ECO-SHAMING IS GOING TO LANDFILL
There’s a widespread attitude that’s threatening the sustainability movement.
- Not the climate change deniers.
- Not the “it’s too late to act” brigade.
- Not the multi-billion dollar corporations putting profit before the planet.
It’s coming from within. I’m talking about the eco-shamers.
The climate emergency has triggered a rise in environmental activism. But with this zeal comes a tendency to call out ‘double standards’, rather than encourage the progress that’s being made.
Social media is, of course, playing a key role in this. There’s little room for nuance and constructive discussions. Anything that doesn’t fit into a neat definition of acceptability is immediately criticised as hypocritical, virtue-signaling nonsense.
Take Greta Thunberg, for instance. Her name has become synonymous with the climate crisis, thanks to her unwavering commitment to protecting the environment. And yet, a photograph of the young activist eating lunch on a train was enough to send the Twittersphere into a meltdown.
One user wrote: “She sits there on a train, surrounded by plastic containers and processed foods. A picture paints a thousand words. This tells you she knows nothing about what she speaks of”.
A movement inspiring global change is denounced by an image of a plastic food container.
What’s more, it transpired that Greta was practicing what she preached. Another user helpfully pointed out that train travel produces 80% less emissions than cars, the plastic was 100% recyclable, and her salad was vegan.
These bad faith takedowns aren’t just directed towards people in the public eye. If you’ve made any attempts to make more sustainable choices, I’m willing to bet at least one person has tried to make you feel inadequate.
“Oh, you cycle to work now? Then why aren’t you vegan yet?”
“Oh, you’re vegan? Then why do you still buy fast fashion?”
“Oh, you only buy second-hand clothes? Then why do you still fly?”
And so on…
You may have read Anne Marie Bonneau’s viral quote: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
This is exactly what we should be encouraging as a collective. In a capitalist society, it’s impossible to consume anything 100% ethically. Unless we decide that we’re all going to give up wearing clothes, grow our own produce, ditch technology, and never fly again, there will always be a catch. By being alive, we’re affecting the environment.
When it comes to eco-shaming, I see the same topics come up time and time again. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Cars are a major source of air pollution and contribute to long-term effects on the environment. However, buying a costly electric car or giving up driving for good isn’t feasible for most of the population. Here’s what we can do:
- Use public transport. The amount of energy used per passenger is far less than a single-occupancy vehicle. By reducing the number of vehicles on the road, we improve air quality standards and lower our carbon footprint.
- When it’s time for a new car, buy second-hand. There are significant environmental costs to manufacturing and transporting a new vehicle. Buying a well-maintained, second-hand car eliminates the need for production and saves a functioning vehicle from the ever-growing junk heap.
- Replace short car journeys with walking or cycling. We’re all guilty of hopping in the car to take a two-minute journey when it’s drizzly outside. Choosing to get on the bike or take a stroll is a simple way to lower our carbon footprint and improve our wellbeing in the process!
It’s fair to say that flying is one of the worst culprits when it comes to environmental damage. While some of us can cut down on jet setting, for others, it’s non-negotiable. Whether it’s for work or visiting family, air travel is an indelible part of our lives.
However, there are some key variables.
- Domestic and other short-haul flights are the most carbon intensive form of travel and emit more CO2 per person than long haul flights. Swap that flight for a high speed train to reduce your emissions and probably your overall travel time as well if you include airport wait times.
- For long-haul flights, carbon emissions per passenger per kilometre travelled are about three times higher for business class and four times higher for first class, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
- Flying economy is much more eco-friendly than its higher-class counterparts. Simply put, the more people who can fit into a plane, the better. In business and first-class, there’s more space per seat, so each person accounts for a larger amount of the whole plane’s pollution.
- Taking off uses up more fuel than cruising. For shorter flights, this constitutes a larger proportion of the journey. When booking a trip, try to opt for direct flights rather than journeys that involve multiple legs. Websites like Skyscanner make the options clear at the point of booking.
- Organisations like Wren offer a subscription service that makes it easy to offset your carbon footprint. The goal is to help you understand your carbon footprint, figure out how to reduce your emissions, and then offset the emissions you can’t reduce. If you’re a business owner, certified B Corps like ClimateCare and Ecosphere help organisations across the globe meet their sustainability or net-zero goals.
We produce 300 million tonnes of plastic every year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. At this moment in time, wasteful plastic is inescapable. But if everyone made small changes, we could make drastic improvements.
- Bring along a reusable bag when shopping.
- Store leftovers in reusable containers, rather than use rolls of clingfilm. Silicone stretch lids are a failsafe alternative.
- Buy travel-friendly, reusable cutlery and coffee cups for eating and drinking on the go.
- Reuse and refill what you can. We only need to swap something when it has fallen apart or is unsanitary to use. Companies like Bower Collective specialise in refillable, zero-waste products. From soap dispensers and shampoo refills to eco-friendly make-up pads and cleaning products, it’s got you covered.
Some people are vegan, which is a great sustainable lifestyle choice. Other people can’t go vegan and that’s a reality we need to accept. Whether it’s for financial or health reasons, expecting everyone to adopt a meat and dairy-free diet at the drop of a hat is unrealistic.
If you want to make more sustainable choices, there are numerous things you can do without going cold turkey (pardon the expression).
- If you can’t cut out meat altogether, consider buying regenerative, organic, or locally-sourced meat. Foods that travel less between the producer and the consumer are generally more eco-friendly. Retailers like Primal Meats champion family farms, traceability, quality, and sustainable packaging.
- Try some meat or dairy alternatives and gradually integrate them into your diet. Whether it’s oat milk or veggie sausages, give the alternatives a go and see where you can make habitual changes.
Eco-shaming doesn’t galvanise or inspire; it makes us feel defensive, attacked, and unwilling to listen to someone’s perspective. Contrary to popular belief, meaningful change happens when we all make small, imperfect steps forward.
Rather than aim for the impossible, we need to be kinder to ourselves and others. Let’s celebrate what we ARE doing, rather than attack each other for what we aren’t.
If you’re a small or medium sized business owner who wants to simplify sustainability, let’s build a tailored roadmap and action plan to balance purpose and profit.
Head to my webiste to learn more about my Sustainability Compass.