Updated: Mar 24
Have you ever felt a sense of guilt when you have to eat food with disposable cutlery? Or when you have to travel by airplane? Most people who are concerned about sustainability have probably experienced this feeling at some point. Environmental psychologists named this feeling eco-guilt which is the guilt that arises when people think they’ve done something bad for the environment or for not being perfectly green. In this article, you will learn more about eco-guilt and how you can manage it in your journey to becoming more sustainable.
Eco-guilt and sustainable life
Starting a journey in sustainability isn’t easy. We’re overwhelmed with all of the messages about how our actions are affecting the planet. From the plastic straw that can get stuck in a turtle's nose to the massive carbon emission from meat production. But we can’t change our lifestyle to be more sustainable overnight. There may be times when we fail to meet our sustainability goals, and experiencing eco-guilt is a normal response.
But what comes after the guilt is the most important. Associate professor of psychology at Loyola University, Robyn Mallett says in her paper that people tend to compensate for their eco-guilt by acting more sustainably. You might have experienced this whether it’s about eating less meat or recycling your waste. However, eco-guilt can also lead people to feel less worthy of joining an environmental movement. For example, people may think that they can’t join a climate protest because they still turn on the AC frequently, or feel like a hypocrite for wanting to be an environmental activist, while still eating meat. While it is important to set and maintain sustainability goals, one shouldn’t let guilt discourage them from trying at all. Therefore, it’s important to know how to manage eco-guilt.
How to manage your eco-guilt
Here are some steps you can take to deal effectively with eco-guilt:
1. Understand that it’s a normal response
Eco-guilt is a human response. It’s a sign that you’re aware of your actions and their impacts on the environment, and you’re trying your best to live sustainably.
2. Don’t overwhelm yourself
Adapt sustainable lifestyle practices step by step. Remember that we can’t change every aspect of our lifestyle to become fully sustainable in a short period of time. You can also follow some sustainable practitioners on social media and try to practice sustainability step by step with them.
3. Be aware of your ‘sustainable actions’
You have to be careful to not fall into the ‘rebound effect’. For instance, when someone excuses their eco-guilt by using a fuel-efficient car but ends up driving more often than usual.
4. Don’t get discouraged
Remember that everyone can take part in sustainability. You’re not less worthy because of your past mistakes. Be brave and join environmental organizations to create changes in our society.
5. Don’t obsess over small mistakes
Try to focus on the positive changes that you can make rather than obsessing over small mistakes. After all, being sustainable is striving toward progress, not perfection.
Sustainable living is a process
It's important to acknowledge your eco-guilt and find ways to deal with it. Remember that you're not alone in the feeling. Embrace every little step that you take to become more sustainable, no matter how small they are. Lastly, being green can be quite stressful sometimes so don't be too hard on yourself and find joy in those small steps of sustainable living.
Writer: Kemas Saddam
Editor: Stevenson Ramsey