Image credit: Simon James, used under Creative Commons license.
So you didn't bring enough reusable grocery bags to the store? You are starting to feel that gnawing guilt that you are not doing enough? (Maybe a little rap about banning plastic bags is now going around in your head.) It's time to rediscover that seemingly lost eco-art of cutting yourself some slack. Whether it is the wonderfully sustainable adventures of low-impact man, or the frugal exploits of the moneyless man, there are plenty of examples of green heroes doing pretty much everything they can to cut their carbon footprint, eliminate waste and generally live the good, ethical life that we hippies are supposed to aspire to.
Meanwhile, there's the rest of us. We do what we can. We recycle. We use reusable bags. We install solar. We work from home. But sometimes we forget, and sometimes we just get lazy. Too often I find green-minded folk who work themselves up into a state of eco-anxiety or guilt over what they have, or have not, done for the environment. The trouble is, I suspect it is counter productive.
I am not arguing that doing all you can, and then doing some more, is not a good thing. Folks like No Impact Man and the Moneyless Man are undoubtedly doing the world a service by both cutting their footprint, and showing how others can do the same. But, as I suspect they themselves would argue, for those who are not as far down the green brick road—beating yourself up over the little things is going to be counterproductive.
Just as diets don't work in the long run, trying to tackle any and every aspect of leading a sustainable life—especially when you are living in a society that is anything but sustainable—is likely to drive you crazy. It would be much better to look at the things you can do, assess what is possible, and what will do the most good, and tackle them one at a time.
And when you slip up (or just plain can't be bothered), don't fall into a state of depression or despair. Just analyze what factors contributed to you falling short of your goals or intentions, and then figure out ways to circumvent those circumstances next time.
Sustainability is a collective marathon, not a personal sprint.
More on Personal Sustainability, Motivation and Impact
Celebrity Climate Campaigns Only Go So Far. Your Nagging Girlfriend Matters More.
Individual Virtue vs Collective Success, or Why Environmentalists Need to Take Political Action
To Win, the Green Movement Needs to Understand Leverage, Not Just Impact