“Oh my god Cassie, is that a plastic water bottle?!” My classmate looked at me with genuine horror. I had forgotten my trusty reusable water bottle on my way out the door in the morning. Apparently, this was a travesty.
I like to think that I’m pretty green. There’s a stack of reusable bags in my car, and they get used most times. I take the bus. I believe wholeheartedly in climate change and worry about its implications. I even study environmental policy.
Yet, if someone asks if I’m an environmentalist, I am taken aback. For me, the idea of being an environmentalist is strung together with words like “hippie” and “tree-hugger”, or statements like “Are you one of those people who doesn’t shower?” It’s an association that’s undesirable and stigmatized. There’s this paradigm, much like my classmate had, that if you’re an environmentalist, you have to give up your life to the cause, or why bother trying? And this is the fundamental problem.
The story of the environmentalist is generally undesirable to most people and this makes it difficult for people to adopt. Being an environmentalist is a catch-22 for those of us (like me) who care about helping the environment, but don’t want the cause to take over their whole life. Those who want to help the environment fear the stigma of being an environmentalist, but we also feel like we aren’t “green” enough to join the environmentalist club. Being green evokes an image of people who own more pairs of Tevas than dress shoes, who flood their Facebook pages with vegan recipe videos, and viewed the Summer of Love in the 60’s as the epitome of humanity. Does this image ring true for you? It does for many, and it’s unfortunate because the story is a false depiction of what it means to help the environment today.
Change takes time and talking about saving the environment isn’t easy. But it’s a conversation we need to have and a story that needs to be told.
The Problem with the Stigma
Choosing to care about the environment can feel overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like whatever you do will never be enough. Opinion articles from The Guardian and The Huffington Post both echo this common stigma of what it means to be green in 2017 and the hypocrisy associated with an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Take biking to work for example. If you bike to work, then you can save gas money, get some exercise, and help our earth breathe a little easier. Seems like a perfect deal, right? But, if you bike to work consistently, you risk (however fallaciously) being known as (and likely made fun of for being) the person who is always commuting by bike and parking it inconveniently in the office. (What a drag!) Or, you might encounter that one person who thinks you’re somehow a “bandwagon environmentalist.” (Spoiler alert: those don’t exist.) Because you’re making an effort, you are always criticized for not trying hard enough. (What a hypocrite!) The idea of becoming an environmentalist – or even a little bit down with being green – seems to be a minefield of uncomfortable social interactions.
Instead, a new story could be told. What if I told you that you already had all of the qualifications to be green? Even better, what if I told you there were no qualifications at all? You’re already greener than you think, and with tiny daily changes, that can be magnified. Take the blog Grist. They fuse witty, sometimes sarcastic commentary with real-world environmental and political news, and make “being green” interesting, accessible, and even trendy. They encourage this idea of everyone participating in environmental change in their own way.
Being green is about everyone making more environmentally-conscious decisions and encouraging the spaces they exist in to do the same by setting an example. One less straw, one less car ride, each step can inspire someone else. And the impact can be tremendous!
‘Leaf’ The Old Story Behind
The story of being green includes everyone – especially you. If there’s one thing we know about stories at Javelina, it is that a powerful, inclusive narrative encourages more involvement and reaches more people. These stories get results. And this story of becoming green is one that is – quite literally – about changing the world. There is no reason for the green movement to feel daunting.
Be the brand ambassadors and influencers for the new story of being green. Try making the small, every day changes you’ve always talked about, like using reusable bottles, shopping local produce, or driving less. Connect with others through local organizations who have community gardens, or more national networks like the Sierra Club. Encourage others to do as you do.
By being part of the change, you will write the new narrative.