Monday, November 3, 2014

The Green Police Have Left the Building

 The Climate Crusader is thinking about public displays of environmentalism.

"Did you just put that apple core in your reusable bag?"

I was sitting in the staff room of the school where I'm volunteering and eating my lunch. The school has recycling for bottles, cans and paper, but no compost and no recycling for other materials (that I have seen). And so, I have been bringing my compostables and recyclables home with me. It's not a lot of effort, and I feel better knowing that my green waste isn't ending up in the landfill where it will create greenhouse gases.

On this day, though, someone else noticed what I was doing. I decided that it wasn't a big deal and said that yes, I was bringing my apple core home to compost. The questioner looked surprised and told me that I was very green. I brushed it off, saying that my house has green waste collection so it really isn't all that hard. So why did I feel the need to downplay my actions?

One of the things about making visible green choices is that sometimes, other people notice. And when they notice, they have their own reactions and feelings. This is totally fair. Sometimes they respond positively, and talk about the steps they're taking towards sustainability. Sometimes they respond curiously, asking how or why I'm doing what I do. And sometimes they respond defensively, giving me reasons for why they can't do it themselves.

In real life, I'm a fairly low-key person. I don't particularly like being noticed. And the handful of times that I've been noticed for doing something green and faced a negative reaction have been pretty uncomfortable. For example, I once blogged about my commitment to drinking tap water (rather than bottled water) whenever possible. A couple of weeks later when I was at someone's house and they offered me a range of beverage options including bottled water I replied, "Plain tap water would be great." This person had read my blog post and said, "Oh, you must think I'm terrible, drinking bottled water."

Awkward.

I've been on the other side of this equation, too, meeting people who I think of as super-green in person for the first time. I know that when I'm in their presence I suddenly start thinking about that bag of non-organic chips wrapped in plastic that I just finished, or the shirt I'm wearing that I bought on sale at Target that was presumably manufactured in deplorable conditions overseas. I worry that the person I'm meeting will think less of me because I'm not as green as they are. It's natural, as people, to want others to like us. We don't want to be found lacking. I get it. However, I don't think that worrying about how other people may view our environmentalism, or lack thereof, is all that helpful.

I can't speak for every single environmentalist, but speaking purely for myself I can say that when I do something like opt for tap water over bottled water or bring my apple cores home to compost I'm not looking down at people who do things differently. I am not the green police, and I don't want to be. In fact, I'm not sure I would qualify. I'm not perfect - far from it. I'm just doing the best I can, in a way that works for me. If you don't want to carry around your old apple cores, I'm not judging you. And I hope you won't judge me for my shortcomings, either.

We don't need to police each other's green living. And we don't need to be afraid to let our green sides show, either.

6 comments:

Turning the Clock Back said...

very good post! I have always believed that we lead by example but that no one is perfect. Sometimes I feel guilty when I do something I know isn't green but I have to keep reminding myself that every little step counts, even if I am not perfect! Hopefully we model good behavior to our children and friends!

lindsay said...

You are so amazing - talk about walking the walk! I need to get into composting... it's the last frontier for me!

Green Bean said...

Like you, I am not someone who likes to call attention to myself. For instance, I have just never been able to bring my own container for to-go. I am just too embarrassed of the kind of attention it would draw.

And, like you, I have been on both sides of the coin. I remind myself that we all start somewhere, we all have sectors of our lives which are more sustainable than others (I really need to drive less!).

Lynn Hasselberger said...

Love this. It's not about judgement, it's about setting an example. And... also accepting ourselves for our own green (or not so green) imperfections.

Janelle Sorensen said...

"We don't need to police each other's green living. And we don't need to be afraid to let our green sides show, either." AMEN!!

Betsy Escandon said...

It's a tough line. I do think setting a "green example" is better than preaching, as a way to educate and inspire others, but it can make people defensive. I often don't reveal my green tendencies in real life for this exact reason. Suddenly people start worrying that the food they offer my child while babysitting them for me isn't good enough. Hey, if you'll watch my kids, you can feed them anything you want! On the other hand, in our preschool co-op, all the moms give me the paper scraps b/c they know I'll take them home and recycle them, and they have no problem admitting they are too lazy to do so. They've even said they only use the recycling bin b/c the trash can is so small (to which I laughed and said, "That's why they make it so small."). Anyway, I guess I think we just have to keep walking that line -- to be green without judgment. And if folks take offense, oh well.

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