Please Forgive Me, For I Am An Eco-Sinner.


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Aren’t we all, really? Whether from ignorance, arrogance, or just our everyday desires as human beings, we are all eco-sinners in one way or another from time to time. Unless you live in a cave in a remote part of the world, you commit eco-sins almost every day of your life. We all do it – we drive cars, we eat unsustainable food, we shop at big box stores, we use computers, we watch TV. Many of the eco-sins we commit are unavoidable in the modern world, and as much as I try to live a sustainable life, the fact is that none of us live a truly “green” existence. It’s simply impossible. To use myself as an example, I wanted to look at a few things that I enjoy/do that could never be considered environmentally-friendly no matter what:

I drive a car. In fact, I am a car guy, and if I had my druthers I would be driving something much faster and sportier than what I currently drive. I like muscle cars and Ferraris, the sound of a motorcycle, and watching rally racing on TV. No matter if you drive a Prius or a Porsche, you are still driving a car – which is nowhere near “green” at all. Sure, a hybrid is better (although some would disagree) than a standard car, but it’s not as eco-friendly as walking is. Even a bike requires raw materials to make!

I watch TV. TV’s require raw materials, shipment from Asia, energy to use, and somewhere to dispose of when you are done with them. It’s also full of toxic chemicals that can affect the earth long after they are discarded.

I work on a computer all day. Along with the stuff I listed for TV’s, computers tend to be replaced quite often, get left powered on 24/7 in millions of homes and offices, and require incredibly large data centers to deliver information to. There is nothing green about computers. At all.

I sometimes eat unsustainably grown food. Not everything I feed myself with is organic, Free Trade, Fair Trade, grass-fed, cage free, or locally produced. It’s not possible unless the only thing you eat is food you organically grow in your own backyard. Even “health food” at most restaurants is not sustainably grown and/or processed.

I turn the heat on. I turn the AC on. I have a refrigerator, a plug-in coffee maker, a cellphone. I have furniture, books, a bed to sleep in at night. I have shirts from The Gap, jeans from Macy’s, and underwear from Target.

Anyone acting holier-than-thou about “being green” are trying to fool you into believing that they don’t do any of the stuff I listed above and that you should be ashamed if you do. No one, unless you live in a cave, is above being an “eco-sinner” of sorts. That doesn’t mean we are all bad and don’t care – it’s just part of being a modern day human. The key then, really, is to try to do as much as you possibly can to live in a sustainable way while encouraging others to adapt some of those same habits – not berating them with “Do As I Say, Not As I Do“. Encourage others to use less energy, buy less stuff, eat better food – but explain to them WHY they should be doing it while you are encouraging them.

Biking is better for the environment than using your car is, same as eating less meat is better than gorging on steak every night of the week. Making sure your TV is on a power strip that can be turned off all night is certainly better than letting it suck vampire power for 8-10 hours each day. And buying your food from a local Farmer’s Market is much better than buying it from a big chain grocer. But none of us are perfect – not by a long shot. So when you preach what you do to others, do you come across as condescending? Or do you come across as someone truly trying to help? The only way for this environmental movement to move forward is through encouragement and understanding – not guilt. And because I understand I am in fact an eco-sinner like everyone else, it helps me when trying to explain why I do the things I do. So admit you too are an eco-sinner and imperfect in your quest to “go green”… and then do your best to encourage positive changes in your friends, family, colleagues. Dictation without reason just sounds like a guilt trip – and none of us need more of those!

Photo from Shutterstock

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  1. Thank you so much for this post! I try to be as “green” as possible, but like you said, in this modern world there are some things that we all do that just aren’t green. I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling guilty for not doing enough, not being green enough, not always making the best choices (exhibit A – I’m eating a Pop Tart right now). But I am doing my best, and some days that’s better than others. No one’s perfect and certainly not me.

  2. Great post, David! You’re so right…it’s harder to get folks on board with a holier than thou attitude, especially since, like you point out, all of us are eco-sinners in one way or another.

  3. I am always thinking about how I can do better and often feel like it isn’t enough.

    I get really frustrated at people who preach about being green and how green they are. It turns people away. Some gentle guidance and information combined with encouragement to make small changes works wonders.

  4. This is why I dig thegoodhuman – because he is human and not ashamed to admit it! Rock on David.
    Do you have any previous posts on unforgivable or inexcusable eco-sins?

  5. Exactly! Thanks for sharing. Living in guilt is not a healthy way to live! We all make mistakes, but what matters is we try.

  6. From one eco-sinner to another, thanks for writing this great post! I really struggle with both the preachiness and the “I’m greener than you are” one-upmanship that goes on in the green community. I think it’s a tremendous deterrent for people trying to figure out what things they can do better, and it makes the whole dialogue kind of toxic and unproductive.

  7. The fact that so many jobs nowadays require a computer, we can not really avoid it; unless a lot of huge companies want to fire a bunch of people and close shop. We are in a vicious circle, however by doing small things here and there, we will manage to have an impact.

  8. Thank you for this post! Its easy to suffer from “eco-guilt” from the holier than thou folks like like to piss all over people who are not living their lives the way THEY think others should. Yes, I use a computer all-day. Guess what? Its how I make a living. I don’t ride a bike. Why? Because I have MS and have no coordination and balance (I don’t want to run into a car or tree!). There are other reasons why I do or don’t do certain things, but I do what I can as often as I can.

    Its like some people care more about competition than what bigger picture.

  9. I am so glad Kim W. referred me to this blog. I was feeling unusually guilty today. I’m about to give a presentation to a local HS PTSA about saving money while being green (I figured connecting living green to $$$’s would make them relate to the topic) and I was feeling, all of a sudden, so guilty about my status of not-so-green life. And then, I got to think, “What do I know about being green and what right do I have to talk to these people?”

    Maybe it’s nervousness but I couldn’t help this overwhelming feeling of being, as you so eloquently put it, an “eco-sinner’. I’m so glad I’m not the only one and I hope I can still empower the parents, teachers, and students to live responsibly without sounding like “holier than thou” fake.

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