive away and with an irregular and sparse bus service, car was my only option. As soon as I turned seventeen I started driving and got my own car, in fact, pretty much everyone I know did this too. Of course, this was far from sustainable, but it was our only choice other than walking. I still get the comments now, ‘you care about the environment but you drive a car’, intending to disregard my sustainability efforts by picking out the thing I can’t change yet due to circumstances and accessibility. These comments can be belittling and leave a feeling of guilt because you’re not doing enough. Wrong. In fact, you are doing more than enough, every little change helps. Environmentalism is a journey, and everyone is at different stages. Focus on yourself, recognise your achievements for your efforts and stop comparing yourself to others. Our actions, combined with millions of others, will make a difference.
There is a misconception that you can become sustainable overnight, but this is not true. Everyone has to start somewhere and overcome personal barriers that often restrict our accessibility to sustainability.
My advice for starting your sustainability journey and conquering the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, is make a list and start small. Do things that are achievable and accessible to you, whether that’s buying loose fruit and veg in the supermarket, reducing meat consumption, walking more or switching to reusable products, you will have started and that is the most important thing. Once you make one change, you’ll want to make more. But don’t feel disheartened or guilty for not being the perfect environmentalist. No one is perfect and that is okay. As long as you’re trying, you’re already making progress. It’s better to be imperfectly eco, than not eco at all.
Words by Rhiannon Barriball. You can find her on Instagram @rhiannonbarriball or shop her sustainable business @easilyecoswansea on Insta.