The Personal Cost of Green

by Emily Carr on Monday, October 25, 2010 in Features

I have been working in sustainable design for several years now, and I’ve found that the first challenge that we (as designers) often encounter is a hesitation around price. “Isn’t LEED or sustainable design more expensive?” Yes, sometimes it is. LED or florescent light fixtures cost more (but last longer), off-the-shelf green cleaning products usually carry a premium, and sustainable power is often more expensive to purchase than carbon-based sources.

But when it comes to making consumer and small-business choices around sustainability, green is often cheaper, at least when you look at it from a thrifty, or non-mass-produced perspective. Before the days of pre-purchased cleaning products or Ziploc bags, our parents and grandparents often made do with recyclables and reusables without even knowing they were doing it. And we have become so accustomed to so many items in our everyday life being mass-produced and disposable that we often don’t even realize there might be a more “homemade,”sustainable, and less expensive way to do things.

I will use the example of glass cleaner. While I am not familiar with the exact history of the commercialization of this product, I do know that my grandparents didn’t always have Windex available to them. They made their own cleaning products from baking soda, vinegar, ammonia, bleach and water. While not all of these elements are sustainable or items we should be pouring down our drains with great regularity, some of them are much safer for the environment than commercially available products, and they are much less expensive to produce. When faced with my own budget challenges over the past two years, I turned back to my grandmother’s solution to save money on household items, cutting my budget in this department by about $10 – 20 per month. I have continued this trend by using waxed paper instead of Ziploc bags, and reusing grocery bags (acquired for me by my mother) for a variety of household uses, including cleaning up after my cat, organizing my linen closets, and ice packs for post-workout relief.

Although these are not design solutions, they are sustainability solutions that put us in the right mindset when thinking about reuse and recycling. Feeling thrifty? Here’s a list of questions you can ask yourself when looking for a more sustainable and cost-conscious solution:

  • How would my grandparents have made or done this?
  • How can I accomplish this task (or purchase this item) without buying something that comes from a factory?
  • Is there a public resource available (i.e., tap water instead of bottled water) that is a safe and viable solution?
  • What household items can I reuse in a different (and perhaps unintended) way?

Thumbnail via Found in Mom’s Basement