Friday, January 15, 2010

Greening the Spouse: Welcome Challenge or Hopeless Cause?

This is another post asking readers for advice--I was thrilled to see so many people on Wednesday giving Erin (and me!) ideas for how to make some of those lingering areas of wanna-be-greener work out a bit better(even as it made me squirm at how not-so-green I am in a lot of areas) I'm going to throw in my deep-seated greeningprocess question.

We're working well as a family to improving our habits, reducing our trash, eating healthier food, putting on sweaters rather than cranking up the thermostat, and stuff like that. It's an ongoing process, but we're trying. The kids are pretty good at remembering to turn off their lights and shut off the water mid-toothbrushing, and they know the difference between garbage and recycling.

But...I have this husband.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want this to be a spouse-bashing post. This man is wonderful, a real partner--he and I work together on pretty much everything about our family's life including the kid-care stuff, with division of labor not establishing itself along stereotypical gender role lines, and plenty of it not divided at all but shared or alternated. We both work full time but often different hours, so when I'm working he's on for the kids and vice versa. He bathes them and feeds them and is the Get A Babysitter guy, he vacuums and does dishes and cleans up dog poop and does laundry. And doesn't ask for high praise and cookies when he does it--it's just part of life. And he thinks I'm gorgeous and sexy even though I'm carrying around a few pounds more than I should, he's my best friend, and I'm incredibly lucky.

But then there's the greening thing. If I were one of those women who basically Ran Her House, with a husband who just sort of assumes I'm going to take care of all the kid-home-food-cleaning stuff, the greenage would actually be a little easier. (Though everything else would be a lot harder!) And greening the kitchen (except for the paper towel thing) has actually been fairly easy, as that's the area that's pretty much my own domain. I make the grocery lists, mostly, and I make the homemade stuff, and he's happy that I do it but I don't think he's really committed to the why of my doing it, nor is he all that interested in inconveniencing his life to do it too. (I think he likes the idea of greening, but he also really likes Shiny And New, which two likes do not always mesh very well.) He has zero interest in bringing his own bags to the grocery store, or any other store, for that matter, which means if I want to keep the paper or plastic out of the house I have to do the shopping. If he's taking the kids somewhere around dinnertime, unless the threat of maternal ranting and raving is imminent, he's happy to take them to McDonalds or Wendys for Friednugget McPseudopoultry happy meals with cheezy plastic toys. (Though in the interest of disclosure, I don't think he's done that since seeing Food, Inc.) Our house telephones are about 7 years old and occasionally have little blurbs; he wants to throw them out and get something new and cooler. Stuff like that.

He grew up like most folks our age did (I was sort of an exception--we watched very little TV and almost never ate out)--watching commercials, exposed to incessant marketing and commercials, eating almost nothing but processed food, whether out of a can or freezer box at home or at a restaurant with his folks. He believes the ads when they tout something as the latest superfruit, or a great cleaner, or whatever, and he's incredibly susceptible to greenwashing. And he's still sort of prone to the whole "if it costs more it must be better" mentality, which is the exact opposite of mine. And then there's the "boys with toys" thing--compounded by his job as a professional techno-geek. He wants to get the Next Cool New Thing, and he always wants it to be the best and most complicated model of whatever it is. And while he's not anti green in the slightest, it's often really hard to get him on board with some of the less glamorous aspects. (I think he still thinks that ditching our aged minivan to buy a Hybrid Highlander was an environmentally responsible thing to do. Er...not so much, really. I mean, we needed a big-enough-to-schlep-kids-and-extra-grownups vehicle because the minivan was dying, but let's face it, a hybrid SUV still gets crummy mileage.)

That said, he's come about as long as way as I have so far, maybe farther. He's much better than I about remembering to turn off lights, in fact, he's better about not turning so many on to begin with. I can't get him to read articles about Green Stuff, but I can read headlines to him and sometimes he'll ask for more information on whatever it is. And over the months his inquiries have sounded more actually interested, and less humor-the-wife. And he watched Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. and was I think about as appalled as I was about both of them. And he was open not only to composting, but to trying composting without buying a fancy expensive composter. But I came from this sort of semi-hippie background, he comes from Processed Urban Food Desert Family all the way. (No offense to any readers of Polish extraction, but the American Polish approach to a green vegetable seems to be to cook it into submission and/or cover it with a cream sauce of some kind.) He's got all this deep-seated stuff to get out of his system, and it's a much bigger jump for him than for me. Again, I'm not complaining at all. He's a fairly amazing guy. (And I still think he's gorgeous and sexy even though he's carrying around a few pounds more than he should. Hardly notice them, actually.) (His few pounds are considerably fewer than my few pounds, though.)

So this is my question: Would some of you be able to share your experiences with spouses, partners, significant others, etc and how the Green Thing has gone for you? I'd love to hear stories from men AND women, and I'd also welcome thoughts from anyone who wasn't the initial green impetus in your household/relationship.

What works? Anyone have any ongoing strategies for making the green journey a real partnered affair?


Barbara said...

I wish I knew because I'm
married to one of those too!
Luckily he sometimes does the
green thing without really
realising it (turning off
lights, not buying stuff etc.)
because he's a bit of a tightwad
and hates spending money.
However, I think I'll keep him!

Eco Yogini said...

i'm lucky- Andrew feels just about the same as i do.... so convincing as they "why" isn't hard. BUT, like your husband he likes shiny new gadget-y things... and really I'M the one who pushes for all the eco stuff... he woudl be content to just buy processed foods. after watching food inc he was hungry for fast food!! ew.

anyhoo- what i found works- getting him to watch movies with me (i especially liked the plastic movies-docs, and "The disappearing Male" with how plastic-pollution was decreasing sperm was REALLY good lol).

the other thing that he's SUPER interested in- Is eco-gadgets. for a while he was reading eco-geek and i know when we have our own house he's gonna be interested in how to rig up random stuff (solar heated water stuff, homemade windmills etc). it might explode or something, but at least he's interested :)

I think the main idea is having a sit down "meeting" and telling him all the awesome stuff you think he's doing and how happy you are that he's doing them... for the future of your children... etc etc. :)

good luck!

Wonderer said...

For us, it just took time. And gentle reminders, not nagging. There are some things he's super supportive of (cloth bags) others where he's a hopeless cause (ditching the TP for coth wipes). I pick my battles, and stock the bathroom with both TP and cloth!

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Yeah, that's partly why I posted this, because I have a feeling a lot of the things that make me go all knee-jerk are things that are just sort of stereotypical GUY qualities, as much as I might try not to generalize. And I suspect lots of us are dealing with the same qualities in our male counterparts, if in varying manifestation and levels. (Which is also why I'm curious as to the POV of those with not-initially-green female partners!)

I also know I am very guilty of mentally accusing him of "thought-crime"--I don't know why it should bother me if he looks wistfully at the Buick Rendez-vous (a hulking SUV I hate on principle)as long as I know he'll never actually push for us to get one. It does bug me sometimes when I wonder "does he only do any of this to humor me because he knows I'll go non-linear if he doesn't get on board, or does he actually get it?" and I have no idea what the answer is...

But Eco, the suggestion to sort of sit down at some point and just talk about it and just sort of affirm the GOOD stuff out loud is a really good one. We should definitely do that.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

(By the way, Eco, your Andrew sounds like a really great guy--that's awesome that you guys found each other!)

Michael said...

As the husband in a similar relationship (Hi, I'm Erin's husband) I'll weigh in with my opinion (as a man, husband, technology geek ( and someone carrying around a few extra pounds).

I realize that going green is important but I don't get as passionate about it as my wife. I know sustainability is important and I really do try to think more about my personal decisions, but I'm not at the same level as my wife. As she admitted in a recent post ( it's hard for her to do anything without her green concious kicking in. With me it's the opposite. I have to put an extra effort into making sure I'm thinking about those things.

One area where it does come more naturally is in the green tech side of things. Maybe it's just a guy thing, or maybe it's just a nerd thing but I get excited thinking about what I'm going to do to our future home, or how I'm going to automate the watering system for our garden, etc.

In the end, maybe it doesn't require both parties to be passionate about it as long as the weaker member of the relationship agrees in principle with the other and is willing help when asked and reminded. It is all about balance anyway...

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

I think I'm lucky with my husband, although it might be partly the 11 years I've spent working on him with this sort of stuff ;). He has always been on board with cloth bags and CFL's, efficient appliances, and things like that. Easy stuff.

We really had a turning point when it came to peak oil. It took a year for that to sink in. But I think the idea that we MAY "have" to live in a greener way has helped. So since then he has been supportive of my gardening/food preserving efforts.

You might be surprised, too. Sometimes I don't think he's listening, but then he'll tell me a story of how he was lecturing the guys at work about something (industrial meat or whatever). That makes me feel my efforts - emailing him articles, reading headlines, watching movies - have been worth it.

And I would just say - emphasize the positive! Whatever it is, health, or the future of your kids, or saving money, emphasize that - and then make whatever activity it is that you're doing as fun as possible.

(For example) I knew my husband was never going to be a vegetarian/pescatarian. But after Food Inc., we decided to buy only grass-fed beef for him to eat at home. Both of us can get on board with that compromise.

Eco Yogini said...

Jenn: thanks!! :) I feel lucky too. There are things though that I like to think of as Balance like Erin's husband pointed out.

I wouldn't per se term it as "weaker", just that he has different interests and skills (and similar!) than I do. So I wouldn't be bothered in looking into more energy efficient ways to deal with watering systems, but he would LOVE that.

If we had more money and an actual "house" I would talk about solar investments (homemade or actual), wind energy... stuff that there is no way i'd do on my own. We also went to a green-show, and although i dragged him to the stuff I was interested in, I made sure to stop (cuz he wouldn't on his own) to look at the cool stuff he would like.

for example- despite my weirded out-ness, I called him over to check out the no-water urinals. We spent 15 minutes talking to the lady about them. seriously- he LOVED it. :)

Nicole said...

Hey there!
My husband is luckily a go-along kind a guy :)

ALSO- wanted to let you gals know I linked you in a post over at my new blog-

I'm a DC Metro Mom and at
I also added you to my blogroll at household tips!

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

i have a lot of beef with this issue. i have to do most of the grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc because my boyfriend thinks it's an inconvenience to do things the green way. he also fights me on certain issues because he thinks the green way is the wrong way, such as cfl lightbulbs (mercury=bad), putting a water bottle in the toilet to lower water used (worried it will break the toilet), demanding bleach & antibacterial cleaning products (bc he thinks essential oils and vinegar don't cut it when it comes to cleaning after dog poo and his own hands). or because he just feels entitled to luxury, such as wanting air conditioning, personal washer/dryer, etc.

it kind of messes with my self worth and sense of optimism because i worry that if i can't even get my boyfriend to come around how can we get the world to?

of course it's not all bad. he says he is on board with being green and he's generally happy to go along with my green changes, such as eating grass fed meat at dinner at home. like many of your guys mentioned here, if we owned our own home, he would love spending money on tech things to green the home, like solar roofs or special heating systems or whatnot. but when it come to small things that involve personal action (and let's face it, being green often makes chores take longer), not so much. maybe this is an entitled guy thing?

Billie said...

My husband thinks I am a nut about my eco decisions even if those decisions don't impact him.

When I asked him about the world that his children might live in, he told me that he didn't care. He worked hard and should be able to enjoy his life however he wants to even if his actions contribute to the world not being sustainable in his children's lifetime.

Julia, that fact that your boyfriend is not interested has nothing do with your ability to be convincing. I actually have better luck with the children than I do with him because they are far more open minded about change. I haven't changed my message - simply the audience is different.

At this point, I simply do my own thing and ignore the fact that he isn't eco-conscious. If I notice recycling in the garbage then I just quietly put it in recycling.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

In my unscientigic observations of the greenosphere, I've noticed that the green blogs written by women focus more on personal change and eco-friendly product reviews, and green blogs written by men focus more on policy change and cool new tech toys. I think this generalization could apply to men and women outside the greenosphere (of course with exceptions), and it certainly applies to my house, as my husband showed.

I wish my husband would remember his cloth bags and quit eating factory meat, but he wishes I would care enough about computers to stop asking him HTML questions and that I would stop tuning out when he talks about patent law. I expect that like most Americans, he'll come around eventually. (My word of the year is patience.)

@EcoYogini - Even though I think my husband rocks, I have to admit that I've been jealous ever since I read that Andrew does yoga with you. :)

Jenn the Greenmom said...

(Michael, it's good to know that if Erin and I ever meet in person and get to hang out, you and my husband would probably get along famously!:-) Thanks for your perspective, especially the "she does it automatically, I have to think about it" piece--that gave me sort of a light-bulb moment). (Er..a CFL, of course :-)

And Julia, for whatever it's worth--the conversations/debates/arguments you guys are having sound a LOT like the ones my husband and I were having maybe 5 years ago. Over time he's come around in a lot of areas, kind of growing on his own (I think there's another knee-jerk Guy thing, and it may be in us women too, that makes them more inclined to resist if they think they're being nagged. Understandable, I guess.), just not necessarily on my highly pushy schedule.

And learning which battles to fight is, I guess, an important part of any relationship in any area, not just greenness.

DramaMama said...

Well, my hubby is sort of the middle of the road type. He is good w/the basics, cloth bags, no chemicals, walk don't drive, etc, but a lot of things don't make financial sense to him. He has sort of a conspiracy theory feeling against them. He thinks the fact that better food is more expensive means that it's not the best plan to 'save the world'. He always says that cheap food is readily available and allows a lot of needy people to actually eat rather than starve. I won't get started on all this, but you see what I mean? Generally if I can convince him that I can stay w/in budget or even save money in the long run, he'll go along w/it. This week I bought grass-fed meat and we only ate meat twice so far. That means that I managed to come out ahead and he likes that. Gardening is my next 'battle' - he saw all the $ we sunk into seeds, lumber for boxes, worm poop, etc and decided that the 'crop' didn't offset enough of the cost. This summer I plan to devise a system of rain barrels and use seeds I have left over from last year =) I keep reminding him that it's a journey, and like a lot of things, the initial investment may be great but the payoff (not just financially! Healthwise and better for the environment) may take time to notice. I'm just glad he's been a 'trooper' about all of it and allows me the freedom to try these new things. We have had a lot of great discussions and it helps us to stay connected too!

Rosa said...

My partner is a Polish-American computer programmer too!

Luckily, he's cheap as hell so he's not the Newest Gadgeteer.

But what's helped is that he's really interested in science and technology. He loves things that are measurable - the Killawatt makes him really happy, and so do the technical specs of new windows & other weatherproofing (hey, R-value calculations are MATH.) This is the absolute opposite of me - I want to do the achievable stuff, he wants to do the stuff that verifiably has the most impact on our carbon footprint.

He also dresses like a computer programmer. Jeans & t-shirts can come from the thrift store, and be washed in cold water with hippie soap.

Geeks seem to tend to be cyclists, solar power installers, rock climbers, and solar-cooking enthusiasts, too - maybe you can get your husband interested in high-tech winter biking gear instead of a new smart phone?

Kim said...

My guy agrees with me that there is a need to be greener in the way we live our lives, but I don't think he always understands my methods (or the madness) and he certainly wouldn't do a lot of the things I do, if I weren't there doing them already.

I hate to say it, but on some issues I've taken care of it by just saying "I'll do it." For example, in our area we have to clean out all recyclables, take off lids, cap rings, cut apart different types of recyclable materials etc. (Oh, and then we have to take it to the recycling center ourselves)

He's from Seattle, where you can just throw all your mixed recyclables into one bin, and then take it out to the curb. As a result, he doesn't really have a lot of interest in or patience for doing it the way it has to be done here. If I didn't step in and say "leave that on the counter, I'll take care of it" he'd like just throw things away if it was too complicated to deal with. So that's what I do.

He is good about taking things to the center though.

You mentioned grocery bags specifically, and since we've had the exact same problem in our house, I'll tell you how I've fixed the problem, at least mostly: I just make sure there are always a lot of reusable bags IN his car (I can't get him to not drive...that's probably our biggest struggle...even though he only worked a mile from home until a month ago.)

Leaving bags in his car means that he ALWAYS has bags when he goes to the store. He doesn't always remember to take them in, but he is getting better and better about. The long the bags have been there, the better he has become. Eventually I think he'll have the habit down. But, I do think I will always have to be willing to make sure his car is stocked with them...

It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make though.

knittingwoman said...

My dh is fine about the green stuff but maybe that is because I have been moving in that direction for about 20 years:) In my household it is the 18 year old son #4 that refuses to get onboard at all, won't even take a reusable bag to the store. My other 3 boys no longer live at home, the oldest is a anarchist punk so he does lots of green "stuff" because it makes sense and is cheap:) My middle 2 boys are middle of the road but they are no longer part of my household. My 13 year dd is usually a willing sport but a green "lifestyle" is really all she has ever known.

Daisy said...

My husband has come around gradually. The switch to cloth napkins was good because he doesn't have to buy paper napkins any more (he does the shopping). It's a little tougher to talk him out of buying tomatoes in January, even though they're trucked in for miles and miles. Gradually, I'll get him on board.

Marie said...

I'm in the exact same boat. I wrote a bit about it here. I can't even get him to turn off lights, and as an electrician, he balks at the tiny bit of energy used when I insist on shutting off power bars attached to the computers. But the funny thing is, when he bought dog shampoo, he made sure it was completely organic and free from parabens and phthalates. So it's sinking in, just not necessarily in the right direction! My only advice is to hang in there. Baby steps.

Condo Blues said...

What works for us is realizing that some of my green buttons aren't my husband's and vice versa. My husband is good with remembering the bags for big grocery trips but not for picking up milk or nongrocery items. Fortunately I have a reuse if a grocery bag comes home - I use them to bag trash. We fill a plastic grocery size bag a month.

On the other had, my husband's green buttons aren't always mine. He's Mr. Just Say No to HFCS. He's converted me, but I sometimes wish I could have crackers in the house again.

Most things we can agree on and do. Especially if it has to do with the health of our rescue dog. My husband chuckled that I was willing to drive to the other side of the city to buy a cleaner that would be safe to use on the upholstery of our car because our dog rides in it. We have an understanding that when it comes to one our button areas and the other doesn't follow through, the buttonee can't kvetch. However we try to limit those instances as much as possible.

Jessica Nichols said...

Very interesting post + comments. My dh is very flexible and interested in these topics to a certain degree, but he definitely lets me drive the changes in our household. In many ways he is the leader, he hates driving and has commuted to work by bike for years.

The only thing that I really struggle with is despite seeing the movies, etc. my guy is not bothered by fast food yet. I am pretty much freaking out about it but I realize I cannot control everything. I can only hope someday he hits a low of some kind and quits! Or else, that someone opens an organic, grass-fed fast food joint!

Robbie said...

Good morning! My spouse is generally supportive but supportive doesn't always mean he remembers. Ex: He's fine with greener cleaners and using cloth towels because they're there. The cloth bags, not so much. Of course, he can carry them in the car, but they're out of sight and out of mind when he's getting off a shift and grabbing a few things.

That being said, he was the first to state he wished his store would start supporting more local farmers!

Lisa Sharp said...

First off my husband knows this is of great importance to me so that is a large reason why he is willing. The other is seeing bills go down. Our energy cost is down 30%!

He also reads my green magazines that are in the bathroom hehe. He cares about our health more so than the planet so he is more worried about toxins in things we buy than say how sustainable it is. He is slower to come around than me and still isn't as green as me but he does a pretty darn good job. :)

Kelly said...

rosa said whht i wanted to say but i add in the way to get a floundering bloke onside. SLOW sex! SLOW life.

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

funny timing - there was just a nyt article about this topic too!


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