Patronizing persuasion?

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 13, 2007

When I hosted my three best childhood friends for a visit over Memorial Day weekend, I realized just how much my habits have changed just over the last few weeks. Seemingly small modifications that I’d made in an effort to reduce my carbon footprint came across as outlandish — embarrassing, even — when I tried to impose them on others.

Agog, they asked: No paper towels? You clean with vinegar and baking soda? I could tell they thought it was kind of gross.

These aren’t anti-environmentalist oafs who run amok littering and cheering for smokestacks — they’re smart, politically aware girls whose habits (much like mine were until just three weeks ago) just happen to not be as environmentally informed — yet.

It’s very difficult to analyze this without sounding condescending. It’s not as if I think I understand something that’s beyond others’ comprehension — but I do know that I’m paying way more attention to these issues than the average person. And in effect, by writing it all down here, I’m getting paid to do so. So I have more incentive than most.

Anyway, the day after they left, I wrote the three of them an e-mail. It said: which of my new hippie habits did you find particularly strange or annoying? did anything i’m doing now inspire you to change anything you do? did you think that anything was particularly unnecessary? please don’t interpret this as patronizing, like ‘i’m doing something that you’re not.’

Even though I am. I realize that I feel the same way about my actions in the environmental arena as I used to about women’s issues — as though I have to couch my beliefs in humor or soothing excuses in order to make them palatable and not accusatory. But just as I got over it then (and how! I hear friends and family saying to themselves), I know I can find the balance here, too, between educating and moralizing.

With my friends, it turns out the results were mixed. Apparently the lack of paper towels (I use re-useable rags now, cut up old T-shirts and pajama pants) was particularly egregious. “I found it strange that you use cloth rags to wipe your dishes (not anti-bacterial),” read one response. Another was even more succinct: “strange/annoying: no paper towels.”

But I was heartened to read this: “Over the weekend I realized just how HUGE a volume of paper towels I can usually get through ... which kind of freaked me out.”

It’s true. So much for my trash conservation efforts, which I wrote about previously — while my guests were in town, we filled up an entire blue garbage bag in one weekend (that’s a far cry from the one per month I’d aimed for).

Vindication came when I saw this: “I see the value in not using so many paper towels and will make a more conscious effort to use more sustainable materials when it comes to wiping up small spills, etc.”

In fact, that made me even happier than the fact that no one accused me of being a self-righteous eco-asshole.

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