I am a conscious consumer. I am extremely, extremely picky when it comes to the food, clothes, make-up, and other goods that I purchase. I look for brands that put the planet above profit and for products that have the purest of ingredients. When I try something new, I usually spend time researching it first. If I try to walk into Whole Foods and buy a new shampoo without doing my homework, forget it; I will be in that aisle for an hour and probably leave without making a decision. That’s how picky I am. So I get ridiculously excited when I find a product that meets my high standards. But even if I feel good about a purchasing decision, a part of me will still feel guilty for needing or wanting to make one in the first place. That may sound a little crazy to some people. Why do I feel so guilty?
The first main reason I feel guilty is because of the waste my purchase will produce. This is first because it’s a direct result of my action, the easiest one to relate to, and the hardest one to ignore. I don’t yet live a waste-free or even a totally plastic-free lifestyle. I use a shampoo, for example, that comes in a plastic bottle, and I recycle that bottle instead of reusing it because I have so many other reusing projects in the works. Even if I buy something that comes in a glass jar I know I’ll reuse (like my Schmidt’s deodorant), I have no way of knowing how much waste was produced in the manufacturing process.
The other main reason I feel guilty is because of the total energy used and emissions emitted in order to get my product to me. Both because I’m on a tight budget and because I like a bigger selection than nearby stores can provide, I buy a lot of my goods online. I try to buy in bulk to reduce the number of boxes I receive, but even then I am aware of the shipping emissions. In addition, there are all kinds of hidden energy costs of the products I receive. If I actually wanted to track these costs, I would need to start with the harvesting of the ingredients themselves, to the manufacturer’s procurement of these ingredients, through the processing, all the way to the finished product.
The bottom line is that every product has a footprint!!!!!
So how do I deal with this guilt? The ideal solution would be to take action and change all of my consumer habits. One day I’d like to diy all my own beauty products, shop 100% at the farmer’s market, and generate zero waste (not even recycling). Right now, those goals are just not feasible for me to achieve while trying to balance the rest of my obligations in life. So, for the time being, I will rely on other people and companies to create the things I need.
The practical solution is to witness my guilt and use it to motivate me. Viewing my guilt from afar keeps me from giving into the feeling in the present moment. I don’t actively feel super guilty when I pick up a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap. I enjoy supporting Etsy sellers that make organic salves. I’m making the eco-friendly choices I can and casting my vote for the direction I want the economy to move in.
My choices aren’t perfect; they still have negative consequences. Yet, if I felt the real weight of my guilt every time I made a “green” decision, it would only overwhelm and depress me instead of empowering me to do better next time. So, in the back of my mind, I hold my eco-guilt in a safe place. What my guilt is telling me is that I am aware of my environmental impact and I care deeply about it. It’s already informing the decisions I am making, and it wants me to continue to make even better decisions when I am capable.
If you have green guilt, how do you witness it?
P.S. If you DO want to try a zero waste lifestyle, check out folks here: Zero Waste Bloggers Network.
My go-to diy lifestyle blog is the popular and comprehensive Wellness Mama.
[update: I’m finally phasing out plastic altogether since I discovered that very little of my recycling actually gets recycled. I only buy Dr. Bronner’s in bar form, and I’m currently trying out Plaine’s shampoo, which comes in reusable containers].