Do you need to be rich to be green?


“I can’t afford to be green. It’s a luxury for rich people.”

A passing comment I overheard, that sparked a lot of thought the last few days. Not only about the simple answer to that question, but about all the myths and misinformation and downright confusion surrounding the whole issue.

I guess there are two ways of looking at the question.

If we believe that going green means changing none of our consumption habits other than to buy environmentally friendly, ethical, fairtrade, organic products in place of your normal choices, then one would have to be filthy rich to sustain that sort of commitment, particularly given the premium lumped onto such products.

Of course, that’s a function of our economic system – demand and supply. We live in a fast-moving, rapidly-changing economic environment that is keyed into the new and exciting and, significantly, disposable – what’s hot and what’s not changes on an almost weekly basis in certain areas, and the marketing surrounding these products is targeted precisely at the area of our psyche that makes us thinks we need ‘bigger, better, faster, more’ in order to be recognised as living ‘successful’ lives. So-called  ‘Green’ products are, then, niche products, and in a lot of cases the labour and production processes do warrant a higher price tag, but in many cases it’s simply a marketing opportunity exploiting a perceived ‘premium product’ and milking the cash-cow for all it’s worth. Which is completely normal in the economic environment in which we exist, a model that depends on continuing and ever-increasing consumption (growth) to sustain itself.

Is an organic avocado flown in from South Africa in December really a green product?

Add to that a lot of misperceptions about what ‘being green’ is really about, and you get a lot of confusion. Should we all be installing solar panels on our roofs? Should we only be eating local and organic produce? Is that even feasible? Does it mean I have to be a vegetarian tree-hugger? Should all my t-shirts be lovingly handmade by a fairly-paid untouchable out of hand-woven organic cotton? Does that mean I shouldn’t buy my daughter a new Barbie? I’m recycling all my cans/bottles/packaging/paper, isn’t that enough?

Somewhere along the line, the message has got confused … possibly with big-business jumping onto the bandwagon and muddying the waters as much as possible. Because the basic message is most definitely *not* in big-business’ interests … and nor, when it comes down to it, is it in the Government’s interest, depending on incomes from business and the current economic model as much as it does.

What it does come down to, though, is a pretty simple formula, and one that’s not that hard to remember. And, after all, you see it everywhere:

And everyone knows what those three connecting arrows mean, right?

Need a refresher?

It doesn’t just mean that you can recycle the packaging that this item arrived in – it’s at the heart of the green model of sustainable living with minimal environmental impact. The ‘reduce’ of these 3-R’s doesn’t mean ‘squash packaging before stuffing it into the recycling box’.

‘Reduce’ refers to consumption.

Reduce consumption. Of the earth’s resources, primarily, but it’s also referring to our own individual consumption. What we buy, what we use, and, only as a corollary of that, what we throw away.

It means, on a very basic level, that we should *think* about what we are doing. Do we really *need* to buy/use/have that shiny new THING that’s pressing all our *I want that* buttons? Would our lives be less without it?

Or, to put it another way, would we be richer without it?

If we reduce our energy consumption by turning things off when we’re not using them (and I mean properly off, not just on standby), by walking instead of taking the car, by passing on the latest electronic ‘time-saving’ gadget, then we save not just the planet, but also our hard-earned cash. With energy costs rising dramatically, and set to rise further in the near-future as the pressure comes firmly on diminishing oil and gas supplies, it’s simply not necessary to migrate to a costly (and mostly nuclear) green/carbon offsetting tariff  to deliver real benefits to both the planet and our wallets – just turn off the lights in the rooms not being used. Turn the heating down, turn it off when we don’t need it, insulate … all easily and cheaply done, with fairly quick paybacks. Use the car less, save in fuel bills.

If we reduce our food consumption, by looking for fresh, local produce that costs less than imported or packaged food, we save not just the carbon-heavy food-miles and processing costs of such food, but we pay ourselves a dividend not only financially, but also in health terms and, arguably, in social terms as well – we support local economies and we foster family relationships in the rituals and time spent in preparing and sharing good food.

If we reduce our consumption of new clothing, then we reduce the environmental cost of the textile production process and the impact of dyes and so forth *and* we save ourselves money. And here, the second prong comes into play – re-use. If we can take a worn-out or out-moded garment and refashion it into something new, then we’ve saved ourselves money. Make-do-and-mend is an old concept, but there’s a huge amount of value in it. There’s an almost endless supply of childrens’ clothing available at charity shops, nearly-new sales and on ebay (gawd bless it) that reduces the cost of clothing to almost miniscule proportions. Yes, it does take a bit more effort and work, but the savings are astronomical.

Do our children really need the latest plastic thing off the back of  a big TV show? Or are they as happy with a big old cardboard box and some parental input, paints and glue and their own imaginations?

With cupboards stuffed full of toys, how much do they actually play with?

A houseful of clutter just needs more cleaning.

If we buy less STUFF, we throw less STUFF away. And there’s less demand on the planet’s rapidly-diminishing resources.

I could go on.

What it boils down to, though, is a basic refutation of the opening statement.

By reducing consumption – by asking ourselves if we really *need* something, or if it’s something we just *want* – then we can adopt a lifestyle that enriches ourselves AND the planet. By spending less money on the things we *think* we want, and buying only the products we *know* we need, then we give ourselves a chance – not only to preserve our own resources, but those of the planet as well. And it means that when we do need to spend, we have a better chance to invest in the products and services that will secure a sustainable future for us all.

We don’t need to be rich to be green. Being green makes us *all* rich.


One Response to “Do you need to be rich to be green?”

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