If you would be so kind to give me a moment of your time and the key to open your mind. I’d like to challenge your perspective and offer you a new view through a set of green goggles.
Do you remember you’re last big shopping score? You know, the one where you couldn’t believe you bought all of THAT for that price. Maybe you stood at the checkout counter in shock that anyone could buy a sweater for three bucks. Maybe you wondered how much it cost the manufacturer to make that sweater? What could the profit margins be on a $3 sweater? Fifty cents? A quarter? No wonder those poor Chinese workers are making .5 cents an hour.
You got a steal, right? But to get a steal implies someone took a loss. Have you considered who that ultimately is?
I remember my last big shopping score. I was at an Old Navy sale and had bought two shirts, two sweaters, three boy’s t-shirts, two girl’s pants, a necklace and matching earrings for less than $20. I thought the cashier had made a mistake. I double checked, then triple checked my receipt because it didn’t seem possible that these brand new material goods could be sold at prices cheaper than Goodwill. My mind raced to figure in the cost of design, materials, manufacturing, marketing, transportation, labor . . . How could humanity make anything at such a low price? I knew I should have been skipping out of the store but my whirling mind had me frozen in the racks of men’s cargo pants. How will this planet keep up with our free market?
All of us are fully aware of the consumer price tag and the way the companies use them to make a profit. But there is another price tag that you don’t see, the price the planet paid for that trendy, radiant orchid sweater. Consider the price of the cotton (water, nutrients, bleaching, manufacturing, transportation, distribution), the dies (water, coloring, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, disposal) making the garment (electricity, labor, machinery, packaging) and the sale (distribution, marketing, labor, display). Unlike the consumer price tag, the planet price tag continues to climb after your purchase. You will need chemicals, water, and electricity to keep it clean and then there is the cost of disposing that sweater when lima bean green becomes next year’s color (gas, labor, waste).
I stood in the middle of Old Navy, amid the racks upon racks of merchandise and asked myself how much my score had cost the environment. If I were to put a planet price tag on that single bag, what number would I give it?
While I got a steal our planet took a hit.
The problem is our planet doesn’t trade in dollars. The value of our resources doesn’t change with the seasons. Nature never goes on sale. From the earth’s perspective a tree has no value being cut, mashed, bleached, smashed, dried, rolled, sliced, scribbled on, trashed and dumped. The true value of a tree is in its life cycle: growth, oxidization, shade, food, transpiration, biodiversity, nitrate balance, decay, passage of nutrients, and regeneration.
If we were to include a green price tag alongside the consumer one, how would we begin to calculate a number? Should we start with the loss of the plant’s life cycle? Professor T.M Das at the University of Calcutta estimates a 50 year old tree to be worth $193,250. The US Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers has valued the same tree to be worth $120,000. Even if we don’t add in the carbon foot print cost to create, distribute, maintain and dispose of a product, it’s obvious that the green price tag will never come close to the consumer price tag.
Since that moment in Old Navy, I’ve tried to teach my kids to consider not only the consumer price but the number on the green tag. When they want to buy a product not only do they need to consider the cost to our planet but how long they will put the item to use. Disposable products (plastic bottles, wipes, paper products, pins, ink cartridges, medical products, food/drink containers, diapers) have a mind blowing cost-to-use ratio. If, however, you consider a quality piece of furniture that stays with your family for generations, the green price tag makes more sense. I want my children to get in the habit of seeing every product as an energy exchange. Does your need/want/desire/use of this item begin to compensate for the energy the planet gave to make it?
I must forewarn you, shopping with green goggles will change you as a consumer. It has certainly changed me. I can’t bring myself to step into those fad driven women’s stores anymore. You know the ones with the cheap, trendy clothes crammed from floor to ceiling. All I see are high green price tags dangling on low use items. I know these products are intended for low use and quick replacement. Even if the consumer wanted to wear them for years, their quality wouldn’t allow it.
So I’m challenging you, the consumer, the very person driving our market. Next time you rush off to the next BIG SALE, take your green goggles. Stand in the middle of the store and consider what the planet has given to provide you with all that stuff. How much did that cart of goodies cost our environment? How long will you need to use them to justify their green tag price? Are you willing to do that? Is it worth the lifecycle of the plant/animal?
Today you will pay a dollar price but tomorrow all of us will pay a price for its carbon footprint. Remember, while you may be getting a steal, our planet is not.
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