A few summers ago, I was chatting with a relative from Canada as I hung out clothes on the line. It was windy and a bit damp – average drying conditions – and she wondered why I didn’t just put the load in the dryer. When I said I tried to avoid doing that because it uses up so much energy, she responded: “But what about our energy, as women?”
It’s a question that’s come up often, while thinking about ways to live more sustainably. Does “being more green” just add to the already huge list of household duties – most of which, let’s be honest, are done by women? Yes, living more sustainably usually means more thought and effort – like shopping with less plastic or washing reusable wraps instead of throwing clingfilm in the bin. And if you’re trying to shop locally, often that takes more time, too, dropping into a few different places rather than heading the supermarket. These added efforts come with benefits, for us and the environment: we slow down, we value our resources, we support local businesses and lower our carbon footprint. But sometimes, they seem like an added pressure on women who are, in many cases, already overloaded with tasks in the domestic space.
Recently a friend asked if I’d tried making my own anti-bacterial cleaner. I’ve seen a few recipes knocking around the internet, usually some variation on vinegar, water and maybe orange peel for scent (a great way to avoid all the plastic bottles and chemicals of supermarket cleaning products). But the idea of going to all that effort, pouring different liquids into different containers and the mess – would I even get it right? – it all started to make me feel kind of annoyed and tired. There is a reason, I started thinking, that technological advancements were made – often with great time-saving benefits. Wasn’t my time better spent reading or doing something else?
So I decided give it a miss. Maybe it had something to with a headline I’d just come across about how 20 companies are responsible for almost a third of all carbon emissions. Or the fact that there are already some great Irish companies making all-purpose natural cleaners, such as TruEco and Lilly’s Eco Clean, that come in recycled bottles and are refillable. And while I’m not dismissing the very admirable individual efforts of others, sometimes we’re not able or in the right headspace for these extra, time-consuming tasks.
The issues of feminism and the environment; individual efforts versus government and industry are layered and nuanced. But I keep coming back to what Mary Robinson said about “making climate change personal”: I don’t think she meant for women to be tied to the kitchen sink again. I think she meant doing your best and doing it the way that is feasible and realistic in your own life, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture.