Friday 24 June 2011


This is my response to this post on decision-making from one of my favourite 'green' blogs, the Green Phone Booth. I'm publishing it here as well as it has stuff in it that I've been wanting to put here about how we decide what's important to us - plus I spent so much time on it that it's just about killed me and I didn't want to waste it!

I hear you!

Around 8 years ago, I developed a neurological condition that means I have very little energy.  I'm literally only out of bed for 3 hours per day max.  The rest of the time I'm lying on my back, doing more or less nothing.  Almost everything* I do in a day - from reading blogs and writing emails to eating and showering - has to fit into those three hours. 
*I can push it a bit on reading blogs and emails, and sometimes even on writing emails and blog posts, but not much and not often. I pushed it a fair bit to write this ;-)

Like you, I'm a details person: I enjoy researching things before I make my choices.  But I've had to learn to make that research effort count.  Maybe what I've learned can help you?

You ask: Is our attention to detail impeding our green progress?

I think what gets in the way is not so much our attention to detail but our not having a clear enough idea of what 'green progress' would look like. I agree that picking battles is important, and it makes sense to work harder on decisions that are likely to have a frequent or ongoing impact.  But I think it's also really important to spell out your over-arching goal(s) so you have a yardstick to determine what is the 'right' choice you.

"Frugal, practical and eco-conscious" is a start, but if you refined it a bit more, then you'd know your own answer to: "is it more important to choose a bag that prevents waste from hitting the landfill or to find a bag that is biodegradable?"

Easily the best example of someone who's done this in the green blogosphere is Beth Terry .  Her over-arching goal is 'no plastic', and every decision she makes gets weighed up against that decision.  If she needed to get shopping bags, any bag that was made out of plastic or packaged in plastic wouldn't even be considered.  I suspect that she'd rapidly be left with very few options to angst over and the decision would be pretty easy!

My husband and I haven't (yet) refined our big goal down to such a simple statement, but we're working on it.  Right now it's a bit of a mouthful:
To live in such a way that everyone on the planet could live just like us and keep on doing so for the next few centuries without anything stopping them.

That big goal has then translated into smaller goals.  For example, to achieve it we have to get down to only using our fair share of physical resources and only emitting our fair share of the amount of greenhouse gases the planet can absorb without warming.  We've worked out what these are for various resources and are gradually working to reduce our use/emissions where we're over that target.  It's also translated into goals with respect to other issues, too - e.g. people couldn't live like us if they were being kept as slaves on a cocoa plantation, so we will only buy fair trade cocoa.

Working out these goals has been a heap of work: it's taken a vast amount of research and thought.  And reaching our targets is very much on ongoing project.  However, it's work that really pays off.  We don't go round in circles when faced with multiple options as we can generally work out fairly easily which one will help us towards our goals the most.  It's also very satisfying having a yardstick to measure our progress by :-)

Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

--Heather :-)

PS, if you are interested, you can read about our greenhouse gas emissions targets and how we're doing here and here, and about some of our other environmental goals here.  As part of this we have developed a spreadsheet for auditing our household CO2 emissions in much more detail than any internet calculator we have found.  You can download it from here if you're interested.

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