Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Green Living Goes Mainstream?

This month's Domino and Ready Made have both gone green, and I don't mean Emerald or Kelly green, I mean eco-friendly. Is this the year that green practices and products will finally go mainstream? I hope so and publications like Business Week seem to think so. I've heard so much buzz about the topic, I just had to post on it, even if it's slightly outside of my normal domain.

Green going mainstream certainly a pleasant proposition. Who wouldn't want non-toxic paint on their walls and grapes that have never been sprayed with pesticide? Who wouldn't feel like a slightly better citizen of this planet after choosing a flooring made from sustainable materials? Here's the catch: most of those things cost so much more than the regular, toxic, poison-drenched, unsustainable stuff.

The fact is that organic produce costs more to produce. There's a somewhat limited market for organic cotton yarn and milk paint (i.e. no economies of scale = higher cost per unit). Despite gas prices that have been at historical highs, a hybrid car's additional sticker price costs the average car owner more than the additional gas they would have used with a conventional car (click here if you want to see why). Furniture and building products that use recycled or reclaimed materials often cost a good deal more than conventionally produced products (reclaimed wood vs. new-cut wood flooring). The people who buy these products don't buy them because they are competitively priced or easy to find, they buy them because they care.

But how can we hope to get more people on board with saving the planet if doing so is well out of price-range for the average person? It's a catch 22. As long as the earth-friendly products are significantly more expensive than conventional, there will be low demand for earth-friendly products. As long as there is low demand for earth-friendly products, earth-friendly products will be more expensive to produce.

Green is becoming a hot topic this year because companies like DuPont and G.E. are pushing the U.S. government to implement green regulations. Sure, they're serving their own objectives to some extent, but the end result may be cleaner air and water. And this is one of those few times when a government should intervene in a free-market economy. With subsidies and tax breaks (some of which do exist now) we can encourage the development and production of eco-friendly technology and products that are affordable for everyone.

PHOTOS (clockwise from the top left):
Modutiles cork flooring, $180 for 12.
Ikea's Sparsam energy saving light bulbs, $9.99 for 2
Entwined Root Stool, $149 at

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