To Be Green, Prepare to Spend Some Green

money & the environment

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

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9 Responses to To Be Green, Prepare to Spend Some Green

  1. fern says:

    OK, you’ve got some good advice here, but I don’t think you’ve gone far enough. You’ve been taken in by the usual marketing propaganda that in order to be “green,” you must buy pricey “green” products.

    Being green doesn’t mean continuing the typical consumer-based lifestyle of spending constantly on things we really can do without. It means rethinking and reassessing our over-the-top spending habits and often gluttonous lifestyles which suck up a highly disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources compared to the global community.

    You don’t need to empty your wallet on green cleaning products, and as you pointed out, you can readily clean your home with simple, inexpensive products like vinegar and baking soda.

    Unfortunately, you give the impression, one that I see widely echoed, that we can all take leisurely baby steps toward becoming green, according to our mood and energy. Greening our lives is no longer an option, it’s a mandate if we expect the earth to remain a habitable place for future generations.

    The data is clearly there. The scientific community is in complete consensus. Did you ever imagine that one day our oceans might be devoid of fish? Many fish stocks are severely depleted, while top of the food chain fish like swordfish or tuna contain so much mercury that the NRDC and other groups warn consumers not to eat it more than once or twice a month.

    Asthma rates and respiratory illness, particularly in the northeast, are growing, thanks to coal industry execs who resist paying for emissions controls.

    Our landfills are clogged with billions of pounds of trash, much of it plastic, like those ubiquitous grocery bags, baby diapers and electronic waste that is difficult to recycle and remains in the environment for hundreds of years.

    Bee colonies collapsing due to a virus or still unknown pathogen threatens our ability to pollinate the country’s food crops. Deformed frogs and other amphibians. Endangered flora and fauna.

    Everywhere you look, the world and its natural resources are in crisis. And it’s all been brought on by Man. No other living speciees has been more successful at colonizing the earth and changing it to fit our needs. Yet if we don’t change our ways, we’ll go the way of the dinosaurs.

    Marketers have picked up on the growing trend that has finally made environmentalism fashionable again, thanks to Al Gore and increasing evidence of global warming that may have already passed the point of no return, no matter how many CFLs we plug in.

    Going green is not a fad, not a marketing gimmick to make someone money (aka ‘greenwashing’). It’s a concept we all need to embrace in a really big hurry and if we continue with the baby steps now, we’ll be in true crisis mode within our lifetimes.

  2. Joan says:

    I’m very sorry the idea of “green” is being co-opted to sell more, more, more. I saw an online discussion where a person was remodeling her kitchen and wanted “green” flooring, cabinets, paints, countertops, plumbing, and faucets. I think the more green thing would have been to use what she already had. But she was conscientiously going to donate her old stuff to a Habitat for Humanity re-sale shop. If it was still so functional, and she wanted to be green, shouldn’t she just keep using it? Could it be because home interior fashion was her higher priority and “green” was just a nicety?

  3. Minimum Wage says:

    Kermit was right!

  4. The best thing to do for the environment is usually not to buy it in the first place. For instance, Prius owners may think they are doing a great thing for the environment. However, considering the high tech components in the car that require specialized factories to produce and that are costly to recycle, I read somewhere that Prius owners do not break even with Hummer owners until after 11 years! Not sure what methodology was used, but it makes sense that green products are not always as green as their advertising says.

  5. Hilary says:

    I agree with the idea that extending the lifetime of an item is better than buying a new “green” one.

    I try to buy clothes from consignment shops / thrift shops. Because I am extending the lifetime of something that already exists, I feel like this is a greener option than buying new clothes made with organic cotton, etc.

  6. Drew says:

    we need to remember that it is most important to reduce our consumption, reuse our items, then recycle what is leftover. it is very easy not to have a trash bill and only recycling if you put a little effort into your life. worm bins or composting for food and recycling bins can take most of our waste. and you’d be saving time an energy by not having to take out smelly garbage to the curb anyway. Buying green products means that you are conscious of a larger world problem that involves resource depletion, soil fertility loss, wildlife extinction and others, not just the overarching theme of global warming. Global warming, like the previous idiot’s entry discusses, is merely a component of many worldly problems, that are manageable with educated purchasing and lifestyles. By buying green products, you are contributing to a better well-being and lifestyle for all the world’s citizens because you are reducing the impact that we impose and keeping valuable resources (like forests and entire mountaintops in W. Virginia) intact for future generations. This is important to concieve because by consistently purchasing more efficient and recycled-content materials, the natural beauty of the earth can be preserved and enjoyed for longer. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

  7. James says:

    I hate the CFL argument.
    Physics 101….
    What is a regular best at? Yea, that’s right, producing heat. What exactly do we do in the winter time? Heat our houses.

    So… What does this extreamly simple analysis tell us? Use your regular bulbs in the winter time and relieve some of the work off you furnace with some light that is easy on the eyes. By doing so you will be using cheaper bulbs and saving money there.

    In the summer time, yup, go plug in you box of cfl and save on cooling costs.

    There are still one or two things that can effect the added bonus of using a regular “heater” bulb:
    If you have a bulb in, say, a dome light on the top floor, then you have a greater chance of heating your atic.

    As for the xmas lights outside, those are just helping global warming. LED string are a good idea, just buy them on sale in the new year. (Unfortunatly some of the brands have bad contacts in them making them last outside only as long as the original xmas lights. Ask your dealer about returns and complaints before buying.)

    Don’t let media bully you in to buying products. Do the math.

    Ps: Nobody mention anything about the european “Band-the-bulb” nor hybrid cars. Unless they want an ear full.

  8. bargainHunted says:

    what about recycling toilets? we are the one of the only places that pees into drinkable water. why don’t we pee into unusable water?

    this can also be done by putting a bucket under the bathroom sink an collecting water for the toilet.

    also- the water from your washing machine can be used on plants. not edible plants, but grass and such. save money on the amount of water that goes into the sewer and water your non edible garden at the same time.

  9. Mike says:

    What do you do with the Mercury in the compact flourescent bulbs when they are done? Does anyone understand the damage that mining does for Nickel for the Ni/Cd batteries in hybrids? People need to understand “Junk Science”, presenting data in a way that justifies your cause. Our climate is going to change, as it it has MANY times in the past, get over it. 97% of the C02 is from water vapor and other naturally occurring processes on the earth…less than 3% human contribution.

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