This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been feeling this way without saying anything, or knowing how to form a coherent post, for weeks.
Working in the space of ethical this, and sustainable that, you tend to find the same approach is always being taken. For many people leading the way into being more eco-friendly, there’s a certain pressure of showing how they’re perfect in all their actions, to the point of lying.
I’m really, really tired of it.
I want to make it clear, I’m not tired of writing. I’m not tired of discovering new people launching businesses with the planet in mind, new designers creating beautiful pieces that consider their garments’ lifespan and beyond. I’m not tired of trying new, kinder ways to live, which has always been the central focus of Curiously Conscious.
What I am tired of is the fake eco perfectionism that can be found across social media – and not only tired, I’m worried that it’s preventing people from sharing their own sustainable changes, without being called out for not doing it 100% right.
Do what works for you
As I’ve told many people I’ve met, my road into this space comes from a place of passion and study. For a year of my degree, I lived alone in Paris. I worked hard, explored the city, and fell in love with great French food. I loved the French way of cooking, but also their approach to protecting agriculture, their appreciation of provenance. We must respect where our things come from: the people who sewed the seeds, the land from which they grew.
It led to me focusing on sustainable agriculture in my final year at university. I wrote an entire dissertation on the importance of local food – in French. I’m most inspired by that level of care – for our planet, our people, our things, our selves.
Almost five years on, I still feel that inspiration. I’ve applied it to my own interests: fashion, beauty, travel. I’m still a foodie, but it’s not my only focus. And I’m not an expert, but I’m certainly willing to learn.
What I do find frustrating is the strange culture that has formed around following this type of lifestyle, especially for the people who put share their lives as an example to follow. There’s almost a re-writing of who they were previously, frantic covering up of previous fast fashion purchases, archiving of photos with Starbucks cups, deleting anything that would paint them differently to who they are today.
My issue is this: by removing your journey into this field, you’re removing the vital steps that many others want to follow. By saying you’re 100% perfect now, you’re not only lying, but you’re giving others an unattainable goal that is simply discouraging.
Please, stop bowing to the pressure of eco perfectionism.
Perfectionism is not the answer
When you’ve been exposed to the awful processes that most of our possessions have been borne from, it’s hard to stay upbeat. It’s even worse to consider the people who have been subject to unfair treatment, poisoned water supplies, lacking voices and lacking respect. And then, worst of all, is the fact that this crippling capitalist system is causing climate collapse, with finite time to reduce or reverse it.
(Cue, eco anxiety).
We have to make change happen. But as committed individuals, we’ve made that vital step – of becoming conscious of the issue. In our own separate ways, we spread that consciousness, into our lives, our homes, our workplaces, our polling stations. But, we’re also limited in how quickly we as individuals can turn this wheel.
No two people wake up to the fact that our climate is collapsing in the same way. Sure, there are documentaries, books, films. I’ve even been hosting events and giving talks on the subject. But we all must feel our way into a place that works for us, be it turning vegan, no longer buying fast fashion, no longer buying any fashion, whatever.
We’re all doing our best, and that deserves to be praised.
With all of my work, my aim remains the same: to get people thinking. Consider the journey, learn to love what you have, and aspire to do even better. Take time to understand the impact you have. It may be a small, mindful moment, or it may be months of research. It’s really up to you.
And no, I don’t expect you to even think that way 100% of the time. Of course not. I certainly don’t. On the weekend, I used a plastic cup in the cinema. Uh oh – where’s the plastic police?
We have to recognise that we can’t be perfect. And it’s so crucial that’s understood too. There are systems in place that make it extremely hard to be perfect anyway – shouldn’t we be tearing those down, instead of spending so much energy pretending we’ve just circumvented them and found a new, unattainable eco utopia on Instagram?
Personally, I’ve found eco perfectionism creates a number issues:
- Unattainable goals discourage others on their own journeys
- Businesses and brands don’t want to be criticised when they’ve only been able to take certain steps, so they avoid the eco/sustainable narrative altogether
- Personally, it makes me an absolute kill-joy
Yup, eco perfectionism is something that plagues me personally too. I’ve got to a point where I can so easily suck the joy out of things, because in my head, I’m considering all the negative impacts of everything we do. I cringe at my friends or family’s new purchases, at their new outfits, at their shopping trips. It sucks. It’s no fun. And that’s not been my intention at all, ever.
I’m starting to learn that letting go, having fun, and making 80% of the right choices, is better for everyone. Sure, the birthday presents I buy will still be hand-made, maybe recycled, possibly made in the UK. The recipient will love that present just the same, but they may be none the wiser. I’ll be proud of my gift, but I also won’t get upset by their new Zara handbag, or the filet mignon they had for their birthday meal.
Do what works for you, and have fun with it.
Plus if we don’t make it look fun, and make it inviting, how will anyone else want to change?
Let’s make caring cool again.
And so, I’d like to declare a whole bunch of promises. I promise to never shame you over using the occasional plastic bag, or shopping the conscious ranges on the high street. I promise to never comment if you choose a diet different to my own (and mine’s mighty complicated anyway – I eat fish, I eat eggs, and if it’s unavoidable, I eat dairy). I promise not to tell you what to say, how to say something, or say something on behalf of you. I promise to respect our differences, and the bond that unites us: to love the earth, its people, and our own lives.
Let’s invite everyone to the conversation – and have fun with it
As I said in this month’s newsletter, I genuinely believe that we need to make finding eco-friendly options more appealing, easy to access, and open to all.
My own mission is to create and support independent media that champions kinder ways to live. I want to be part of huge community of different people with different approaches, and offer a platform for each person to stand and tell their own story, to their own audience, in their own way. It’s why I set up Ethical Influencers – offer encouragement, invite collaboration, appreciate diversity.
Because if we’re going to achieve that saying – getting lots of people living sustainably imperfectly – we have to invite everyone to the table, and make this “eco buffet” look better than every other option out there.
What dish are you bringing to the party?
I think I am in love! 🙂 Finally words that make sense, so much sense! Thank you for this article! I get this all the time now, especially since I started my company a few month ago. Living as an expat in Ethiopia is full of challenges, especially if you try to live sustainable….this is after all a country overwhelmed and drowned in cheap clothing that will fall apart after three washes, plastic bottles everywhere because the tap water is unsafe……You are so right, trying for perfection and forgetting the fun of living is not the right way! Baby steps….I talk to people everyday and if I can get just one to change their mindset, realising that you don’t need to be perfect as long as you do your best and set an example I am happy! Very much looking forward to read more from you!
Thank you for your comment Andrea – your business and expat life sound so interesting! I imagine it’s especially hard to adapt to a new culture, and sustainable options here in the UK might not always be possible elsewhere. You’re taking a good path by even being part of the conversation, so I hope that’s recognised in your work and life, but also don’t be too hard on yourself! x
Besma, thank you so much for this post. Means a lot that you’re grappling with this too!
As a messaging strategist working towards a more sustainable & socially just future, I run up against the wall of eco-perfectionism a lot. It pains me when brands choose to stay in their eco-bubble rather than taking responsibility for leading new people into a better way of life.
Thing is, we can’t expect them to take their first steps if they feel as if it won’t ever be enough.
Being on the journey together is more important than who gets there first.
And we’ll make progress faster if more people do a little bit each day than if a handful of perfectionists get it right 100% of the time.
My pleasure Sabine – thank you for the kind words! It’s interesting to hear how others in this space also find themselves up against eco-perfectionism, especially professionally. There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s worth going the distance, but let’s not pretend we’re there just yet. x
Hi Besma. I love this post. It’s very interesting to read about your first approach to sustainability about local food. I started the other way around, went from applying first in fashion and after to the other areas of my life. I can really relate to your words. I am far from being perfect and I am ok with it. It’s about trying and being open minded also about sustainability to me. There’s not one way to have a sustainable lifestyle. Great post 🙂
Thanks for the kind words Nicole. I’ve found so many people in this space took your journey – following their heart into fashion and then realising there’s serious problems in the industry. I’m glad you’re finding balance, and focusing on making change. Keep up the great work! x
Wow- you’ve just coherently put into words what I’ve been grappling with for months! The eco-friendly/sustainability movement is progressive and beautiful at the heart, but eco-perfectionism is a seriously dark side of it. While social media is key to sharing the movement and learning about it, I can’t help but feel it’s exacerbated the issue as well; part of the reason I started my blog/social accounts in the first place was simply to show others an authentic, flawed person on a journey but man, it’s tiring when you’re surrounded by so much apparent perfection. It isn’t an inclusive movement right now.
Your ‘plastic police’ moment reminded me that I was consumed with guilt the other day for buying a bottle of water (when I was thirsty and had no other option). In what world should that ruin my day, or anybody’s? We need to be okay with cutting our imperfect selves some slack. Sorry for rambling- this was a great post and I thank you for it. Keep up the good work ♥︎
I’m so glad the post resonated with you Tilly – I was quite nervous about posting it, but I too was struggling with the pressure of balancing authenticity and bowing to the pressure to be perfect. It’s taken me a while to realise that the extra efforts made to be perfect could be better spent – in fact should be better spent on challenging the oil and gas industry, and political regulation. This article on Vox was recommended to me by a friend after I posted, and I think it goes one further in showing how green guilt is causing us to forget the real perpetrators of climate change. B x
Seeking Eco perfectionism must be exhausting and equally unfulfilling as you obviously know, the model which we inhabit is not designed to support it, either systemically or practically. That said, we certainly admire those who really strive to achieve the smallest footprint practicably possible.
For our small part, we hope to enable and encourage people to make a positive environmental contribution through the systemic and practical change offered by our simple products which can also save time. We also hope that our products will engender habitual change by promoting more efficient use of waste disposal containers, facilitating less frequent collection. In short we hope to help people achieve a smaller footprint through making life a little less complicated.
Our greater ambition is that our products assist the preservation of finite resources,contribute to a reduction in emissions and toxicity at landfill and incineration whilst improving the efficiency of energy from waste harvesting.
Ultimately, we would like the advent of our products to contribute to a call for legislation requiring the replacement of unnecessary plastic packaging with efficient biodegradable alternatives to fundamentally support peoples environmental ambitions, whilst inherently eradicating 2+m tonnes of plastic packaging, of which around 135,000 Tonnes is comprised in plastic bin liners, bins and wheelie bins, discarded annually in the UK.
Hi Colin, thanks for the comment and for explaining how you’re doing your bit! Love the sound of your compost bin caddies (we have the biodegradable bag sort and it can be an issue!) so I hope everything goes well and people enjoy disposing of their food waste in an eco-friendly way with your products. B x