Inspired a few years ago by Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, I made a resolution to eat more local & more seasonal food, use less plastic when buying food and waste less food. It’s a tough resolution to fully achieve and I’m still far from consistent in my eating and grocery buying habits. But shopping at the local farmer’s market on Wednesday and planning my weekly menu is one of my best shots at getting there.
Walking into the market yesterday, I was stopped by a woman promoting a new energy company which uses wind energy produced by smallholders in the Netherlands. A great initiative, even if I haven’t signed over my energy contracts yet (from my current green energy company). Yet, after having spoken to her and coming home with a big bag full of winter goodies (salsify! purslane! brussels sprouts! LOVE all of them) I was left feeling a little guilty.
Why was I feeling guilty about telling this woman that I wouldn’t sign up to her company right then and there? I believe she is right: yes, the world is in an urgent situation. And yes, action is needed now. If I didn’t already believe it, Naomi Klein’s book is doing its best to convince me of this currently.
But when are you taking enough individual action? Especially as a professional working in the field of sustainability.
Of course, I could do more in my daily life to live a more sustainable lifestyle than I do right now. A lot of it isn’t perfect by a long shot: I think I do more than most people (consciously buying fair fashion, food choices as above, travel by train in Europe if feasible, to name a few) but yes, I also fly long haul a few times a year, I still do eat meat and fish (sometimes), I shower for longer than necessary.
But also: I changed my career path because I wanted to do more.
This feeling reminded me of a discussion I had earlier in the week with two women setting up a new business producing sustainable baby clothing during lunch at my favourite workspace Green Passion. We were talking about the complexity of the textile industry, the many different steps in the supply chain and that if you wait with launching production until you are absolutely certain to have control over every little part it will be nearly impossible to launch at all.
This is – for a company – where transparency comes in: being transparent about the choices you make as a company, about what you do know in your supply chain, about what problems you are still facing in that same supply chain.
At the same time: doing this makes a company extremely vulnerable. It opens you up for criticism from anywhere on those issues that you haven’t solved yet, even if the intention is there and you are working towards improving this.
This is what it felt like yesterday as well: I know my life isn’t as sustainable as it could be. But getting there is tough – even without considering how far you want to take this. It doesn’t excuse me not doing things, but it feels a little unfair to pick on those things that are still less than perfect.
So I come back to the question above: when is it enough? Is it ever enough?
And: do choices in your personal lifestyle make you more – or less – credible when working in the field of sustainability?