How to Cope with Eco-Guilt (For Everyday People)

eco guilt of woman in nature

Have you ever made a decision that didn’t help the environment because it took too much energy?  …or thought? …or advanced planning? 

Did you feel guilty about your decision?  

If so, you have probably suffered from something called eco-guilt. And just so you know, you are not alone! 

The majority of participants in a recent survey (54%) reported feeling stressed when they saw headlines about climate change and up to and about 70% of the participants felt guilty when they put a recyclable item in the trash. (source)

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WHAT IS ECO-GUILT EXACTLY?

According to Urban Dictionary, eco-guilt, or ecoguilt, is the “feeling you get when you could have done something for the environment, but consciously made the decision not to.”

For me, it also means the feeling you get when you could have done something to help the environment but didn’t know how to make a better and more eco-friendly decision.

Sometimes, I want to make a conscious, eco-friendly choice but don’t know how to do better… yet.  

For example, I know the more I learn about green living and being eco-friendly, the more I understand the importance of composting. Yet, it’s not something that you just go ahead and “do”. It takes research, planning, and execution before you can begin composting.  

So while I’m doing the research and planning, and adding it to my monthly goals for the year, I am still throwing away my compostable food scraps into the regular trash.  Not because I want to throw them away but because my compost bin isn’t quite ready. 

Enter eco-guilt.

Even though I’m actively working towards my goal of composting, I feel the eco-guilt each time I toss a banana peel into the garbage.  

The eco-guilt builds up sometimes, despite making eco-friendly choices, such as reducing our family’s waste, using zero waste shampoo, and zero waste laundry detergent, buying 100% recycled toilet paper, drastically reducing the amount of virgin paper we use, and so much more.

Yet I still feel the eco-guilt because there is always more I could be doing.  

Do you feel this way too? 

7 WAYS TO COPE WITH ECO-GUILT

1. Aim for Progress (Not Perfection)

Please remember that we are all doing the best we can. When you feel the eco-guilt creeping in, give yourself grace. Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef, said it best.  

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” 

Living an eco-friendly or zero waste lifestyle is a journey, not a destination.  You will likely never achieve perfection.  So remind yourself that you do not have to be perfect to make a positive impact. Every little step and change that you make is progress in the right direction.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Also, remember that we are all on unique journeys and have unique circumstances.  What you are able to do as a family with young children, may be completely different than what a single adult is able to do.  Don’t compare yourself or your accomplishments to someone else’s. Be proud of the eco-friendly choices you are making each day and know that you are having a positive impact on the environment.  

3. Be Present

I once read a book called The Precious Present and it taught me a lot about being present in the now and finding happiness in the present. Many of us can worry excessively or become anxious about what we failed to do in the past or what is to come in the future.  Yet, all we can really do is make choices in the present and focus on what we can do today.  Being at peace with that will bring you a greater sense of accomplishment and less anxiety about the things you cannot control. 

4. Lead By Example

There may be people in your life and in your family that do not have the same desires as you to be eco-friendly or to start a zero-waste lifestyle. That’s ok! Not everyone will have the same goals as you or understand the importance of what you are doing to become eco-friendly. As they say, “you don’t know, what you don’t know.”  If you lead by example, you can relieve some of that eco-guilt and educate others by showing them how to be eco-friendly.   

5. Spread the Word

Sometimes educating others is a great way to relieve eco-guilt because you are able to focus on helping others and doing more to make a positive impact.  While spreading the word of an eco-friendly and green lifestyle is a positive way to help our planet, you should be careful to do so without making others feel eco-guilt themselves.  Focus on lifting people up and encouraging others who are taking steps in the right direction and avoid making others feel they aren’t doing enough. Leading by example is often the best way to accomplish this. 

6. Join an Eco-friendly Community

I have found that joining online communities and groups that have similar eco-friendly goals has provided me with a sense of comfort and community.  It’s nice to be around other people with common goals and values.  Being a part of an eco-friendly community also helps to remind you that there are a lot of people out there trying to protect our environment and that you are not in this alone – even when it sometimes feels that way.  Together we are stronger!

7. Do A Few Easy Things To Help Ease Eco-guilt

Finally, there are two small things you can do to help ease your eco-guilt. They are so simple that it is an easy win and something you can do without much effort.  

First, install Ecosia as your homepage on your internet browser. While you search the web, Ecosia takes its profits and plants trees where they are needed most! It’s an easy way to make a positive impact doing something you would be doing anyway …searching the web. At the time of writing this, Ecosia has already planted 98,973,621 trees… and counting! 

Second, you can download an app called Forest via the App Store or Google Play, to help you “stay focused” and “be present.” Open the app when you want to focus on a task or don’t’ want to be distracted by your phone and notifications. As the app prevents you from getting distracted, you will also grow virtual trees and earn virtual coins. You can then cash in those virtual coins to plant real trees! The team at Forest partners with Trees for the Future to plant real trees. So far, Forest has planted 815,355 trees on Earth!

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ECO-GUILT

Of course, if you are ever feeling that your eco-guilt or anxiety is interfering with your daily life or activities, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional or doctor. Please remember that I am not a doctor or trained mental health professional, but you can reach out to someone you know for help or consider one of these resources:

In the end, remember that eco-guilt is real and that you are not alone in the feeling. You feel this way sometimes because your heart is in the right place and you want to protect our earth for generations to come.  When you are feeling this eco-guilt take steps to find comfort and remind yourself that we are aiming for progress, not perfection.  

What makes you feel the most eco-guilt? Let me know how I can help support you!

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how to cope with eco-guilt

Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

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