Eco-shaming and Eco-guilt: Let’s Take These Burdens Off Our Shoulders

Written by
Iryna Komazova
October 11, 2022

“The future is frightening.” 75% of the University of Bath’s ecological survey respondents came to this conclusion. This eco-anxiety gives rise to other phenomena such as eco-shaming and eco-guilt. So, in the run up to World Mental Health Day, we’re on a mission to explain how to mitigate their impact on our psychological health.

Why Negative Communication Happens in Environmentally-Conscious Circles

“Eco-shaming” means highlighting someone’s anti-environmental activity or inactivity. Despite the term having an explicitly negative meaning, people often use eco-shaming in good faith. Through it, they’re trying to encourage positive behaviour and motivate others to change.

Eco-shaming can come from businesses as well as individuals. But its impact varies depending on who is on the receiving end. If a person doesn't care about their impact on the environment, they won’t be affected by eco-shame. Comments about using a new paper cup for the third time that day, or throwing recyclables into a trash bin, for example, won’t make sense to them. According to their value system, these actions are unimportant.

But for people who really try their best to reduce their carbon and waste footprints, but make mistakes from time to time, careless words of eco-shaming can really hurt. But do such comments actually nudge us to become better? Read on to find out. 

Shaming each other won’t lead us to success

Eco-shaming Doesn’t Work

Negative feelings, such as those provoked by eco-shaming, are unlikely to become a foundation for long-lasting positive behaviour change. There may be a multitude of reasons for somebody taking an environmentally harmful action. Lack of knowledge is just one possible reason among all the others. Moral preaching and unwelcome advice can actually put someone off taking steps toward a zero waste lifestyle in future.

If you want to inspire your family, friends or social media followers to become more eco-friendly, here are some more effective ways to do so:

  • Personal example. When you take your tote bag to do the groceries, or buy coffee in your own reusable cup, you help normalise these behaviours without saying a single word;
  • Highlighting even small green moves. Noticing and complimenting people on positive shifts in behaviour can inspire people to do more.
  • Sharing knowledge. We are all constantly learning new things, and sharing new knowledge in a friendly manner will enrich your social circle.
  • Advising if asked. Asking people if they would like some advice, or simply waiting for them to ask you for it, is often much more effective than just forcing your opinion on others.
Positive communication is the key to spreading eco-consciousness

How to Cope with Eco-Guilt

Are you someone who often tells yourself “you aren’t doing enough to save the planet”? If so, it’s very hard to avoid contact with the person doing the eco-shaming! But what can you do to come to terms with this harsh self-critique? Here are our suggestions. 

Look Back at Your Progress

You are the only person you should compare yourself with. We bet that if you’re reading our blog, you’re already doing a lot for the planet. Think back to your habits before you started on your eco-conscious journey. And how many nature-friendly habits do you have now? Say “thank you” to yourself for what you’ve achieved, instead of criticising yourself for making a poor decision once in a while.

Think Global, Act Local

Research has shown that people who focus on taking action in their local environment are more likely to cope with eco-guilt and other environment-related emotions. Each small step makes a difference, as you aren’t the only one who’s taking it. Be realistic:

  • You can’t forbid oil extraction, but you can sign a petition to the local government about the plastic regulations;
  • You can't make the Great Pacific garbage patch disappear, but you can clean up the park nearby;
  • You can’t stop meat production, but you can limit meat in your diet.

Find Social Support

Sometimes, when your eyes have been opened to climate change, plastic pollution and other ecological problems, it may feel like you’re alone with your knowledge and the resulting eco-anxiety. You see stories of zero waste bloggers who produce no more than a jar of rubbish a year—and here you are, forgetting to take a tote bag to do your groceries again… But bear in mind, the media covers the biggest success stories only! Try to find like-minded people around you, and you’ll see that others make mistakes with the same frequency. Social media, local non-profit organisations or dedicated apps can be a place to get connected, and find support. 

Don’t be alone with your eco-guilt


All this advice on eco-guilt will help you protect yourself from eco-shame as well. We are all human, and no-one is perfect! Knowing and respecting your limits will give you some solid armour—making any eco-shame comments bounce right off you. 

Environmental actions will never originate from eco-shaming or eco-guilt. Let’s find out what they are, and how to cope with them.
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