The next time you find yourself feeling environmental guilt, Clayton recommends taking a minute to assess where the sentiment is coming from and how legitimate it is. "Make sure your standards are reasonable," she advises. "We shouldn’t feel individually responsible for addressing problems caused by everyone, and in my view we shouldn’t feel we have to move to a lifestyle that is radically out of step with the rest of society. For example, in the U.S. today most of us have to drive, though we can probably drive less." From there, you can move forward and do something while remembering you don't have to do everything.
"Accepting the things that you can't do for now is a productive way to overcome eco-guilt," adds Graham. "Going 100 percent zero waste might not be practical just now if you don't have access to shops in your area that sell bulk produce free of packaging. Rather than letting that stop you from trying, you can concentrate on the things that you can do, like saying no to plastic straws and single-use coffee cups."
You can also use your guilt as an indicator of how others around you feel. If something is difficult for you to manage as an eco-conscious person, chances are it's hard for others, too. So why not try to change it from the ground up? "Work to enact political change that will make a difference on a larger scale," says Wolf. "Vote for candidates with strong environmental initiatives. Write letters and send emails, from complaints about your school district’s lack of recycling to petitions to the federal government. Get things off your chest and use your voice to feel empowered."
"Lead by example. We can’t control the world around us, but we can control what we do in our own space. Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing!"
Start by making this tweak to your next shower, asking these questions of your coffee supplier, and printing out this recycling FAQ. And if you do slip up, use it as motivation and not a deterrent.