The Stress Of Trying To Live Green

Author: Naomi Liddell

It’s been years since Gavin and I have been trying to reduce our environmental impact. Literally years. It started with me falling down a zero-waste rabbit hole after a bizarre encounter with a lady on a bus (which I detail in this post if you’re intrigued). And I can honestly say that in the beginning, I thought that by now I would be some kind of eco-chic green goddess. Living a perfectly labelled glass jar life with perfectly sustainable choices being made at every move. Spoiler alert: That’s not how things have turned out. And attempting to live to green, for me, has proven quite a stressful journey.  

I once read a quote online that went like this:

“Sustainability is like teenage sex. Everybody says they’re doing it, very few people actually are doing it. Those that are doing it are doing it badly.” (generally credited to Australian architect Andrew Maynard).

I laughed out loud (actually laughed out loud) when I first read this. And it brought to mind the Instagram feed I had curated of perfectly zero waste, ethically minded Instagram stars. Much like any kind of Instagram to real life comparison, when I stepped back and looked at my life, it didn’t look like that. Sure, I have made changes in the right direction, but I still wasn’t doing it right. And the guilt would set in. Team that with the blame culture we see all too often online of calling out people for not making the most ‘ethical’ or ‘environmentally conscious’ choice and I was feeling deflated. 
Here I am making an effort and it’s still not, in the eyes of some, considered ‘good enough’. I still eat meat (albeit less often), I travel for work (although I choose to offset that mileage), I order Gousto meals on the weeks that the schedule is too overwhelming to add dinner to the to-do list and my husband has expressed that he doesn’t like my hippie glass jar toothpaste and has reverted back to good old Colgate. 
There are many things I’ve found incredibly easy to implement like ditching plastic water bottles and coffee cups for reusables, swapping hand soap dispensers for soap bars and switching to a green energy supplier. And yet, here I am, listing all of these as if it should bring me some kind of validation that I’m being green.
But recently, in conversation with my friends, almost every single one of them mentioned feeling guilt at the thought of how much they’re doing or not doing for the environment. I believe the term eco-anxiety has been coined. And whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that my own guilt and feeling of inadequacy about green living has given me anxiety… I would definitely say that attempting to make the best choices I can for my family, time, budget, health and the environment causes me stress. A little hum of guilt every time I forget my KeepCup and get the takeaway hot chocolate anyway. Every time I unpack the plastic wrapping from my groceries. 
In a time where everywhere we turn, there’s media screaming about climate change and plastic pollution. Coupled with the world of online influencers and curated (often) fake perfect lifestyles. Is anyone else feeling the pressure placed on us, the consumer? Rather than the companies that are responsible for colossal levels of waste? 
I realise that this is not a light and easy breezy post. But I also realise that we have an incredibly intelligent readership and that these cultural issues do not go over your heads. So maybe I’m not alone in feeling stressed out by the expectation of green living?

Naomi loves daytime baths, learning things and rock music.
(Oh and her kids. She loves them too)
Follow Naomi on Instagram @naomiliddell
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34 thoughts on “The Stress Of Trying To Live Green

  1. I absolutely feel the same way! I feel like every action, every choice is freighted with stress about its ethical and environmental impact. Every piece of plastic film that I throw away adds another dart of anxiety to my day. Add to that the fact that a lot of the low-waste, low-impact solutions require both time and money, and an improvement in one area can be detrimental in another, e.g. drinking almond milk reduces the amount of dairy but is terrible for water consumption. It will always feel like we could be doing more.

    But when I am being calmer and sensible about it, I remember that the reality is also that individuals can only do so much. A much larger responsibility should be put on businesses’ shoulders to find solutions. It feels like we all need to find the balance between taking enough personal responsibility to prove that as consumers we take this issue seriously, in order to push manufacturers, businesses and governments to find large scale solutions. The danger is that we continue to think that our small actions within our domestic sphere will solve everything and that’s just not achievable.

    1. “The danger is that we continue to think that our small actions within our domestic sphere will solve everything and that’s just not achievable” – this sentence really rang true with me Kat.

      I’m also with you on the constantly moving knowledge of what is the most ethical choice. It’s hard to truly weigh up the best thing sometimes.

  2. In the last couple of years, Instagram has given me a very low level buzz of anxiety (probably the wrong word to be honest but you get the gist) about how green I am being and about the whole #shop local #shopindependent agenda. It peaked Christmas 2018 for me where I had set myself an unrealistic goal of trying to only buy presents for my children from independent retailers following a massive campaign from influencers who get sent stuff for free! However, whilst this is a good approach ethically, it’s not always cost effective and, to be completely honest, sometimes I just couldn’t bloody afford it! I was so conflicted I actually deleted Instagram for a month and didn’t miss it.

    We’ve made some small changes to our household in terms of being greener – I can’t tell you the last time we bought a bottle of water whilst out and we subscribe to the SMOL washing tablets etc etc but the world isn’t geared up to easily allowing people to be plastic free yet. We have a lovely little shop in Nottingham where you can buy loose pasta, rice etc by bringing in your own receptacles. But it’s bang smack in the city centre, there’s nowhere to park for miles and I don’t have the time or the inclination to struggle with a load of Tupperware when Sainsburys can deliver it to my door for me..

    And whilst I am on the subject of Sainsburys, we order our food from them every week and choose loose items (despite them being more expensive) to minimise plastic packaging. And yet all of my loose veg comes in those ridiculous little plastic bags. I’ve emailed them about it and tweeted them about it but nothing, they actually ignore me.

    So whilst I am still trying to buy local and eat local, I am also trying not to stress about it. If the massive organisations can’t get themselves in line yet all we little people can do is make all the little changes we can…

    1. Jennifer I have unfollowed A LOT of Instagram Influencers lately. There’s a lot of hawking unaffordable and unachievable lifestyles happening. The hardest part of making greener choices I’ve found is balancing my resources, sometimes solutions are far away, expensive or massively time consuming.

      What horrendous service from Sainsburys. I’ve experienced the same ignorance from Tesco. I just hope they’re all going to come good on their pledges to reduce packaging.

    2. I really wanted to just say how much I agree with Jennifer here as I buy local at the farm shop but I am also shopping at Aldi weekly as it is so cost effective. We have made small changes and now get the ‘who gives a crap’ toilet roll (thanks Naomi for the info on that one!), have reusable bags, avoid one use plastic like cling film but in a life when you are juggling kids, work and everything else like Jennifer says it is very difficult to get to the one little eco shop in the middle of the town! I really hope that big organisations start to make it easier as I think a lot of us would like to do more.
      Naomi – I think your quote is probably very true!!
      I do think it is a bit sad where on social media someone says they are going on holiday and then everyone moans at them about the air travel. I just feel like we are suddenly being judged for going on one holiday every 3 years (in our case) and that just feels a bit mean. Not sure what the answer is as obviously flying is an issue but when there is food and other stuff being flown all over the world it seems a bit out of proportion for someone to be hassled over one holiday. If there was a plane that was eco but a bit more money I would pay it so I think it is a case as Jennifer says if the organisations do more and we have more choice I will certainly pick the eco one but until then it is a case of doing what we can but being realistic.

      1. Totally agree Nicola, cost is a big factor. And convenience also. Our nearest eco shop is a 1hr 30min round trip. Which in terms of carbon (and time!) can’t be much more beneficial than going to our local Lidl (where we do get quite a bit of our shopping).

        And I’m with you on the blame and shame culture that seems to be creeping into social media. Even amongst friends.

    3. I tweeted Tesco about this exact same thing yesterday. The amount of plastic bags my meat and veg was in was ridiculous. No reply for me either.

  3. I think it’s also the fact that there are so many issues conflated under that ‘eco’ title so it feels like it is impossible to win – reducing plastic, cutting carbon, save the bees, stop habitat loss, cut chemical use…
    Also every time I try to do something positive it feels like I can’t get it right. I stopped using cleaning wipes and switched to sprays
    and microfibre clothes – but they shed micro plastic when you wash them so is it better or worse?! Should I buy the plastic wrapped organic cucumber from Spain or the unwrapped ‘normal’ one from the UK?
    All we can do is our best I suppose!

    1. YES Em!! This is one of the biggest stressors for me. The conflating advice on what’s the best choice to make.

  4. I’ve tried to make small changes such as eating less meat, reusable bottles, planning meals ahead to reduce waste, using a compost bin, buying a 5 litre soap and having refillable soap dispensers. But there is only so much I can do and manage to keep it up. A friend of mine is a teacher and she was telling me about someone who gave a talk about eco matters at her school. She was impressed that he wasn’t ‘preachy’ about being green, and he said that it is great that individuals are aware and actively make small changes, but realistically it is the big corporations that need to make changes to really make an impact.

    I’m personally really annoyed with how much plastic goes in my recycling box every week and agree that supermarkets, especially, need to do a lot a more.

    1. So much thought, time and energy goes into making those changes at a consumer level. And I suppose we all need to take stock and think about how far we’ve come.

      It’s always refreshing to hear someone ‘realistically’ talking about eco-living and how it fits into modern life. There’s a lot of greenwashing and idealising lifestyles.

      I personally feel that since the big supermarkets stole business away from the little independent shops our parents used to frequent, that the onus is on them now to cater to the masses that they’ve cultivated. And clearly public expectations on packaging and ethics of products are quickly changing.

  5. I’ve really switched over to the idea that the zero waste aspiration was a great way to keep everyone too busy to really notice what the big companies were getting up to. Hassling the big companies that could make such a difference could yield much greater rewards than a few people making their own [insert the latest crazy thing you’ve seen here – my feed has been all about loofahs].

  6. I heard a quote recently that what the world needs is not one or two people doing ‘green’ perfectly, but thousands of people doing it imperfectly. I try to focus on this when it all feels hopeless. If we all do little things where we can then together we make a difference and that will eventually filter up to the big corporates.

    Although, going back to some of the comment regarding the supermarkets ignoring them, my ten year old daughter wrote to Tesco with some ideas for how they could cut out single use plastics and didn’t get any reply either. She was most put out!

    1. That’s mad that they would even ignore correspondence from a 10 year old! I remember my friend writing to a crisp company when I was a kid and getting a free box of Walkers! Not any more it seems.

  7. I totally get where you’re coming from with this post. It really feels hard to make the right choice sometimes.

    Same as Em above, we’ve done away with cleaning wipes in favour of sprays and cloths but the plastic shedding in the wash isn’t good either – better to have the wipes in landfill or the microplastics in the water course?

    We switched from using soap dispensers to having bars of soap, and then I bought a big multipack of bars of soap. Looked at them closely when I got home to discover that said soaps were made with palm oil…

    Maybe we should just continue to do our best on a personal level but start hassling big businesses and government more. It’s very convenient for businesses and governments to shift the guilt onto us as individual consumers and then not actually spend anything on looking for more impactful solutions. Can’t possibly have them do anything that may hurt their profits!

    1. Gah! Palm oil is such an issue. Apparently the big chocolate companies all set up ‘sustainable palm forests’ that are actually funded by the non-sustainable ones they continue to hawk. Just so they can get that badge of honour. It’s so hard to know what the right consumer choice is when their antics are so dodgy.

  8. Yes, I feel exactly the same way. I’ve had such an extreme reaction to all of the environmental issues that I’m back on anti-depressants and take other medication to calm the physical panic. I’m about to start my second lot of therapy and really struggled to find somebody who understood my issue. One of the therapists said “but weather has always happened” and it made me feel so much worse. This reaction has been detrimental. I felt frozen with fear and completely stopped making changes because it felt so hopeless and I couldn’t cope with it. I’m sure it is over the top and my nightmare scenarios are unlikely to play out, but I became so terrified about the future of today’s children that I stopped eating for a while. So my anxiety isn’t just about beating myself up over the choices I’m making, but the unknown future we’re now facing and realising that children might not have the stability I thought they would. I have this feeling of dread inside me all the time. Knowing that conditions around the world may worsen rather than continuously improve, as I had naively expected would always be the case, has been difficult to get my head around.

    I’m feeling a bit better now that the tablets have kicked in and able to think about it in less catastrophic ways. It means I am able to think about making changes again without being so overwhelmed with it all. But I agree that individual people cannot be held accountable when we exist within a system that forces us to make these unsustainable choices. We can’t all opt out of everyday society so the changes need to come from the top. I think more and more pressure from consumers will make this happen. We’re doing what we can as a family and already have a fairly low impact, but I will keep making these changes and I think there will be many more options in the near future. But I also need to think about the here and now – as a family we currently have the worry of redundancy going on and trying focus on being perfectly Eco friendly when dealing with this everyday stress is very difficult. This is exactly why it shouldn’t be down to us as consumers. It shouldn’t be this difficult and require this much effort to live our lives in ways that are less harmful.

    1. Aw Jade I’m so sorry that this has affected you on such a deep and personal level. I really hope this post wasn’t triggering in any way. It seems like you and your doctor are on top of the symptoms though. So hopefully, you can be more kind to yourself and know that you’re doing your best, given your time and resources. That’s all that any of us can do.

      1. Not triggering at all Naomi, I am always thinking about it on some level anyway but seeing this as another normal, everyday discussion helps me. I can see the drastic shift in awareness and how many people want to do more, which calms me down a lot and stops my thoughts spiralling. I didn’t even know that climate change was definitely a real thing until the 2018 IPCC report on 1.5 degrees came out and I couldn’t believe this wasn’t headline news every single day. I couldn’t believe I’d had children without having this information! I love that the Internet and sites like this mean we can all share information so much more easily and ideas can take hold very quickly.

  9. My efforts to be greener seem to be a difficult trade off in terms of my own energy and time. I can avoid some plastic waste by going to the local market from work during the week and get veg, meat, other foods etc. I take the bus home though, so most days so there’s a limit to what I can physically carry with being more exhausted each night, and we still have to make time to take the car to the shop anyway for the bits I can’t get. I have a list of supermarket only goods (milk, toilet paper, cat food tins, washing supplies) that I’m slowly trying to find other suppliers for in a way that doesn’t take up more physical time out of the week.
    I started out trying to use washable nappies but gave up because of the amount of time that was needed to get through all the family washing as well, and the fact that I can’t send kids to nursery in washable nappies and expect to get the nappies back, and trade off in having the tumble drier going every day, or every radiator covered in laundry. I try to grow veg each year and end up crying as life gets in the way and I loose a whole batch of veg to ants or birds because I didn’t pick them at the right time. I don’t so much feel depressed that I can’t be perfectly green (any effort is better than nothing) but I do feel exhausted trying to find time to make lifestyle changes. I think the reason we are in this position as a planet is because we bought into so many things to make our lives more convenient that it’s now really, really, difficult to backtrack because we’ve filled time we save with other things. Recommendations like the toilet rolls are great and I think you recommended the Ecoegg for washing at some point. Would you, or anyone else, with small children, have the experience to say how how well it would wash loads where a child has had an accident, or got covered in mud? I like the idea and it seems a straightforward swap that might tick something off the list of supermarket only items.

    1. The TIME Hannah. That’s the biggest drain for me. I just don’t have time for the project management involved in all of those choices. I try to keep things simple for the most part and accept my limitations. But yes, it’s exhausting and convenience definitely does have it’s place in family life.

      As for the Ecoegg, it’s not particularly great on heavily soiled items, so I use paper boxed washing powder for that.

  10. Hi Naomi, what a really interesting post. I’ve heard a few people talking about eco anxiety and really believe we can only do our best. The most important thing is that we are all having this conversation and aware that we are having an impact!

    For me living in a more environmentally friendly way is coupled with trying to live more intentionally. Stopping to make an informed choice that is realistic for me and learning for next time. A very small example is that we brought a big box of cheese crackers for Christmas and I noticed palm oil was listed in the ingredients when they were sat in the table. Next year I’ll buy fewer, better quality crackers.

    I’ve long been immune to all the zero waste perfect Instagram images because they are coupled with the message that you need to buy stuff when ultimately we all need to consume less.

    Your lifestyle posts have always been really inspiring with ideas of how to shop in an environmentally conscious way. I too am now a subscriber to Who Gives a Crap! So please do continue to share what you learn 😊

    1. Absolutely Ella, it’s all about intentionality. Taking the time to think about choices and consider alternatives. And thank you for your kind words about my posts. I’m just bumbling through this thing and it’s nice to know that some of you are along for the ride. I’ll definitely keep up with the eco posts xo

  11. A lady in my village recently did an amazing skit about Eco Anxiety, which then led into a discussion group and creating a local Facebook group to help each other out with ways to be greener in our area (remote Scottish Highlands). It was really helpful for me as I was suffering really badly with feeling I wasn’t doing enough and the apocalypse was coming any day! I’m now trying to relax a bit more but it’s really difficult to get a healthy balance and I don’t know what the answer is. Ultimately we need to consume less and I think David Attenborough’s quote is perfect: “You can do more and more and more the longer you live, but the best motto to think about is not waste things. Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste them.”

    1. Laura… It all comes back to Sir David Attenborough doesn’t it? What a wise man. And wise words. I’ll need to take that snippet for a future eco post. Aiming not to be wasteful really is the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

  12. I love this post Naomi and I feel like part of this feeds into the whole “cancel culture” where people are worried about being criticised for not doing something 100% perfectly (which is impossible of course).

    I have a question though about how the marketing gets us – I have switched to “biodegradable wipes” but have since been told these aren’t biodegradable at all (I get Mum&Me and Amazon have started doing their own version). I was told they won’t biodegrade in landfill and so are just as bad as normal wipes. Is this true?! And, if so, should I just stop paying the premium involved and go back to normal, terrible wipes?! Honestly this is all so confusing. (I am planning to move to cheeky wipes etc but I’ve given myself some slack and will attempt it once out of the newborn phase!)

    1. Yeah the ‘cancel culture’ thing scares me Kate. I think the more can have honest discussions without pouncing or virtue signalling, the better. That’s what I really enjoy about our readers.
      I’m not an expert on wipes, but I’ve done some research as I’m concerned about it too. You’re right in that things that biodegrade need to have the right conditions in order to do so (apparently a head of lettuce can last 25 years in landfill). So it’s not just about what you buy, but how you dispose of it I suppose.
      I really rate cheeky wipes, we have a coloured set for the kids faces and a white set for wet nappies. For dirty nappies I try to use as they’re compostable rather than just biodegradable. Some Tesco’s sell them too. Most councils will let you put compostable waste in your garden waste bin (hopefully you have one of those) but maybe check the website first. Hope that’s helpful.

      1. Naomi, you’re a bloody genius! We also use the coloured ones for hands and faces but I can’t get my head around them for dirty nappies but would have no problem using them for wet. And that’s still a lot less wipes going into landfill. Thank you!!

      2. Amazing, thank you!! It’s annoying that it isn’t obvious and clear which wipes are *actually* biodegradable but glad we have you to tell us! 👏

  13. Someone said to me “It’s better for everyone to do a little bit, than one person do everything.” I think that’s so true in this day and age. I try to do my bit, but I can’t do everything. Like you say, until the major companies pull their socks up and do more, I’m not going to give myself too much stress at not doing it all if I’m at least doing something. It all helps.

  14. It is such a minefield… We are trying, admittedly we could try more (and we are trying more every week) but as others have said knowing which is the best option, or having the time to find a better option, is all consuming. Everyone doing something though has to help in some way I guess.

    With respect to companies making changes, I wanted to highlight a directory an interiors blogger, Kate Watson-Smyth at madaboutthehouse, has set up, which is called “Do Less Harm”. It highlights companies that are trying to make changes to have less of an effect on the environment. I thought I would share in case anyone is interested 🙂

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