Is it more expensive to be green?

Yesterday I came across a comment to an environmental story which seems to sum up a very popular opinion – namely that it costs money to ‘go green‘. It said :

‘My biggest gripe with “going green” and all the nonsense that comes with it is that it costs so much money to be “green,” causing the larger majority of people to be unable to help out environmentally.’

Go greenPersonally, I don’t agree with this at all. In fact, living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle can actually save you money. How?

I’m glad you asked.

What does ‘going green’ actually mean?

Before we dive into the many cost-effective ways of living la vita verde, let’s take a quick look at what is meant by ‘going green‘. Quite simply, it’s having a minimal impact on the environment; while you live your life.

There are a number of ways to do this, and save money at the same time.

Use energy and water efficient appliances

Whenever you’re in the market for a major appliance (anything from a washing machine to a television), get the most energy-efficient and water-efficient one you can afford. Although it may cost a bit more to begin with, you’ll save money every time you use it.

Improve the efficiency of the car you already have

No matter where you stand on the ‘cars vs global warming‘ debate, you’re probably interested in saving a bit of cash. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do this using the car you already have – regardless of what it is.

This article goes into a little more detail, but a few quick suggestions :

Reduce the weight. If you’re carrying stuff ‘just in case‘ (such as roof racks, spare jackets or a pile of extra sauces from your last trip to McDonalds), leave it at home until you need it. If you spend a fair bit of time on the road, this alone will make a noticeable difference.

Use a higher gear. By always using the highest gear possible (as long as you’re going fast enough – trying to take off in 3rd isn’t such a good idea), you’ll be saving fuel. Avoiding unnecessary idling will also help.

Keep it clean. Apart from appearance, there’s good reason to keep your car clean. Getting rid of rubbish will reduce the weight, and cleaning the outside will make it more slippery (less drag, less fuel). Small differences to be sure, but they add up.

Reduce consumption

Last week I looked at 5 ways to reduce the number of plastic bags, glass jars and other types of packaging you may have around the kitchen. Now it’s time to think about the rest of the house.

There are several contenders here for financial savings, including :

Lower your electricity bills. There are many, many ways to conserve electricity – which can have a big impact at bill time. In general, though, simply switching things off when you’re not using them will make quite a difference.

Use less water. Water is great to drink – in fact, most people don’t drink enough. However, when it comes to using it everywhere else (for washing, the garden and the pool); it’s easy to waste it. Try not to use more than you need – after all, it isn’t free.

Only buy things you need. It’s easy to fall into the consumer mindset (and a quick glance at my bank statements tells me I was there for a number of years), and buy every shiny new thing that comes along. If you can cut down on this a little, your wallet will definitely thank you.

Purchase goods locally when reasonable

If given a choice between filling their car just down the road or driving interstate first, most people would go for the local option. When it comes to buying things from a store, that logic still applies. Some goods simply have to travel further than others, and that transport costs money.

Whenever you’re faced with a choice of two similar products – one of which was produced locally, and one which was imported – go with the local one.

Grow your own food

When I was quite young (probably 3 or 4), I was wandering around a large garden with my grandfather. Every few metres he would stop, pick something off a nearby plant, and eat it. Magical.

Creating a garden like this isn’t actually that difficult to do. There are thousands of plants that are cheap, quick and easy to grow; and certainly edible. What’s more, home-grown food always seems to taste better. Nice and fresh.

To get things started, pop down to the garden centre and grab some beans, tomatoes or herbs (if you recognise the name, get it – they’re all nice and easy to grow). Plant them, add a bit of water every day or two; and sit back. In a few months you’ll have your own fresh supply of colourful, easily recognisable food. Beautiful.

NB : I can see a few of you shaking your heads. These things are almost impossible to kill – particularly beans. Give it a shot.

Recycle, and use recycled items

Depending on where you live, you may or may not be used to recycling. Many countries have structured recycling schemes in place, where paper, glass, plastics etc are collected regularly in bins or special bags.

One aspect of recycling that’s often overlooked, however, is the repurposing of items within the household; or within the community. This is just a matter of thinking about the possible functions of an object – rather than the original intended use.

The next time you need to stack things out in the yard, grab an old bookshelf; need a bucket, use a paint tin; turn an old laptop into a portable video player. OK, perhaps I’m showing my inner-geek there; but you get the idea. Be inventive.

Minimise household waste

It’s garbage collection day here, so I’m definitely mindful of this one. Reducing the amount of stuff you throw out not only makes your life easier, it saves money. After all, someone has to pay for it (even if it’s indirectly).

This is actually quite easy to do. In fact, if you’ve already started doing the things above; you may notice a difference the next time trash day comes around. Just in case, here are a few other things you can do :

Construct a compost bin or worm farm. Both can be a great ways to get rid of most of the organic matter.

Buy items with less packaging. Although this one can apply to almost everything, the simplest place to begin is in the supermarket. If it’s something that doesn’t really need that extra bag, can be easily carried as-is or doesn’t require any sort of packaging at all (say, a piece of fruit); get it. Less packaging often equals lower cost.

Give it away. There a number of items which you may no longer want, and fall somewhere inbetween the ‘let’s sell this on eBay‘ and ‘where’s the bin?‘ ideas. In these cases, just give it to a local charity.

NB : Before you say ‘nobody would want this‘, think twice – if you were living on the streets, or in very basic accommodation; would you want it?

Final thoughts on the cost of ‘going green

As you can see, being environmentally-conscious doesn’t need to be expensive – in fact, you’ll often be saving money. Nor does it have to be difficult or time-consuming.