You Recycle, They Don’t. How Will You Stay Friends?

Fan left behind by a party guest A small personal fan, brought to my party by a friend, illustrates differences in our green lifestyles. Image: Courtney Craig for HouseLogic

A green lifestyle means different things to different people. How do you deal when your friends and family don’t think like you?

When Kermit the Frog sings about how it’s not easy being green, boy, is he right.

The hard part isn’t adopting a green lifestyle — that’s getting easier these days. Non-toxic cleaners are simple to make; recycling centers are everywhere; and there’s no shortage of green living guides online.

But what happens when your lifestyle clashes with someone whose take on green living is different from yours?

A few months ago, I threw a party that happened to coincide with a three-digit heat wave. As I was cleaning up the next day, I found an incriminating piece of evidence that a guest had forgotten: A small personal fan. My friend later confessed that she’d brought the fan because, knowing of my green lifestyle, she assumed I wouldn’t have the air conditioner on.

Ouch! Of course I had the air conditioner on — it was over 100 degrees outside! Did she really think I’d let my guests suffer? I may be an environmentalist, but I’m not a wacko!

Obviously, even though the environmental movement has gone mainstream, you’re still bound to meet people who don’t see eye-to-eye with you. As a heartfelt environmentalist, how do you handle it? When you go to a friend’s home and they don’t recycle, do you say something?

I’ve learned that it’s best to lead by example. When my friend saw that I’d turned on the air conditioner at my party, I hope she learned that my green lifestyle doesn’t mean I live uncomfortably — or force others to do so. (I also hope she noticed the eco-friendly choices I did make, such as serving organic hors d’oeuvres on reusable plates.)

The fact is, eco-friendliness is a spectrum, and no one’s version of green living matches perfectly with anyone else’s version.

Sure, when I go to someone else’s house, I cringe when they hand me a plastic fork and throw their food waste in the trash instead of composting it. But do I lecture them about their lifestyle? No, because no one likes a sanctimonious guest, and as important as environmentalism is to me, I value my friendships more than I value composting.

The bottom line? I try to be tolerant of others’ choices, and lead by example with my own.

How does your green or non-green lifestyle affect your relationships?