Progress Over Perfection: Why it Matters for Sustainability
Progress over perfection is not only important for making a stronger impact, it’s a way to make sustainability more inclusive. Read how to embrace imperfection in sustainability.
“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” -- Anne Marie Bonneau, @zerowastechef
You may have heard the phrase “progress over perfection” when it’s applied to ideas like climate change action or sustainability. Whether it’s the fly less movement, zero waste, or vegan diets, sustainability messages sometimes sound more like rules and restrictions than a hopeful way to solve problems.
Taken to the extreme, these concepts can be impossible to achieve day to day, especially for newcomers or people with special needs. For instance, bans on single-use plastic straws created debates on eco-ableism. It’s important to ask ourselves how inclusive the zero waste movement is for people with disabilities who rely on plastic straws to eat and drink.
This is just one example that shows how taking an absolutist stance on environmental issues can be counterproductive. Not only does it create a big barrier for others to enter the space, it gives the impression that there’s only one path towards solving environmental problems.
Instead, we need everyone to join in with their own diverse, unique perspectives. Until our system catches up and everyone has access, affordability, and relevant alternatives for living sustainable lifestyles, it’s ok to take different paths towards shared sustainability goals.
Here are our tips for making the sustainability space more inclusive.
4 Ways “Progress over Perfection” is More Inclusive
Sometimes products and services with green certifications or verifications cost more than the alternatives. This is especially true for most sustainable fashion brands. The reason is that clothing production which actually pays for the fair labor practices and real cost of materials should cost way more than the price points we’re used to seeing. This is because fast fashion dominates clothing sales and it’s really exploitative.
On the other hand, the most eco-friendly alternatives don’t have to have labels at all. Wild edible food grows for free in public spaces, for instance. Thrifting or buying from secondhand shops like Goodfair, Goodwill or Salvation Army is also more affordable and eco-friendly than shopping for new clothes.
Eating less meat can be another affordable way to do more with less, too. Meat is often more expensive than simple plant-based foods like beans, lentils, and rice. But now “plant based alternatives” are marketed as extremely expensive options for people who practice 100% vegan lifestyles.
Progress over perfection helps us remember that it’s more important to minimize impact holistically and across various aspects of your life. Buying more expensive products with “eco-friendly” labels is definitely not the only or even the best way to make an impact.
People living in low-income homes often don’t have the space, investment, or access to the most sustainable resources. This lack of access is a critical part of the environmental justice movement, which shows how access to clean and healthy residential environments is not distributed equally. Expecting people to plant trees, grow organic gardens, or install solar panels on land and roofs they don’t have won’t help our long term sustainability goals.
Instead, when we think from a more community-minded perspective, we can start to see how slowly building pathways to access helps so much. Making sure people who lack access have a say in sustainability decisions is super important, too.
Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlè Crenshaw to describe how multiple identities, whether it’s gender, sexual orientation, race, income, or ability intersect and create forms of disadvantage or privilege that are not traditionally recognized through just a single lens. Apart from being a way to describe discrimination, the concept of intersectionality is also important for solving sustainability issues.
People with intersectional lenses often have important insights on the ways problems like the climate crisis uniquely puts people like them at a disadvantage. This is even though they’ve contributed to the problem the least. Their perspectives are critical for making real progress.
The @Intersectionalenvironmentalist account recently posted a Venn diagram by @Pattiegonia about how to take climate action from where you’re at through an intersectional lens:
- What identities do you hold?
- What are your communities?
- What needs to be done?
- What are you good at?
- What brings you joy?
Whatever action item falls under every category is what you should be doing for the climate. Sustainability action is not just about following a set of guidelines set for you by someone else. It’s mostly about finding your true, authentic place in the movement. This means honoring your unique intersectional lens for solving the problems.
4. Growth mindset
In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Carol Dweck writes: “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.” The idea of a growth mindset can apply to sustainability too.
You can start to improve from where you’re at and within your means. From there, the connections towards progress will start to build and multiply, especially as you inspire more new people to take action.
It’s fine if you don’t currently know exactly what you can do to help solve the climate crisis. If you start with an open mind and expect to grow and learn along the way, you’ll be a lot more helpful long-term than if you give up because you feel like a failure. At this point, it’s not an option to give up. We need everyone to work together in whatever flawed or messy way they can.
Progress doesn’t require perfection
Until the systems are in place to provide the world we want, we need to celebrate the courageous imperfect actions people take to get there. Behind every imperfect action is an ambitious dream or demand about the future, which is ours to protect.
Don’t let impossible ultimatums make you feel guilty or ashamed about your sustainability progress. It’s the big picture that matters and our planet needs us to show up in whatever way we can right now.
Goodfairians know that one of the cheapest, easiest ways to make sustainability progress is to shop for pre-loved goods. Join 1039 other people who have taken our #nonewthings pledge to choose second hand alternatives when they shop. Learn more.