Green living can never catch on if people can’t afford it. Sustainable living, then, isn’t just about taking care of the earth; it must also be sustainable financially. It would be great news, then, if living sustainably could save us money. What better incentive could there be to care for the earth?
Logically, it makes sense why green living ought to be cheap. Money is a store of value, and part of that value includes natural resources like water, wood, metal, and oil. The more money we spend on shopping, the more resources are used to produce our products. All other things being equal, conserving money should result in conserving our limited natural resources, which in turn lowers our environmental impact.
But by now, we’re all too familiar with
sustainable products that cost double or triple of what their conventional counterparts cost. Our logical analysis doesn’t seem to match at all with reality. If money is truly linked to resource use, why is sustainable living so expensive?
The truth is that sustainable solutions truly are cheap — so cheap, in fact, that they’re often not worth selling. Real green solutions are often completely free of cost, requiring only a little cleverness and some elbow grease. But because a lifestyle can’t be sold as a physical, tangible product, businesses can’t make profits selling it. As a result, we don’t see green solutions sold on warehouse shelves like conventional products would be. So lifestyle solutions are rarely advertised, which mean that, tragically, they go totally unnoticed.
What gets advertised instead are the imitations. These greenwashed products are similar enough to their conventional counterparts, but tweaked slightly so that advertisers can call them
sustainable. A greenwashed product will use a little recycled paper here, avoid a few chemicals there, but otherwise remains essentially the same. It still wastes energy, produces garbage, and destroys natural resources. Yet because these imitators don’t require any real lifestyle change, they are profitable enough to sell.
|Conventional electricity ($0.15/kWh)||Solar electricity ($0.35/kWh)||No electricity (free)|
|Tissue paper ($1/box)||Recycled tissue paper ($2/box)||Reusable hand towels (free)|
|Toilet paper ($0.50/roll)||Recycled toilet paper ($1/roll)||Bidet water (free)|
|Bottled water (soda) ($1/bottle)||Recycled plastic (aluminum) bottled water (soda) ($1/bottle)||Water fountain (free)|
|Disposable diapers||Biodegradable diapers||Reusable, cloth diapers|
|Cotton t-shirt ($10)||Organic cotton t-shirt ($20)||Second-hand t-shirt ($5)|
|Stove||Energy-efficient stove||Solar cooker ($1.50 to build, free to operate)|
|New hardcover/paperback book ($20)||Paperless e-reader ($200) / e-book download ($20)||Library book (free)|
|New car ($15,000)||New electric car ($40,000)||Used bicycle ($150) / Bus passes ($600)|
A serious flaw with greenwashed products is that they are expensive, often double or triple the price of their conventional counterparts. Consumers then find themselves facing a false dilemma: pay extra, or walk out the store feeling guilty.
Why do we keep falling for the same old deceptive marketing?
From a young age, we’ve been trained to think of ourselves as consumers. Out of instinct, we view everything in life as a commercial transaction. Eventually, we become dependent on shopping to solve all of life’s problems. If it’s not shrink-wrapped in plastic and sold in a big box chain store, we don’t even consider it.
- If I want to work-out, I’ll buy a new treadmill instead of jogging in the park.
- If I want to read, I’ll buy a book instead of borrowing one from the library.
- If I want some entertainment, I’ll buy a new game console and some DVDs instead of playing sports.
- If I’m thirsty, I’ll buy soda from a vending machine instead of using a water fountain.
- If I need to sneeze, I’ll buy tissue paper instead of reusing a cloth handkerchief.
Our gut reaction is to throw money at every problem in life. So it’s no surprise that we approach the issue of green living with the exact same consumer mentality: buy a solution from the store. We want to be able to walk into the mall, waste our money, and walk out with a shiny new trinket in a bubble-wrapped, styrofoam-packed, cardboard box. It’s reaffirming to our Western way-of-life.
The consumer lifestyle will never be cheap, nor can it ever be truly sustainable. To be truly green, we have to step outside of consumer culture. Instead of purchasing new, we should be reusing and improvising. When we shop less, we spend less money and waste fewer resources. Not only will this lifestyle be gentler on the planet, it will be gentler on the wallet. It’s sustainable in every sense of the word.