Credit: Cindy Jeftovic

The whole “green” label has become tricky in recent years. When I was a kid, it was simple. People who cared about the environment were hippies. They had long hair and didn’t wear deodorant and said “man” all the time. Now, it’s become far more complex. There are still some long-haired, deodorant-shunning, man-sayers who steward the environmental movement. But a layered haircut and personal hygiene no longer preclude an environmental conscience.

It’s become like dyeing your hair was in the fifties. Or swinging in the seventies. Who does? Who doesn’t? Who eats organic? Who recycles? Who owns that idling SUV parked over there? In my Kitsilano neighbourhood it’s a little simpler. Virtually everyone cares about the environment. The only question is, to what degree? While this is great, it does apply a certain amount of pressure. I can’t help but wonder, do I live up to the neighbourhood standard?

Of course, my children found the most environmentally conscious family in a 10-kilometre radius and became their best friends. I will call this family “the Greens” because they are the pinnacle of greenness against which all other families are measured. Ms. Green (let’s call her Valerie) is a single mother of three children. Now, if I were in her shoes, I would cut myself some slack. I’d probably feed my kids a lot of frozen pizza and send them to school with those prepackaged Lunchables. Maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but I would be tempted to cut a few environmental corners. But Valerie Green is committed to doing her best for the Earth, and she’s not taking the easy way out.

The Greens do not own a car. Valerie does all the grocery shopping (organic, of course) using a bike and trailer. All three kids play two musical instruments each and have a number of lessons throughout the week. Valerie shuttles the children and instruments to their lessons via bike and trailer or, in extremely inclement weather (like a blizzard), by bus. Did I mention that one of those instruments is the cello? Yes, the cello.

While I become exhausted just watching her, Valerie never complains. She hauls them to 8 a.m. dentist appointments by bike. To birthday parties and crosstown dance classes! She broke her foot last year and still, she never asked anyone for a ride. She never took a cab!

My daughter had the Green girls over one day, and was showing them the new shirts we’d bought for the start of the school year. “Those shirts were made by child labour,” Suzie Green informed her.

As my daughter’s face fell, I had to intervene. “No, they weren’t,” I soothed, while secretly wondering, were they? A wave of guilt washed over me. Why hadn’t I done some research into the store’s manufacturing practices? I didn’t deserve to live in this neighbourhood! On this planet!

I try my best to be green, but I can’t help but feel inadequate when I compare myself to Valerie. This summer, my husband and I went to the Superstore while our kids were having a playdate at the Green house. “Don’t tell Valerie that we were at the Superstore,” I said as we drove to retrieve our children.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because we drove all that way just to get a hand blender. That’s bad for the environment. Plus, we bought a bunch of other stuff that we don’t even need, which is really consumerist. I don’t know. I just don’t want her to know.”

“OK,” he said, like I’d asked him to lie and say we’d been volunteering to read stories to blind kids.
It’s not like Val would overtly judge me. The neighbourhood pressure is more implied: from the “Vote for Climate Change” lawn signs to the “save the trees on Broadway” protest rallies. And really,
I am proud to live in an area with such a strong environmental conscience. So I will look at my ultra-green neighbours as inspirations, and continue to do my best. It’s all I can do – besides stop driving to the Superstore just to get a hand blender.

Robyn Harding lives in Vancouver and is author of the novels The Journal of Mortifying Moments, The Secret Desires of a Soccer Mom and the recently released Unravelled.