The green revolution is coming. Beyond droves of crunchy granola, sandal wearing, and pruned beardy stereotypes, the drive for more sustainable lifestyles that have a lower environmental impact is approaching. You can see it in supermarkets that are increasing their amount of loose produce, along the high streets as package free shops open their doors, and even in fast food restaurants as plastic straws are replaced by paper ones, or done away with altogether.
But the question remains, can I afford to be sustainable?
Like the dilemma of cheap, readily available junk food versus more expensive fresh food, what is better for us usually costs more. Currently in Tesco, Ecover washing liquid comes in at 56p more expensive per litre than Fairy Liquid. Method multipurpose cleaner is a whopping £1.30 over the price of Dettol. And while regular, store brand carrots cost just 53p per kilo, loose carrots with the same amount of pesticides and less packaging are 60p per kilo, while organic stacks up at £1.43p.
Perhaps, however, it is the perception of how much we should spend on our products that makes the price of new and sustainable goods seem so expensive. We have become accustomed to the low cost and wide availability of name brand products, for which we have sworn allegiance to in recognition of a name and logo. Our dropping budgets over the years have only been made possible by the cost-cutting measures of such brands that increase their revenue and trim the price tag. But such profit earners are often achieved by looking the other way on ethical standards in human rights, environmental protection and finite resources.
The everyday goods on our supermarket shelves and household cupboards are often manufactured and packaged overseas in places that have far lower employee rights and working standards. The materials and ingredients used in the production of cheaper products often come from questionable sources, using toxic chemicals to emulate natural properties to cut costs, from the addition of unpronounceable ingredients on your shampoo, or petrochemical materials manufactured to resemble cotton. In comparison, diligent corporations employ environmentally and socially friendly practices, from higher wages and better working conditions for employees to more ethically sourced and natural materials and ingredients.
Free profit margin expansion commodities that come back to us at the dropped prices of standard products are often being paid off by the environment. Air pollution, toxic runoff into waterways, non-biological elements being expelled into the environment and expanding landfills are among the host of conditions that are free and even profitable to companies to let happen. For companies that adhere to conscionable practices, they must pay to prevent these scenarios, cutting down profit revenues and in turn, making such products more expensive to buy.
With a more expensive price tag, green products are often not afforded the same level of popularity as standard, more polluting items. This, in turn, allows less ethical companies to have bigger production runs with less downtime, cutting manufacture costs and again dropping the price. But as an emerging industry, ethical companies don’t have the ability to reach higher production scales, leaving them bound to costlier small-scale production, along with the expensive new, more ethical technologies and materials that have yet to enter the commercialised market. Scrupulous supply chains for sustainable products are adhered to far higher standards in order to qualify for the sought-after accreditations like fair-trade, organic and cruelty-free.
So if you want your products to reflect your ethics, you have to be willing to adjust your budget to accommodate higher morals. But is expecting another brand to take the strain of your conscience perpetuating the consumer conditions that got us into this mess in the first place? Branded but ethical products are not the gate-keepers to a more sustainable lifestyle, and the responsibility to keep our way of living out of contaminating the earth may not lie at the feet of more corporations, but simply at the back of your kitchen cupboards.
The underlying purpose of sustainability; to reduce our consumption of non-renewable, finite, and polluting resources can be adopted into our lives for a price cheaper than standard products if you’re willing to step away from the branded goods, even those that adhere to ethical standards. The stereotypes of environmentally minded hippies who use half a lemon for everything along with prayers to mother nature does not make the solution an easy thing to suggest or embark on, but making your own products is a far cheaper answer to the price tag of eco products. Natural, degradable and non-toxic ingredients are not hard to come by, but it does require a few minutes and a mixing bowl. Contemporary sustainable lifestyles may initially reject the idea of turning your kitchen into a laboratory for patchouli-smelling conceptions, but the reality is far less fragrant, or farmhouse.
Using more natural ingredients and less of them means that making your own products that can have dual purposes. And what you have around the house and can be bought for a fraction of the price as branded products can make the vast majority of what you buy for far more money. A combination of lemon, vinegar and baking soda for £2.37 in Tesco can become your multipurpose cleaner, toilet cleaner, stain remover and hair lightener, you can even add cornflour to the baking soda to make a natural deodorant sans the carcinogenic particles of aluminium in traditional deodorants. A quick internet search will open a realm of products that you assumed are only the territory of the chemical-ridden professionals. From shampoos to lotions to household cleaners that have traditionally been bought, along with a host of toxins and an illegible ingredients list, you can easily make your own selection of which you know and can pronounce the recipe.
If doing-it-yourself seems a tad too far into the hippie realm, there are makers everywhere that produce these goods for a fraction of the price of supermarkets, on Etsy, in craft fairs and the host of package free shops that are popping up around our towns. By becoming more consciously involved in the decision making and even literal making of the products you allow into your home, you can be assured that no animals, people, land or marine environments have been harmed in the making of the product.
Sustainable doesn’t have to mean expensive, it just means more considerate to the planet. And by removing the likes of traditional brands in your house, you reduce the vast majority of indoor air toxins and those that you put on and in your body. To go sustainable doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to a new host of brand loyalties, it could just mean finding a new purpose for the things in your dry store.