Tag Archives: green consumerism

How Often Do You Really Need New Things?

I’ve long been amazed by how often many people feel they “need” new things when what they have works perfectly fine. New dishes because they’ve been using the old ones for a few years. A new cell phone because the new model came out.

Not only does buying new things when you don’t need them a waste of your money, it’s not that great for the environment.

It doesn’t matter if you buy the eco friendly version if you’re buying something you don’t need. You’re still buying something you didn’t need to buy.

Organic cotton towels are wonderful. But if your old, conventionally produced ones still dry things just fine, you really aren’t doing the environment a big favor by buying new ones of any sort.

I know how tempting new things are. Our dishes are handmedowns from my mother and my husband’s mother. Yes, a mixed set, and they don’t remotely match.

But they work great. They perform the function of allowing us to eat food off of them. As they break, they’re disposed of.

There’s a key in there for when you do want to buy something new. Find a way to make sure the old stuff keeps getting used.

Sometimes that’s giving it to a friend or relative who likes what you’re getting rid of. Sometimes it’s repurposing it, such as when towels develop holes, and you start using them as rags.

Some basic sewing skills can also help you keep from needing to buy new things too often. I have a comforter that needs a little attention now, as some of the seams have separated. That doesn’t mean I need to replace it, just that it needs a few quick stitches. It’s still warm and otherwise looks good.

When it comes to clothes, it’s amazing the quality you can find at a good thrift store. Sometimes even brand new, unworn clothes that someone decided to get rid of. Thrift stores are a significant improvement on buying new clothes, while still allowing yourself to have something new to you.

The big challenge may be in not feeling pressured to have the latest and greatest. It’s gotten to where people assume you’ll have a recent smart phone, flat screen TV, and buy other new things just because you’ve had the old stuff for a while. That you could choose to live differently shocks some people, and that’s sad to me.

Most important to me is handing down these values to my children. They’re kids, they often want new things, especially if their friends have them or they see an ad on TV. But we talk about why not, and it goes beyond just finances. I don’t want them just buying new stuff because they can afford it. I want them to pick up on the lesson that you buy new things when you need them, with a reasonable definition of “need.”

Is It a Good Thing That Eco Friendly is Trendy?

Lots of people are hopping on the green bandwagon these days. Eco friendly products are appearing all over store shelves, even at Walmart. You can buy cheap, environmentally friendly good and you can buy designer eco friendly products. It’s quite a change from just a few years ago.

But is it a good change?

It is and it isn’t, in a lot of ways.

It is good because it means more people are thinking about the environment as they shop. It’s good that more goods are being made from renewable resources. It’s good that more goods made from recycled materials are available.

It’s bad in that it is nothing more than a way to show trendiness for a lot of people. Being eco chic is just another kind of consumerism in many cases. The thoughts are heading in the right direction, but they just haven’t gone far enough.

It’s bad that as a trendy lifestyle some people aren’t as committed to the environment as they want others to think. They’re talking about it, but they aren’t doing. Aren’t cutting back. Aren’t planting gardens. Aren’t enjoying simplicity.

It will be interesting to see how things go over the next many years. Will eco friendly products be more or less popular? Will more people understand that you need to consume less, not just change the types of things they consume.

It is good that the current popularity of being eco friendly means more interest in things that can make a big difference. The trendiness of finding alternative energy sources gives us the chance that they will become more affordable and practical in years to come. That’s wonderful.

It’s good that businesses are realizing how much more environmentally friendly practices can save them in some areas. Not in all areas sadly, which is why products will continue for some time to be made in ways that have a high environmental and human cost.

It’s good that with the introduction to being eco friendly as a trend more people will recognize in time that there’s more to it than buying a dozen organic cotton sheets. That they need to reign in their habits as consumers.

But it’s bad that so many figure that because they’re buying eco friendly, they can keep on shopping. Keep on consuming because, darn it, they’re doing something good for the environment, right?

It takes time to get the lesson across that even eco friendly has an environmental cost. That the cost is less than conventionally produced products, bu that it isn’t zero. It’s not a happy lesson. But it’s vital.

Is the Trouble of Going Green Worth It?

One of the reasons I hear sometimes for not worrying about how a particular person can be more environmentally friendly in their day to day life is that the difference isn’t big enough. Some people feel that we need the big corporations to take steps first, and that should be the focus.

No doubt, that would be a wonderful thing. But it’s not exactly easy to convince big corporations to do such things without a pretty impressive social movement behind it. They’re businesses, after all. It’s easier for them to do things that make money than for currently abstract ideas of what will happen if they don’t make changes.

Yes, your individual changes and sacrifices only make the smallest of differences when big ones are needed. But they’re a part of what it takes to make those bigger changes.

Admittedly, not all the changes are exactly ideal. There’s more pressure for companies to carry organic goods, for example, and so the standards for organic have changed and been made easier to reach.

“Green” goods get marketed more so that people can play at being green while enjoying their usual shopping habits without really looking at whether or not the product is needed or produced in a way that is minimally damaging to the environment.

There’s a reason why green consumerism is a bit of a problem.

On the plus side, individual interest is probably a big part of why reusable shopping bags are so easy to find now. Many of the stores I go to even have more interesting ones now than the plain ones with a simple store logo on them.

Not to mention government rules protecting the environment. The rules may get weakened and strengthened depending on the party in office, but at least they’re there!

In so many ways you can say that if we individuals don’t care, there will never be a reason for corporations or governments to care. And if they don’t care, they won’t change. And if they won’t change, what will?

It can be frustrating dealing with people who don’t see how their small contributions can add to your small contributions can add to other people’s small contributions. But the difference is more than just the carbon you produce, the plastic you avoid and so forth. It’s the momentum built.

It’s Not Green If You Don’t Need It

I’ve posted occasionally on green consumerism in the past, but it’s one of those points worth revisiting regularly.

If you don’t need it, it’s not green!

I don’t care where it came from.

I don’t care what it’s made of.

If it’s the accumulation of more stuff, it’s not green.

We all struggle with this, especially since “need” is such a personal definition. Just look at what we think we need to get by in the United States versus other countries. In many cases the difference just ain’t pretty.

Be realistic about why you buy what you buy. Reusable bags and bottles are green because they keep you from using disposable bags and bottles. But having a whole collection of which maybe only a few are used is far less green. You hit the limit when you buy more of these things than you need.

Buying new things because you want to replace what you have with organic, fair trade, etc. is green in some ways, but wasteful if what you had was still perfectly good. Hopefully it’s all at least going to the thrift stores, Craigslist, Freecycle or something similar so that it will be used by someone else.

Being green can be complex at times. The right decision is not always obvious. A moment’s thought can do a lot to limit your mistakes.