As someone who has now dedicated her #1 hobby to researching and writing about sustainability, you might wonder what my credentials are to do such a thing. So, let me tell you: I don’t have any. And that’s the reality of sustainable living for many people.
My interest in sustainable living only began about a year ago, but my commitment to actually implementing sustainable practices into my daily life only began a few months ago.
The Impossibility of the Sustainable Aesthetic
All the earthy crunchy cottage-core girls on social media really live the life I want. In another life, I would be 100% self sufficient somewhere in the country side with zero carbon footprint. But, like most content on social media, that aesthetic doesn’t reflect the reality of sustainable living. Making your life sustainable is a journey. You can’t just wake up one day and think to yourself “from this point forward I will live 100% sustainably.” It’s simply impossible to switch on a dime like that.
The journey itself is lifelong and probably has no destination. While it might sound radical, there truly is no ethical consumption under capitalism in the American sense because it puts the responsibility for change onto the individual. However, the magnitude of the problem has grown too large for individual action to resolve on its own.
Sustainability in the Context of Capitalism
Individual action in terms of sustainability is not the end-all-be-all of environmental reform because large corporations are at fault for the majority of the damage. However, given our context in a capitalist economy, we must adjust our game plan and fit it within a capitalist context to actually enact change. Capitalism relies on supply and demand, so, if demand suddenly drops, the supply becomes cheaper and the corporation goes out of business. This concept is what drives the environmental motivation behind the vegetarian and vegan diets. Hopefully, enough people cut out meat and the supply becomes so cheap that the corporations driving livestock agriculture go out of business.
While this process has occurred for many businesses, the systems that contribute to climate change like the energy sector and agriculture are so large and our society relies on them to such an extent that it’s virtually impossible to deplete the demand enough for those corporations to go under.
The Good and Bad of Individual Action
However, none of this (depressing) information is meant to discredit individual action. The reality of sustainable living is that it won’t solve the issue, but it certainly helps. One less plastic straw in the ocean is one less plastic straw in the ocean. Think of it this way: individual action probably won’t make the issue worse.
So, now that I’ve spelled out the environmentalists dilemma, you’ve settled on committing to making your life more sustainable. You’re motivated and excited to see what sustainable alternatives you can implement into your daily life. But wait- some of these alternatives are really inconvenient. Some of them are crazy expensive. Some of them are entirely inaccessible.
These obstacles are the real kicker when it comes to sustainable living.
It’s virtually impossible to live 100% sustainably.
Imagine a life that’s 100% vegan, 100% waste free, and 100% carbon emission free. To do so, you would need access to a store or market with plenty of fresh produce, meat alternatives, and dietary supplements. You would also need the money to afford that. You would need access to vendors who sell every necessity without an ounce of plastic packaging (laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, soap, makeup, etc.). Once again, you need the money to afford such options. And finally, you need to live in a home powered by a renewable energy source, with an electric car that’s charged via that renewable energy source. Don’t forget all the money you would need to afford such a change.
Sustainable Living and Guilt
A 100% sustainable life is inaccessible to nearly everyone. That woman who fit all her trash in a mason jar shouldn’t be the standard, or even try to be the standard until sustainable alternatives are truly and completely accessible to every. single. person. Which is why I don’t understand the shaming that comes with living imperfectly sustainably. The guilt that comes with making a choice that is undeniably unsustainable often becomes overwhelming.
For example, every time I forget my reusable water bottle and need to buy a plastic one, I fixate on that choice for the rest of the day. I beat myself up about forgetting my reusable bottle and spiral down a hole of self shaming and guilt. Another instance of this guilt occurs twice a day everyday for me. I’ve found that CeraVe’s skincare products are the most successful in caring for my skin. However, all of their products come in plastic bottles and the company itself is not cruelty free. However, I cannot afford more ethical products, and even if I could, they would most likely harm my skin. And yet, I think about the harms that those CeraVe products cause every time I run through my skincare routine.
Self shaming and guilt tripping is incredibly damaging for your mental health and motivation to make a change. The culture around sustainability frequently feeds into this debilitating cycle. I’ve heard comments directed towards myself and others who try to be sustainable that sound something along the lines of:
If you can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all?
I HATE this sentiment. Why would anyone want to discredit someone’s efforts to make a positive change, imperfectly or not? Like I said earlier, one less plastic straw in the ocean is one less plastic straw in the ocean. Even if an individual did live 100% sustainably, it wouldn’t solve climate change. But they do make a difference. And that difference is a very important difference. Just as the person who ditches plastic straws but can’t find plastic-free skincare products they can afford. Both people make a very important difference.
I find myself needing this reassurance on a daily basis. So here I am, putting it out into the Internet forever for anyone who needs it. This post is your reminder that imperfection doesn’t matter.
What A Realistic Sustainable Life Looks Like
These are just a few examples of the reality of sustainable living in my own life:
- Most of my wardrobe is made from fast fashion brands like Urban Outfitters, BUT I sell and donate my old clothes to give them a second life.
- I use the plastic produce bags at the grocery store, BUT I try to reduce my plastic waste by using a shampoo bar.
- Sometimes I feel too lazy to cook and the most convenient option contains meat, BUT I eat vegetarian or vegan when I can.
- I don’t have a compost bin so I throw out all of my food waste, BUT I recycle everything that I know can be recycled.
My life is imperfectly sustainable. But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try. While I certainly don’t have any professional credentials to be preaching about climate change, I’m trying. Because one less plastic straw in the ocean is one less plastic straw in the ocean.
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