Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The 80/20 Rule for Going Green

A recycled post from The Conscious Shopper, who is still trying to catch up...

I was surrounded by waste and excess: styrofoam cups, plastic straws, paper wrappers, thin plastic placemats, and plasticrap toys. Across the table, First Son and Second Son were filling their toothy grins with french fries (deep fried) and chicken strips (probably full of antibiotics and hormones), eager to finish eating so they would have time for the indoor playground.

It was Second Son's birthday, and we were at Chick-Fil-A. My boys were delighted, and I was weighed down with guilt.

I didn't plan to have Second Son's birthday dinner at a fast food restaurant. We were there because of poor planning on my part, and that was partially the cause of my guilt. But these days I feel guilty about a lot of things. Not just anytime I step foot inside a fast food restaurant, but also when I forget to take my cloth bags to the grocery store, or buy a Coke at the gas station because I forgot my stainless steel water bottle, or make a trip to Target because I've searched in vain for a used belt and can't justify to myself spending $40 on a belt made from recycled materials.

And I spend more than my fair share of over-thinking-it time, like when my flip flops broke, and oh, crap, good shoes are really hard to find at a thrift store, but where am I going to find affordable flip flops made from sustainable materials by someone who's not getting screwed for being born in a different country?

This is the curse of being a Conscious Shopper, and it's at those moments that I can understand why some people say, "It's better not to know" and others say, "I try not to care."

But I have a solution...It's during those extreme moments of guilt and over-thinking-it that it's time to turn to the 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule Defined

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule of dieting that suggests that if you eat healthy 80% of the time, it's okay to blow your diet the other 20% of the time. Put in practice, this means that if you eat healthy Monday through Friday, you can scarf down a burger and fries on Saturday night and indulge in some ice cream on Sunday.

But the 80/20 rule can be used for much more than just diet. Rephrase it a little, and it could say, "If you live green, 80% of the time, it's okay to blow it the other 20% of the time.

Used in this way, the 80/20 Rule can give you some room to wiggle as you transition to a greener lifestyle.

The 80/20 Rule in Action

A few months ago, I mentioned the 80/20 rule as a Jogging Stride suggestion in my post about using fewer paper towels: 80% of the time reach for cloth first. The other 20% of the time, use paper towels made with recycled content.

Here are some other examples:
  • If I try to feed my family healthy, made-from-scratch meals 80% of the time, it's okay to indulge in fast food for the other 20% of our meals.
  • If I am able to purchase 80% of our food from organic or local sources, then 20% of the time, it's okay to eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
  • If 80% of our clothes are from the thrift store or other eco-friendly sources, then 20% of our clothes can come from Target.
  • If we try to live sustainably 80% of the year, it's okay to take some vacations from green living the other 20% of the time.
The 80/20 Rule of Not Being Too Hard on Yourself

Some people might argue that an 80% effort is not enough. Perhaps they are right...

But as I sat at Chick-Fil-A, unable to turn off my eco-conscious conscience, I could sense an encroaching environmental burnout. And it's at those moments that the 80/20 rule is essential.

80% of the time I give 100%, but 20% of the time, I give myself a little slack.

Can you think of any other examples where the 80/20 rule could apply to green living?


panamamama said...

I so agree with this and we try to live this way. I don't think you can kick yourself for wanting a non-organic french fry every once in awhile. We were on vacation and the non-organic milk at the store was $2 more than it is here- I bought the non-organic and felt guilty for a week. As long as I buy organic/local the rest of the year I guess I shouldn't kick myself!

Kim said...

There must be something in the air! I wrote about the exact same idea a few weeks ago...

Indeed 80% success is a pretty good job... :)

Rosa said...

I think, instead of guilt, it can be helpful to be angry - why can't the default, no-planning system be easy? Target should sell sustainable belts. There should be drinking fountains everywhere. There should be an indoor playground with an attached restaurant that sells actual food (if you're only at chik-fila once a year, you're doing really good).

If we just beat ourselves up, we end up burning out and not pressuring the big decisionmakers to make changes.

underbelly said...

I really like this philosophy, because as a college student sometimes I do not have the time or money to live as sustainably as I'd like.

for example, my grocery store sells recycled toilet paper at a reasonable price, but it comes wrapped in plastic, and as a dedicated FPF reader, I cringe every time I buy it. but, I simply do not have the money to order 7th generation from Amazon. and while I would like to be able to buy all my produce from a local grower plastic-free, sometimes I just don't have that option because the farmer's market is only open for three hours once a week and conflicts with my schedule.

so, we all do what we can, and I think it's better to use the energy to ask for the system to change than to feel guilty when you simply can't get around it. one time, I left a note at an Atlanta Bread Company that said how disappointed I was that the soup bowl and utensils were plastic. If Panera can do it, why couldn't they? Six months later I went back and had my soup brought in a washable bowl. I have no idea if it was because of my note, but it did make me feel better!

Daisy said...

When you catch yourself needing a fast food stop, consider composting the wrappings. I've done that with drive-through garbage, and while it doesn't excuse the fast food itself, it helps me feel less destructive.

my green suburbia said...

Oh so true! It is tough to try to live up to such a high standard all the time. The important thing is to do the best you can and at least be aware of how you can improve and how your everyday actions affect the world we live in Too many people don't even care!

Condo Blues said...

I don't think green guilt is productive and one year made it my New Year's Resolution to fight it. I'd rather put that energy into more productive green things. The 80/20 works well because there are some situations where I have to step out of my bubble (or want a fast food taco)due to circumstances beyond my control. Recently a family member had a medical emergency & I found myself staring at a lot of processed food in their cafeteria (it was a small hospital so I understood, but it was disappointing.) I could feel guilty about the beef hotshot I ate or put that energy into helping my family through a bad time. I chose family. I had a nice veggie dinner at home the next day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! I know exactly how you feel...just last week I was berating myself for not recycling a super-sticky jar of honey. It'd been a bad day, and I just tossed it. Blergh! :)

Your 80/20 rule makes so much sense! I've heard of that in business, but never thought to apply it to green living.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. We recently stopped cooking with meat at home, but will eat meat when visiting family or if we really just have a craving for a burger! It has been a nice compromise for our family - being 80% veg, and it doesn't alienate our Midwestern family who always cooks meat when we come over for dinner.

Robj98168 said...

I can think of a thousand things to feel guilty about. But guess what... Guilt Sucks and doesn't accomplish a thing!
So what if you forget your cloth bag once in awhile. Ease up and remember next time!
You know once a week, on Fridays after work, I treat myself to a Venti Mocha at S-Bucks. Not in my mug. I do reuse the cup in the garden, but I choose not to have much guilt about it. I use my reusable stainless steel mug All week long, so 1 drink a week in a paper cup isn't going to kill me. Might not be great for the tree to make the cup.But i think S-Bucks isn't going to quit serving coffee in paper cups if I quit buying my 1 cup a week.I agree with Rosa-"If we just beat ourselves up, we end up burning out and not pressuring the big decision makers to make changes."


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