Green Guilt

Happy Earth Day. Today is the day we’re cheered and chided to take care of our planet by adopting environmentally sound strategies. Simply can’t escape the “shoulds'” all week long– the directives to adopt reusable shopping bags, hybrid cars, CFL lightbulbs, nontoxic cleaning products, and try carpooling/mass transit. To take shorter showers in water heated to lower temperatures. To recycle cans, bottles, papers, grass clippings, batteries, cell phones, and rain water. To buy local, conserving the fossil fuels involved in shipping. To go vegetarian, as livestock emissions balloon the cloud of greenhouse gases. To remodel with nontoxic paint or carpet and tile made from old soda bottles. Add this to any week’s usual list to clean, nurture, work, feed, pay, play, drive, and get a full night’s sleep. Are you exhausted yet, keeping up with the never-ending expectations of responsible citizenship?

Green guilt. I first heard about it from Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson, the hosts of HerInsight Radio’s Celebrate Green on the March 30 show (airing Wednesdays, 1-2 pm ET). Green guilt is what we feel when those “shoulds” invade our brains–we really do have good intentions about doing the best for our planet. But we can’t quite keep up with the expectations, our own or those of others. Last year, The New York Times ran a story saying that fewer Americans feel green guilt, down from 22% in 2008 to 12% in 2009, because they are doing more for the environment. The percentage of Americans who recycle at least one item grew from 89% to 92% in that year, as well. Almost all of us are pitching in on some level.

What if you’re like me, mired in green guilt because you’re not doing it ALL?

Time to recite my “DID DO” list again. I tossed the growing pile of corks on my kitchen counter from all those champagne bottles, even though I know I cut out an article from something, and saved it somewhere — now lost in the bin of recycled papers, no doubt — that listed where I could mail them to recycle. Rather than fixating on what I throw away, I need to focus on the tons of papers, bottles, cans, and batteries that I DO recycle religiously. Guilt about those full throttle gallons per minute showers I prefer? I really don’t want to give them up, replacing that 1964 shower head with a new low-flow variety. So I keep them really short, reveling in the heart-awakening morning blast. And skip a few flushes of the toilet, letting it ‘mellow’ if prudent, to save water.

It’s all about perspective and balance–as always! Aim to be a perfectly good citizen of planet Earth, picking the pieces that ARE readily accomplished. Maybe add one additional ‘green’ task every Earth Day, rather than engineering a complete overhaul of your domestic life. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the tsunami of Earth Day ideas can only be surfed for about for ten days before it’s simply too much. Remember those reusable grocery bags once more each month. Replace one more incandescent bulb with one florescent. Buy carbon offsets for at least one plane trip.

Who says you have to be Super Green Woman, champion of the environment? Persevere! Take pride in each effort you DO make rather than succumbing to the inevitable green guilt when you can’t keep up with the ten zillion ideas bombarding you this week. You’re doing the best you can.

If you need ideas for big impact with a tiny investment of time, check out this article on five ways to save the planet in thirty minutes or less. And then pick just ONE!