Poking around green living blogs, it is easy to notice a trend in the products that people are drawn to and purchase: most tend to go for “cheaper” eco-friendly products such as organic food, organic clothing, eco-friendly toys, green beauty products, energy efficient light bulbs, etc., while only a small handful of people make major changes, such as switch to a fuel-efficient car, install an energy efficient roof, or geothermal heating, or solar panels or energy efficient windows and insulation, or go for any other “expensive” green alternative.
The argument that explains this pattern goes something like this: many people want to help out the environment and they do their best by purchasing products they can afford, still choosing to spend more money than they typically do, as most green products cost 1.5-2 times more than regular merchandise. On the other hand, most people cannot afford the more expensive green products, as they cost significantly more than traditional ones, with the difference being many thousands of dollars. I find this logic deeply flawed, one that keeps us within the confines of consumerism and prevents us from actually living green rather that merely talking about it.
I find that while we as consumers have started to shift our preferences toward green products in many areas of our lives, we continue to buy them with the old-mind set. As a result, we neglect purchasing the things that would really make a difference in curbing our waste and pollution. Here are a couple of key ideas that we swear by without questioning, that keep us going down the wrong path.
-We buy the latest, most fashionable, cutting-edge new products, even if we just purchased this product 6 months ago, when it was also “the latest, coolest, etc”.
- We hunt for “sales” “specials” “deals” and think we are getting a bargain, when in fact we often end up spending more money than we initially intended to.
-We use credit cards rather than cash to make most purchases, which enables us to buy immediately and think later.
- We buy what we can “afford” in the moment with our credit line from underwear to homes, rather than saving for and buying what we really want and need.
- We have been taught to look for labels like “organic” “eco-friendly” “environmentally safe”, and buy we items with these labels feeling extra good about ourselves, without delving too much into what is actually behind these labels.
- Most us find the idea of recycling much more appealing that the idea of reusing. But contrary to popular belief, it is reusing that truly helps curb waste and pollution.
- We opt for immediate gratification through buying brand new stuff of lower quality that has a short life span, rather than saving to purchase more expensive, high quality product that has a long service life.
It is this mind set that enables us to live ultra-comfortably and shop incessantly, while keeping us in deep slumber about the devastating impact our every day actions have on the environment. The reality is that buying more eco-friendly products has done very little to curb our waste and pollution. Consider these sobering statistics compiled by the EPA:
- The average person produces 4.5 lb of waste per day. Only 1.1 lb is recycled, and the rest ends up in landfills
- About 40 % of food in this country goes to waste.
- The average person uses the equivalent of one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products per year
- Americans use about 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste per year
- In 2010, Americans disposed of 384,000,000 electronics items (mobile devices, desktops, laptops, TV’s printers, digital copiers, scanners, faxes). Only 19% was recycled, the rest went into landfills and incinerators. When obsolete, these products leave behind lead, cadmium and mercury, which are all toxic and hazardous to the environment.
We convince ourselves that we cannot afford a new cool roof or solar panels, or a geothermal heating system, because these items are out of reach for average consumers. And yet, check out how much money we dump on all the things that we really don’t need. In 2011, Americans spent a mind-blowing 10.7 trillion dollars on shopping!
- The average household spends $1,700 on apparel, footwear and accessories per year
- The average household spends $1,179 on consumer electronics per year. The average household owns 24 discrete consumer electronics products.
- The average woman spends $100/month ($1,200/year) on beauty products (skin care, cosmetics, etc)
- The average household spends $749 just for Christmas (gifts, food and candy, decorations, greeting cards, flowers)
- Americans spend $1.7 billion on flowers and $16 billion on chocolate per year.
- Americans spend $65 billion on soft drinks, and $117 billion of fast food per year.
- Americans spend $17 billion on video games and 25.4 billion on professional sports per year.
- And this is a killer statistic: Americans spend $ 30 billion on Dollar Store Purchases and $ 5 billion on ringtones per year.
Surely we can channel all this disposable income that we spend on disposable stuff to save for purchases that would make a real difference in our quality of life and the environment. Consider the tremendous positive impact you will make by saving up for major green home improvements and an energy efficient car.
Fuel – Efficient Cars
It is no secret that the US consumes more gasoline than South America, Europe, Africa and Asia combined. Obsession with over-sized energy-inefficient cars, relatively low gasoline prices ($4/gallon is still almost 50% less than most people pay at the pump in Europe and Asia), and long travel distances create a driving culture that demonstrates little concern for the pollution it creates. There are 244 million vehicles on US highways ( 755 cars for every 1,000 people), which collectively drive 7 billion miles a day! It is then no wonder that transportation in the US accounts for a third of its CO2 emissions and produces more emissions than any other country in the world ( with the exception of China).
High gas prices are making many of us reconsider our car choices with big auto makers Ford, GM and Chrysler all reporting increases in sales for their more fuel-efficient models as compared to 2011. Toyota is reporting selling 28,711 Prius hybrids in March 2012, a monthly historical record. Hybrid vehicles help the environment by reducing polluting air emissions by up to 90 percent and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 50 %.
Electric vehicles are best for the environment and are the most fuel-efficient cars that can save you the most money on gas. Their electric motors convert 75 % of the chemical energy from the vehicle’s batteries to power the car, compared to conventional gasoline-powered cars, which produce only 20 % of the energy stored in gasoline. Moreover, there are no tailpipe emissions with electric vehicles and because electricity is a domestic source of energy, by owning an electric vehicle you help reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Green Home Improvements
Our homes are a source of serious energy waste. In fact, energy wasted by 75,000 US homes in one year is equivalent to the BP Gulf Spill ( the biggest oil spill in US history). It costs an estimated $40 billion to clean up the oil spill, while it would only cost $ 1 billion to retrofit these 75,000 homes and make them energy efficient, thereby saving the energy equivalent of the gulf oil spill every year. It seems obvious that instead of spending money on cleaning up oil spills which are caused by our over-consumption of oil, we should invest into making long lasting and energy efficient improvements to our own homes.
However, building materials tend to be expensive, and our instinct is typically to choose the cheapest option with little regard for the fact that cheaper materials are more harmful to the environment, typically cannot be recycled, are not energy-efficient and have a relatively short service life, forcing you to either repair or replace them. The right thing to do, however, would be to research green building products, save money and invest into them, gaining long term energy efficiency.
In fact, by making an investment into high quality green building materials such as metal and cool roofing, spray foam insulation, energy efficient windows, solar panels and geothermal heating systems that we can make a long lasting difference for the environment and increase the comfort of our our own homes. These materials are 2-3 times more expensive than their cheaper counterparts, but they also typically last from 25-years to a lifetime, require virtually no maintenance and repairs, and can slash your monthly heating and cooling costs by as much as 40% When all of these factors are taken into account, investing into these products and systems seems like the only sensible thing to do for anyone who claims to want lead a green lifestyle.