You don’t need to do much to be an environmental activist. I have drastically reduced my plastic consumption, I always take my to-go cup and I started to think more critically about the way I travel, eat, communicate, do groceries and so on. I love doing research on seasonal vegetables, watching documentaries on fair-fashion and digging deep into the subject of sustainable finance and banking.

In short, I try my best to protect and nourish this beautiful planet I got the honor to call home and I have troubles understanding people who don’t.

But recently, my view of activism has shifted, due to an incident with an environmental extremist:

It was 6am and I had already travelled for an hour, when I was stopped to wait  for a train to take me to a work-meeting in Brussels. Exhausted and tired, I noticed that I had forgotten my reusable coffee cup when I left my house at 5am. In desperate need of coffee, I decided to get a to-go coffee in a cup with a plastic lid – a full punch in the face of mother earth. But I thought that, since I usually pay extra attention to my behaviour, it was okay for just one time but I can’t say I didn’t feel a little guilty.

As I was sipping my coffee, however, a lady approached me and started a conversation about the environment and how my selfish consumption behaviour would poison the oceans and landfills in the global south. When I started explaining her my constant effort for the protection of the environment and that I had taken just this one “throw-away”-cup out of need for coffee, she called me a liar and hypocrite and walked away. Angry and overwhelmed with guilt, I threw away my cup, knowing it would take decades to be decompose, feeling even more guilty and went on with my travels.

Obviously, I felt really bad after someone calling me out on not being the perfect zero-waste person I always try to be. Resigned, I questioned the point of putting so much money and effort into a lifestyle which doesn’t permit even the smallest mistakes. I realised that there will always be situations like that;moments where I will have to make an exception to my otherwise highly sustainable consumption behavior. But should I stop trying altogether? I don’t think so.

It’s okay to be imperfect when it comes to making an effort for environmental protection. Our entire lifestyle is heavily based on plastic consumption, and we cannot expect people to dedicate their lives to a far less convenient lifestyle. While there’s still hope that humanity will turn towards a more sustainable lifestyle, every day we are stuck in situations where we may not have an eco-friendly choice. We should all try our best to protect the environment and we have to be aware of our behavior, yet it is okay to make mistakes.

The permission to be imperfect offers a variety of new lifestyle combinations, and finally throws away the all-or-nothing idea of what it means to be an activist.

You can be an environmentalist and still sometimes take the car or a to-go-cup. There’s no hypocrisy here; it’s called being human. What counts is the effort. It is a great development that many people have become more  aware of the importance of protecting their environment, and I believe that it serves only to discourage to yell at folk on the street for imperfect behavior.

I understand the high level of frustration felt by activists seeing people like me presumably thoughtlessly using a throw-away cup, but this frustration shouldn’t be turned into pessimism or aggression. Radicalism has never really benefited anyone. Accepting the individual flaws and mistakes is the rational starting point to engage in improvement:

Instead of terrorising and discouraging the ones around us for not being good enough, we need to support each other in gradually changing our lifestyles to a more sustainable one. While I understand the frustration of the woman yelling at me, I cannot understand the aggression that comes with it. It is crucial to remain rational, empathic and most importantly, optimistic to create a lasting impact and sustainable change.