Green Economics: How to Afford Being a Green Consumer
Sep 25, 2013 11:22PM
● By Ariana Rawls Fine
Many consumers would like to be better stewards for our environment but the generally accepted assumption is that buying organic products and services means paying more for less. A 2010 study conducted by Opinion Research Corporation found that the surveyed consumers’ top green actions were recycling (87 percent) and purchasing minimally packaged (60 percent) and less expensive goods such as green cleaning products (58 percent) and green personal care items (31 percent). Beliefs and behavior diverge when it comes to other categories. The barrier to going green for small and large purchases seems to circle around cost. Many question if their actions actually make a difference and if they will personally benefit from the more eco-friendly purchase. When the conscious decision to make an environmental and healthy living commitment is also cost effective, the consumer has a win-win situation.
Buyers seem more open to making the switch with smaller ticket items as the price difference takes less out of their wallets. Although conventional cleaning products may appear less expensive at first glance, their eco-smart alternatives tend to be highly concentrated mixtures, reducing buying frequency and product usage and nearly negating the cost difference. A little goes a long way with the concentrated products and the cost savings can become significant.
Companies such as Shaklee, a nutrition company founded 60 years ago by Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee, a chiropractor, offer a line of organic cleaning products that are biodegradable, natural, hypoallergenic, and non-toxic for our personal health in addition to being economical in the long term. “A 16-ounce bottle of Shaklee’s multipurpose Basic H2 is equivalent to nearly 6,000 bottles of Windex,” says Debbie Miron, an authorized Shaklee distributor with offices in Greenwich. “A couple of drops is all you need to make 16 ounces of window cleaner. And that same product is great for cleaning marble, granite, painted walls, stainless steel, aluminum, and more,” she explains. That’s just one item from Shaklee’s Get Clean Starter Kit for kitchen, laundry, bath and all-purpose cleaning. The kit retails for $115 and is equivalent to nearly $3,400 in cleaning products, Miron says. In addition to being a less costly cleaning source, ecologically minded companies tend to give back to the environment as Shaklee does with its Million Trees Million Dreams campaign. Shaklee plants a tree for every starter kit that is purchased.
Organic lawn care is another area where small changes to lower the use of pesticides and other chemicals can make big differences in our local environmental and well-being. Consumers want to increase environmental safety for their children, pets and well water or nearby waterways. However, the consumer desire for immediate gratification requires re-training if more natural methods are to be used. Chris Baliko of Growing Solutions, LLC, says a large part of his work is to educate the client on the time and process it takes to convert a lawn and landscape from a synthetic program to a vibrant, healthy organic one. “The economics of a green lawn are not immediately apparent because rebuilding a soil that has been sterilized by years of using chemicals takes three to five growing seasons,” he explains. Although organic lawn care is an example of consumers bearing slightly higher costs, it is also an area with far-reaching positive environmental and health benefits.
For items with moderate costs, such as organic mattresses, a similar misconception generally prevails. Some mattresses are competitively priced against their non-organic alternatives. Manufacturers are incorporating a natural latex, which comprises 90 percent of the organic mattress, that is more durable and dense and lasts longer than polyurethane cushioning materials and the wire springs found in conventional mattresses. “We can confidently say that our products last three to four times longer,” states David Spittal, owner of Healthy Choice Organic Mattresses. “Our mattresses last 25 years and are biodegradable. You would typically replace a conventional mattress three times in that same period, and they would end up sitting in a landfill.”
Many of the 20 to 40 million mattresses thrown away annually in the U.S. are hard to recycle and remain in landfills, seeping toxic flame retardants into the environment. Healthy Choice organic mattresses are non-toxic and handcrafted with natural latex produced in Shelton, Connecticut, and pure wool and certified organic cotton sourced from U.S. suppliers; purchasing them has a positive economic impact.
As consumers contemplate long-term energy solutions such as solar systems, the upfront costs are exponentially greater than simply plugging into the existing electric grid. However, as solar becomes more popular, financing possibilities are increasing and prices are decreasing. Connecticut offers a substantial rebate of 20 to 30 percent while the Internal Revenue Service allows a 30-percent federal tax credit for solar arrays (valid through 2016). New incentive programs continue to emerge as private funders change the solar marketplace by enabling potential clients to cut down on the upfront investment costs with loans, leasing and other financing options. Tony Eason of Westport’s Elektron Solar suggests, “It is one of the best ways to help the environment and reduce your carbon footprint. It’s a trifecta of good financial investment, positive environmental benefits and makes you a good citizen in your local community.” From a long term economic perspective, Eason points out, as the cost of electricity rises, your solar system’s value increases.
Consumers are faced daily with the weighted scales of cost versus value. In smaller purchases such as organic foods, cleaning products or lawn care, we may more readily accept the higher initial costs as we see an immediate personal and environmental benefit. However, by contemplating and investing in the higher ticket items that are ecologically safer, we cultivate greater environmental, social and financial investment in our families and communities.
Spittal says, “We need to purchase more locally made products, which are built from authentic materials.” The lifetime cost of an authentic product is often much less than that of a cheap product, as the cheap product will have to be replaced many times before the authentic product wears out. Also, the true costs of the cheap product are often externalized, or pushed out to the environment, the economy and society, where they invisibly build until some sort of reckoning occurs.”
Ariana Rawls Fine, a Connecticut-based editor and writer, is an assistant editor for Natural Awakenings. Connect at [email protected].