What is the cost of being eco-friendly?

What Does It Cost To Be Eco-Friendly?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why is being eco-friendly so expensive? Why is it so difficult?

Generally, Australians have a complicated relationship with environmental concerns.

According to CSIRO’s 2013 Annual Survey of Australian Attitudes to Climate Change, over 80% of us acknowledge climate change as a problem and believe humanity to be responsible for the majority of its effects.

But, according to a 2010 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians also produce more carbon emissions per capita than nearly every other country in the world – roughly 24 tonnes per person.

(In spite of the fact that, according to a separate 2010 Australian Bureau of Statistics study, up to 84% of us actually do actively pursue eco-friendly measures like recycling.)

So, we’re in an interesting position of being aware of climate change and needing to actively address it more than most (and even being observably willing to pursue measures to that end) – but, ultimately, still not doing enough. Why is that?

Well, there’s a multitude of complex factors that enter into that issue. For one part, Australia’s resource-driven economy has historically ensured that the financial wellbeing of our nation is tied to our carbon emissions. This is to say, Australia tends to make money through ways which negatively impact our environment. As individuals, we have limited influence over that aspect of our nation.

For another, humans have difficulty acting on longterm issues like climate change. A 2010 study in Psychological Science actually found that we’re more likely to feel entitled to better treatment as individuals after engaging in eco-friendly behaviour – because our brain doesn’t register an immediate benefit from going green. This is because being eco-friendly typically has no immediately tangible effect on our life or circumstances. It’s a longterm goal.

Then, there’s simply price. It’s commonly accepted that eco-friendly products are more expensive. Which, if we go by the findings of the above study, is actually quite important. If we have difficulty with going green without a short-term benefit, we’re even less likely to go green when it actually involves additional financial sacrifice – as higher-price eco-friendly products inevitably do.

For example, when America was recently hit with an economic recession, there was a significant decrease in sales of eco-friendly household products – with some companies reporting a decrease of 71% in sales, even with discounts. It’s not just in America, either. A study conducted by McCrindle Research in 2008 found that 65% of Australians preferred not to buy eco-friendly products if they were more than 10% more expensive than the average.

Which begs the question – why are eco-friendly products so expensive?

As we can see above, Australians want, need and are willing to consider their environment in their everyday lives. To refer back to McCrindle Research’s findings; we’re even willing to pay up to 10% extra on products if they’re eco-friendly. Aside from the structure of our economy and some psychological kinks, our only real obstacle is price – so why are they so expensive?

Again, it’s complicated. A lot of it has to do with a concept called Economies of Scale, which refers to the monetary advantage a company acquires within a large industry or with a large consumer base (or both). Basically, if a lot of people are buying your product, you can mass-produce that product on a greater scale – and that’s cheaper than producing your product on a small scale.

(And, obviously, you can pass that discount on to your customers.)

Generally, eco-friendly products do not exist within a large industry. While household products could be said to be a large industry, eco-friendly household products is a significantly smaller one. Furthermore, eco-friendly products aren’t overwhelming popular. As such, they don’t have a large consumer base. So, eco-friendly companies cannot reap the benefit of economies of scale. Their products have to be more expensive because they can’t justify making as many.

There are other factors, of course. Namely, ingredients and processes. A lot of environmentally sustainable ingredients and manufacturing processes are more expensive than non-sustainable ingredients and techniques. Though, some contend that, given sustainable ingredients and processes should (eventually) be a basic standard of a company’s output, it’s perhaps better to say eco-friendly products are, in fact, normal-priced – and other products are simply cheaper.

In any regard; there are actually (sadly) concrete obstacles that prevent eco-friendly products from being sold at lower prices – as much as we all may wish that weren’t so. 

But, while eco-friendly products may be unavoidably more expensive (for now), does that actually mean being eco-friendly needs to be more expensive? In other words;


Can you be eco-friendly without breaking your budget?

Well, it depends on your definition of eco-friendly.

The idea of living a lifestyle that doesn’t have any negative impact on the natural environment (without spending a lot of money) is sadly still a little out of reach for your average Australian. Even if you managed to build a home that drew entirely on sustainable resources and energies (e.g. this one, courtesy of an enterprising Romanian company), you’d still need to contend with our economy’s aforementioned links to carbon emissions.

But, it is nevertheless totally possible to significantly reduce your household’s negative impact on the environment for minimal cost. There are a number of techniques, products, approaches and strategies that can help you be eco-friendly without having to go too far outside your existing budget. In some cases, it may even save you money.

Broadly speaking, it’s simply a case of figuring out if there’s any area where you’re being wasteful – and just taking some nice practical steps to ensure that’s no longer the case. There are a couple of ways to figure out your current impact on the environment. For example, Carbon Neutral’s Carbon Calculator will help you figure out your exact carbon impact on the environment.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) also have a fantastic resource called the Australian Consumption Atlas – which will tell you exactly how much of an impact your area of Australia has in regards to water usage, greenhouse gases and land consumption, in contrast to the rest of Australia (and what resources are leading your area to have that level of impact).

(It also has excellent facts that allow you to connect how your lifestyle impacts on your environment – would you believe that it takes 75 litres of water to produce one glass of milk?)

Once you’ve calculated where you’re having an impact, it’s simply a case of implementing a couple of easy strategies to lessen that impact. For example, ACF’s Consuming Australia study found that a majority of our environmental impact actually often comes down to the food we buy (beef, for example, is land- and water-intensive to produce).

This takes on particular significance when you consider that Australians discard up to 20% of all food they purchase and throw out up to eight billion dollars’ worth of edible food annually. So, if you want to be a bit more eco-friendly, you can simply spend less on food or be more careful about using all of your groceries.

(In this instance, there’s actually an opportunity to save money while saving the environment – buying in bulk and being careful will help you be less wasteful with your groceries and spend less on your weekly grocery bill. We’ve previously covered it in-depth here and here. Bulk-buying can also help sidestep the additional costs of eco-friendly products.)

For another example; personal electricity and water usage accounts for roughly 15% of our personal environment impact, according to ACF’s study. This means that being eco-friendly can be as simple as cutting down your power and water bills – which, again, has the potential to save you money. And, really, there are plenty of strategies to do so.

For example, devices on stand-by power can account for up to 10% of your power bill. If you turn a device off at the wall instead of leaving it on stand-by, you’ll save energy, money and the environment. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs, meanwhile, use 75% less energy (and last longer) than your standard incandescent lightbulbs. Swapping them over will definitely save you money.

Water-wise, there are a myriad of shortcuts to cut down on your usage. For example, swapping to low-flow shower heads will ensure you’re using 5-10 litres per minute – instead of 25 litres per minute. Even fixing a dripping tap can stop you from wasting up to 200 litres of water a day.

Again, it’s simply a matter of identifying where your waste is coming from – and taking some nice simple steps to being more efficient. And, frankly, cost effective. With the money you save around the home, you might even invest in some eco-friendly products and really become a super-environmentally-friendly household!