I try to live an environmentally friendly life. Among other things, I drive a smaller car, I recycle, and I use compact fluorescent light bulbs. I’m interested in doing more to help the environment, but sometimes I find myself stymied by the cost of becoming truly green. Environmentally friendly detergents, cleaning products, light bulbs, clothes and appliances all cost more, sometimes far more, than their regular counterparts.
Making matters worse, they come in much smaller packages, meaning even less bang for your buck. Large home improvements such as adding solar panels, installing “green” flooring, and installing energy efficient windows can cost thousands of dollars. It’s even expensive to have a green Christmas. This past Christmas we wanted to replace some of our mini-bulb tree lights with environmentally friendly LED lights, but found that a strand of LED’s was six dollars or so more than a regular strand of lights and not as long, meaning we would have to buy more to cover the tree.
Green products are not only more expensive, some of them are of dubious value. Are those special detergents as green as they claim? Are those organic clothes really one-hundred percent organic, or only twenty percent? Are the manufacturers overstating their claims in order to charge you more for the same product? To ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for, you have to invest time in researching the products. It’s enough to make anyone give up on being green and just continue to do things the usual way.
Does it really cost that much more for a manufacturer to make a product “greener,” or are manufacturers ripping off the consumer? In most cases, a green product requires fewer resources to manufacture, creates less waste that a manufacturer must dispose of, and causes fewer problems during manufacture and transport (think chemical spills, permits for toxic chemicals, transportation accidents, and risks to employees from toxic fumes). So why do green products cost so much more than their regular counterparts?
First, the manufacturer is passing along the costs to develop the new product. Creating a greener product requires new formulas, new packaging, and extensive testing. A manufacturer may also have to retool their manufacturing process to create this new product. The costs for all of this show up in the price of the product.
Second, green products are not yet in use by a large portion of the population. This means that stores order smaller quantities of these products to avoid being stuck with excess inventory. Ordering smaller quantities means that they do not receive bulk pricing discounts from the manufacturer, so they must pass on the full cost of procurement to the consumer. There is also no incentive for manufacturers to make more cost-effective bulk sizes of the products. Thus the consumer must pay more for smaller sized packages. Some products are also not available in every area so if a store wants to carry these products, they must bring them in from further away. The extra transportation costs are passed on to you, the consumer.
Third, many green products are priced higher than their regular counterparts but they will last longer, thus the higher price is a perceptual problem. Yes, that fluorescent bulb costs three times as much as a regular bulb, but it will last far longer and save you money on your energy bill, meaning a lower cost of ownership over its lifetime. This is also true with those LED Christmas lights I mentioned earlier. A hybrid car costs much more than a regular car, but your savings on gas might offset the extra expense. This isn’t as true with disposable products such as detergents and cleaning products, but you might find that you require less of the product to do the job and incur less in disposal/recycling costs. This doesn’t make it any easier to stomach the higher initial costs, particularly if funds are low. However, some green products can save you money over the long term if their overall cost of ownership is considered.
The good news is that, in most cases, legitimate manufacturers of green products are not gouging the consumer in the name of greenness. There are legitimate reasons why these products cost more, or seem to cost more. The better news is that as green products become the norm, their costs will decrease as availability increases and green manufacturing replaces standard manufacturing. We, as consumers, can help speed this process along. Take the time to make your preference for green products known. If you participate in market research studies, indicate that you prefer the greener alternative. Write to manufacturers asking them to make more green products. Write to the corporate offices of the stores where you shop and ask them to carry more green products. Write to your Congressman and ask them to vote for incentives for manufacturers who produce green alternatives. If consumers voice a preference for green products, more will become available sooner.
In the meantime, what can you do to be greener without spending a lot of green? The key is making small changes where and when your budget allows. Even small changes make a difference in the overall environmental picture. Here are some quick ideas to get you started that don’t cost a fortune and may even save you some money:
- Try using natural cleansers such as baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice in place of toxic commercial products.
- Replace just one or two light bulbs with CFL’s rather than doing the whole house. You can always add more later as funds allow.
- Actively conserve electricity by setting the thermostat higher or lower than normal. A few degrees can make a big difference.
- Turn off lights in empty rooms and unused outdoor spaces.
- Use less gas and reduce emissions by driving less, combining trips and properly maintaining your car.
- Recycle. Most communities offer free collection points, so you might not have to pay for curbside recycling.
- Conserve water by taking shorter showers, doing laundry and dishes only when you have full loads, and fixing leaky faucets.
- Invest in power strips and plug your TV’s, computers, and chargers into them. When not in use, turn off the strips to stop phantom power drain.
- Replace your paper napkins with cloth, and use fewer paper towels.
- When it’s time to replace something, be it lights, appliances, flooring, etc., buy the greenest item you can afford rather than buying all new green items at once.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Experiment with your own lifestyle to find areas that you can change for very little money. Eventually green will become the norm and you’ll be able to replace all of your conventional products with green alternatives for close to the same prices you currently pay.
Image courtesy of smiteme