Why are green products more expensive than their mainstream counterparts?

Well, first of all green products aren’t always more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, but if they are it is usually because they are using higher quality raw materials or because green businesses pay their employees more.

For instance, growing cotton with fertilizers and pesticides is less expensive than growing it organically, however, the fertilizers and pesticides cause damage to the water supply and pollute local bodies of water like rivers and local beaches. In a sense, mainstream cotton is cheaper because companies that raise it that way aren’t paying the full “costs” of their business because they aren’t forced to clean up after their business practices…we are. We pay with our health by exposing ourselves to these chemicals and we pay with our taxes for the clean-up of the environmental problems. If mainstream businesses were forced to pay for their social and environmental impact, prices for products across the board would go up.

For instance, imagine if airlines had to pay for the carbon pollution they put in the air, or if agri-business had to pay to offset the fertilizers and pesticides used on their crops or if paper companies had to pay for all the CO2 that isn’t being processed because a tree was cut down to make paper. If this was the case, all these products would cost more. However, because our government doesn’t force businesses to operate in ways that don’t harm the environment or the laborers they employ you have businesses “self policing”which means that while some businesses do choose to pay these costs and need to pass on the costs to consumers, others don’t and therefore their products are cheaper.

The fact is, it costs a bit more to raise organic cotton or to pay fair wages. But we think it’s a cost worth paying. Maybe because of the higher prices you can only buy 3 new t-shirts instead of 10. But if those 3 shirts are made with soft and durable organic cotton and the people who made them are paid a fair wage, it’s worth it both for you and for them AND for the environment. In the last 20 years or so we American consumers have gotten used to products that are, in a sense, artificially cheap because of plentiful oil that makes it cheap to import products from countries where labor and production methods are cheap because they are allowed to pollute as much as they want. To illustrate this point: China has 7 of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and where are most of America’s imported products coming from? China.

The fact is that back in the day when international commerce was not as common and access to cheap labor and materials was not as common, I’m not talking 1800’s here…let’s just go back to the 1960’s, products cost a lot more.

For instance, in the 1960’s a US-made 21″ television cost $495. That is the equivalent of $3,367 in 2006. What did that mean? It meant that people bought fewer televisions because they were very expensive, and it meant that there were TV repair shops where the TV’s could be serviced, and it meant less waste because people weren’t throwing their TV’s out every few years because it was too expensive to do so. Incidentally, the average cathode ray television has about 4 pounds of lead in it which can do a lot of damage to soil and water it comes in contact with if it gets discarded into a landfill or on the side of the road.

Let me make this point…consumerism itself is not bad. Like many things in life, it’s all about the middle road. The fact is, we’ve veered far from the middle road of consumerism that existed in the mid-1900’s. The consumerism we have now is an extreme sort of disposable products consumerism and it is quickly using up our resources, filling up our landfills and polluting our environment.

However, if green business practices were the norm, this is what our consumerism would start to look like:
– prices for products would go up across the board
– higher prices means consumers demand higher quality, longer-lasting products
– longer-lasting products means less resources being consumed and fewer products being thrown away
– fewer products being thrown away means service repair businesses start popping up to service products
– repair businesses means well-paying American jobs for the many people who can’t or don’t want to go to college but still deserve a living wage
– more people earning a living wage means more consumers who can afford better quality, higher priced, GREENER products

Hopefully you followed my train of thought. Anyway, the point is: cheap is not really cheap, it’s expensive in the most vital ways because it damages the air we breath, the water we drink, the foods we eat and the landscapes we enjoy. Now go buy some responsibly made products!

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3 thoughts on “

  1. have to tell you that i am very excited about what you are doing! (and looking forward to meeting you again at bj and cori’s shower) i have a question maybe you can answer – what are the pros and cons of joining a csa farm vs. shopping at the local farmers market? not sure if you will know but thought i’d give it a try! thanks – tracy

  2. Hi Tracy,

    The difference between a CSA and your local farmer’s market is mainly about committment. With a CSA you essentially own “shares” in a local farm which then gives you regular delivery of seasonal produce. The nice thing about a CSA is it gives the farmer peace of mind and allows them to anticipate their cash flow (always nice for a business person!) and it gives you a guaranteed serving of locally produced seasonal fruits and vegetables. The nice thing for you is that once you do the initial background work into a CSA you don’t have to double check unlike at a farmer’s market. For instance, not all of the stalls at my farmer’s market are organic and sometimes only certain items are organic and I constantly have to ask. The only CSA I know of in our area is http://www.tierramiguelfarm.org/

    Hope this helps!

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