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Is Sustainability Just for the Privileged? A Look At the Cost of Going Green

Nov. 6, 2020Is going green just for the financially affluent? How can we bring the costs of a more sustainable lifestyle down to be more accessible and inclusive? We take a quick look at the key drivers in what raises (and lowers) prices for consumer goods.



I’ve been that woman in the grocery store cringing as she adds the $6 carton of organic free range eggs to her grocery cart. We all have.

The reality is, trying to buy the right things and make better choices with our planet in mind often comes at a steep price. We pay for this kind of change, quite literally, and for many, it’s a barrier to entry.

With the cost of living and housing in the U.S. skyrocketing, and wages stagnant for decades (unless you’re a CEO), it’s no wonder many families are forced between buying organic groceries and paying for daycare.

The question is, what can we do about it? Is sustainable living really only reserved for the privileged and financially affluent? At the production level anyway, this isn’t necessarily by design.

 

Ethical Products Just Cost More to Make

It’s frustrating to me that I can buy a set of junky polyester sheets for $19.99 at Walmart, but can’t get a decent set of organic cotton ones for less than 60 bucks. When you think about it though, it kind of makes sense.

There are three basic reasons that sustainable products are typically more expensive than conventional ones.

#1 — Material Costs Tend to Be Higher

Many of the pricing discrepancies with sustainable products relate directly to the higher costs of making them. For example, though organic cotton requires significantly less water to grow, the seed is also up to three times more expensive than conventional cotton.

Much of this is due in large part to the scalability problems with new and innovative sustainable product designs. In short, the more you make of something, the lower the cost per individual product tends to be.

With many of these materials and products being brand new, the technology to scale production is still being built, and in some cases, has yet to be funded by consumer demand.

 

#2 — Ethical Companies Pay Livable Wages

Any honest to goodness company worth their salt is going to ensure that a lowered cost of their products doesn’t come at the expense of those making them living in poverty. Paying people a fair living wage is the right thing to do, but will also ultimately pass those costs onto the consumer — something that inevitably raises the price of an ethically manufactured product, like fair-trade coffee.

 

#3 — Subsidies Make Some Things Seem Cheaper Than They Are

A lot of people aren’t aware that many of the cheap things we buy every day are actually partially paid for by government subsidies. Subsidies are a form of financial aid issued by the government to lower the cost of a good to the public.

On paper, it sounds pretty great, but it can also give us a false sense of what things cost. Many of the things we buy every day, such as energy to power our homes, food from the grocery store, and even the plastic that makes up so many of our products, are partially subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

What this means is that when we see a higher price tag on a more sustainable item, it’s most often the result of a lack of government funding for the product, which throws into sharper relief the cost disparity of similar products. Pricing also rarely reflects external costs. Taxpayers, for example, are left with the costs to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells

Here’s What You Can Do

With increasing demand for sustainable products, hope remains that the costs of greener goods will continue to come down.

Over the last decade, the cost of residential solar power systems fell by a whopping 70 percent — in some areas, it’s now the cheapest form of energy ever. Since 2014, the cost of organic cotton in the U.S. has fallen by over 50 percent, while production has increased by over 200 percent.

In short, it’s working. The technology is getting better, the demand is getting stronger, and prices are coming down. 

But to take it further, there’s more that we can do. Here’s how you can help make sustainable living more accessible to all.

#1 — Stop Preaching

Number one, it starts with not shaming others for making different choices. This can be a cost-prohibitive lifestyle for many, and that’s something that condescension and preaching is never going to solve. 

 

#2 — When You Can, Go Green

One of the ways prices for sustainable goods comes down is with scalability. When we make more of something, we can almost always lower the price accordingly. Support businesses making products ethically whenever possible with your dollar. Buy what you can, when you can, and you’ll bring them one step closer to their next big move.

#3 — Spread the Word About Affordable Options

Green and inexpensive don’t always go hand in hand, but there are some brands out there that have managed to make eco-friendly options really affordable. 

H&M has their own line of eco-friendly clothes in their conscious collection that are accessibly-priced, and switching to cloth diapers can save the average family up to $800 on diapering over a two-year period.

We have options. Sustainability may still be out of reach for many financially, but through conscious decision-making as consumers, education, and a little bit of kindness, we can help bring the costs of these goods down in the same way that organic cotton and solar panels have continued to fall.

 

Have you found any amazing deals on eco-friendly things lately? Share your finds with us on Facebook and Instagram, and tag us in the post! @AvocadoMattress

Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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