Footprint Isn’t Everything

It may sound funny coming from me (the author of a book and blog about how reducing our footprint is the best thing we can do for the earth’s ecosystems), but … Footprint isn’t everything.

The point of life isn’t to stand still, hold your breath, suck in your tummy, and try not to take up any space on the planet. The point of life is to be a beneficial influence. Yes, I’m all about cutting footprint. But what matters even more is your handprint.

Think of all the people whose lives you’ve touched in ways large and small. If you’re like me and get down on yourself a lot, there may be moments when you may not be able to think of anything good you’ve done. But you have. Doesn’t matter how small it may seem. Even simply smiling at a person on the street — you don’t know what a difference you might have made, just by that seemingly small act. Or bringing someone a cup of tea or coffee. Even a well-placed Like or comment on someone’s post.

Small is big.

Growing up in a military family, we moved around a lot and did not get to see our relatives on a frequent steady basis. There were some aunts and uncles we kids barely saw long enough to say hello to. And yet, I remember them. Their smiles, their attention, even in a fleeting moment, warmed my soul and helped guide my course through life.

Never underestimate your beneficial impact. It’s something you give to the world, and it’s something you can do all the time.

Reducing one’s footprint is not always easy. For people in certain circumstances, it’s actually impossible or nearly so. Your voluntary efforts to reduce your eco-footprint are a great thing. Every little reduction adds up. But when (for example) that takeout meal (that you bought to support a local business) comes with a bunch of plastic and styrofoam, don’t beat yourself up. Footprint matters, but not nearly as much as handprint.

We have to trust that we, humans, will get our act together and stop trashing our ecosystems before it’s too late. And as long as we are here, our main work is always to love and care for one another.

When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted by this eco reduction game, remember, footprint isn’t everything. Handprint is what really matters. Something I am always having to remind myself of, like the other day when I treated myself to a coffee-shop coffee, and it came with a straw and a plastic lid even though I asked for no straw and no lid. I took a deep breath and smiled at the barista — and meant it, finally. It has taken me some work on my eco-fanatic path to remember that real connections with other human beings (and with all of life) are more important than my distress at unintentionally generating a bit of plastic waste. And at the end of the day, authentic caring connection between people is what’s going to allow us to solve the problems we humans have caused on the planet.

In my book, in my talks, and out there in the world, I am constantly trying to get people to stop beating themselves up about their footprint, and just set about changing what they can. A lot of people are feeling guilty and beat-up. My hope is for us to move beyond those emotions, which actually hinder our efforts to chip away at the consumer excesses that are killing us all.

Note: This is of course about a lot more than plastic. Plastic is just an example that’s easy to visualize, and use as a symbol of everything we are working on to make a greener world.

And now that we’ve got it clear that footprint isn’t everything, I do still want to offer you a note about low-footprint living, and the value of what I call a “Grassroots Green Mobilization”!

Can you imagine what would happen if millions of people voluntarily reduced their carbon footprint by 90%, 50%, or even just 10%? The impact would be similar to that of the household austerity measures imposed during World War II, except that this time we’d be doing it voluntarily, from a grassroots level. And instead of channeling our time, money, and energy toward a war effort, we’d be working toward a shared global aim of restoring the earth’s ecosystems to health, and preserving our life and wellbeing on this beautiful planet.

Does living at a fraction of the average U.S. footprint sound unrealistic or uncomfortable to you? The truth is, lots of us are already doing it, or are well on our way. And in the process of reducing our footprints, we’re putting money in our pockets, and freeing up our time and energy for the things that give life meaning (which of course differ from one person to the next).

And not only is it not uncomfortable (beyond a bit of manageable discomfort here and there), it’s fun!

At its root, a low-footprint lifestyle is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if planetary concerns were not a factor. In this blog I share a wealth of tips and resources to help you design your own version of a low-footprint lifestyle, or, if you’re already on this path, to go further than you’ve ever gone before.

Again, thank you for being here!