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Published on September 17th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


What is Ecoguilt? Are You a Guilty Greenie?

At a recent Green Drinks event in San Francisco, there was a white board at the center of the room asking this very important question:

What is Your Environmental Dirty Secret? 

eco guilt

Tell us, what’s your Environmental Dirty Secret?

Even as a long-time, fully dedicated green nerd, I experience ecoguilt for my environmental dirty secrets. Admittedly, there are just a few, but it doesn’t mean that the guilt is any less poignant– I feel enormously guilty about certain life choices. You can see mine on the board in the middle right: shopping at Old Navy and other fast fashion stores (I’m a blogger on a budget and can’t always shop at thrift stores!) and using the dryer (I live in an apartment and can’t hang up all my towels and sheets anymore). These environmental dirty secrets feed into my ecoguilt.

What is Ecoguilt?

The Urban Dictionary, the ruling authority of our lexicon, explains ecoguilt as such:

“Ecoguilt [is] the feeling you get when you could have done something for the environment, but consciously made the decision not to. [An example:] Maria could have recycled that plastic bottle, but instead she throw it into the regular trash bin; she was soon feeling ecoguilt for her laziness.”

what is ecoguilt?

learn to fight the ecoguilt!

But what is the source of this guilt? How many people feel this ecoguilt– and is it even productive? I feel ecoguilt all the time, and wanted to look more into this concept, and see if I could find ways to fight it.

Even though I make conscious choices everyday to reduce my impact on the planet– eating a almost fully vegan diet, choosing to bike commute instead of driving, and living in a very energy efficient home, sometimes still my ecoguilt takes over. Whether it’s shopping at fast fashion stores, forgetting my own silverware set, or having to use a grocery bag at the store when I forget my reusable bags.

And it turns out I’m not alone! Ecoguilt has come to be a thing because as we become increasingly informed about our carbon footprint and our individual impact on the planet, it’s hard to un-know these things. As we make choices each day to do good, we feel increasingly bad about any of the bad choices we make.

I found a deeper explanation of ecoguilt from Kate Ryan on her blog, The Revolutionelle: “I’ve wondered if eco-guilt is in any way related to white guilt. After all, the industrialized, first world countries causing most of the damage to our planet by way of outsourcing and overconsumption also seem to incur the most guilt. There’s another likely possibility that eco-guilt stems from our deep-seated Judeo-Christian values characterized by guilt and self-consciousness. Stephen T. Asma hits this idea on the head in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes, ‘Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper.'”

I find this insight especially interesting, because it’s important to realize that it’s often from a privileged position to have the time or brainpower to worry about these things, and the funds to be able to educate ourselves further about climate change action.

But there are ways to get over your ecoguilt and get on with your day!

On the Huffington Post Jennifer Grayson writes about how ecoguilt specifically affects eco-conscious parents, and the fight to be as green as possible but still maintain your sanity while caring for a small, wild creature. These tips from author Paige Wolf are designed for moms and dads that are “over-informed” and guilty about all their lifestyle choices, but they are equally helpful for the child-free among us that feel guilty about every little choice we make:

Pat yourself on the back. Remember that perfect is unachievable, so instead focus on the positive choices that you are capable of making.

Lead by example. When you’re feeling frustrated, remember that “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world,” as Gandhi said. Focusing on our own shortcomings will do nothing to inspire others.

Work to make a difference on a larger scale. You’ll feel more empowered if you work to enact political change, say, to require testing for toxic chemicals in cosmetics rather than harassing your husband to give up his favorite deodorant.

Do you suffer from ecoguilt- and what brings it on? How do you fight it? Let us know in the comments! 

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