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Are You Trying too Hard to Be Environmentally Correct?

As you protect the planet—and your health—it’s OK to fall short of perfection., used with permission
Source:, used with permission

Guilt and pride top the list of eco-related emotions that motivate us to act in pro-environmental (eco-friendly) ways by recycling metal cans, purchasing hybrid cars, switching from disposable to reusable products, avoiding toxic plastics, conserving water, cooking with organic foods, and signing petitions to protect wildlife and save the oceans. Eco-shame, eco-anxiety and fear of committing an “eco-sin” also take up valuable space in the minds of many who want to do the right thing, but sometimes fall short. Safe to say, most of us probably find ourselves in the eco-confessional box from time to time.

A lack of environmentally friendly action doesn’t necessarily reflect our feelings about saving the earth or the best way to feed, clothe, and amuse our children; sometimes it better reflects our inability to spend more money in order to be eco-correct or find time to stay on top of a never-ending stream of eco-updates.

In her new book, Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt, communications specialist and eco-living expert Paige Wolf invites 50 parents, celebrities, eco-experts, and green business professionals to chime in on just how crazy-making it can be to try to save the earth and ourselves from environmental destruction, and what we can do to make it easier (and cheaper) to live an eco-friendly life.

Studies show that people who are deeply interested in sustainability will pay more for products with eco-friendly labels, even when they actually prefer the flavor or function of a similar, less expensive product that is not so labeled. As Wolf and her Spit That Out! contributors point out, however, it’s not necessarily an environmentally or economically savvy move to purchase every “green gadget” on the market; you’re not necessarily saving the planet by buying more stuff, she reasons. Yes, use “green” products whenever you can, but first find ways to buy less and use less. For example: a cheap sponge will last as long and do as good a cleanup job as dozens of rolls of recycled paper towels; save the towels for jobs where they are really needed.

Sometimes we waste paper, throw recyclables into a landfill bin, buy chemically-laden products, and make other choices that aren't environmentally sound simply because we have formed bad habits. It doesn't mean you're a bad person; it means there's room for improvement. (Read more about replacing bad habits with good ones here.)

As you struggle with eco-choices, Wolf also points out that the last thing you want to do is instill eco-dread and fear into your children. If you’re making all these decisions and choices to help them live healthier, happier lives now and in the future, what’s the point of passing on all that guilt and anxiety?

“We can’t always do our best and we’re not always perfect,” she reminds us. “But we are part of a growing community of people who are doing what we can to create positive change in the world.”

In a nutshell, that’s probably the healthiest and most eco-friendly message we can give ourselves and pass on to the next generation.

© Susan McQuillan


Paige Wolf

Guilty conscience: motivating pro-environmental behavior by inducing negative moral emotions.

Eco-guilt motivates eco-friendly behavior.

Experiences of pride, not guilt, predict pro-environmental behavior when pro-environmental descriptive norms are more positive.

Who needs cream and sugar when there is eco-labeling?