Stretching Our Green Wallets Thin

Stretching Our Green Wallets Thin
by Carrie Madren

We've tightened our grasp on our pocketbooks since the economy tumbled, and we wonder, has stingier spending made us a lighter shade of green than we used to be?
When we shop, we can choose organic fruit, products with less packaging, green cleaners (or the ingredients to make our own), cage-free eggs and free-range meat. We can choose to spend the extra few thousand on a hybrid car, install a solar water heater or buy wind power credits.
But will green thrive in a recession, or will it wilt in this fiscal climate? During harsh economic times, will we consider some aspects of our green living and eco-consciousness fat to be trimmed, along with expensive restaurant dinners and club memberships?
"In general, consumers are becoming more concious consumers across the board," says Bob Ferris, executive director of Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit that seeks to help people and businesses make sustainable choices. We're scaling back on purchases of all kinds, not just organic or green products and services. When it comes to purchasing, there's less impulse buying, which means less waste and fewer products bought that harm the environment.
D.C. area writer Diane MacEachern, who authored Big Green Purse in 2008, says that consumers may cut back on green purchasing where there's an easier - and cheaper - substitute. For example, organic clothing is expensive and hard to find, so green purchasers may opt for regular clothes (and buy fewer items) or buy second-hand.
The decision to buy green is both complicated, and simple. On one hand, as green goes mainstream it's easier to find green versions of some products for prices comparable to their more-polluting counterparts. Take low-emission paints and green cleaners, for example. The thinking also goes that money spent on fruits and vegetables may as well pay for locally grown, fresh, seasonal foods at farmer's markets, too. "People are paying a premium there and those are becoming one of fastest growing sectors," Ferris says.
On the other hand, other green products and services - such as home energy audits and degradable trash bags - are extra costs that budget-concious consumers may opt to live without. Smart consumers must figure out the eco-value of their purchases and spending, where their money will get the most-green-bang- for- the -buck.
Fortunately, in some cases, many greener choices are actually easy on our wallets. For instance, opting to avoid pricey fertilizers and pesticides is better for our groundwater and saves money. Compost is a cheap substitute in gardens for fertilizers, and making compost saves kitchen scraps from filling up landfills and pipes headed for water treatment plants.
In another example, not buying bottled water is both a money saver and good for our environment. Since bottled water has no real benefits - and actually consumes vast energy in bottling and shipping - using our own local, filtered tap water in reusable bottles makes more sense.
Likewise, air travel is down as ticket prices remain high and travellers cut down on discretionary spending. U.S. airlines will have almost nine percent fewer passengers this year, according to Federal Aviation Administration, and general aviation will be down 6.2 percent. Having fewer carbon-spewing jets in the atmosphere is a good thing when it comes to carbon emissions, especially if those jets will be carrying fewer passengers.
A slimmer wallet has made us thrifty in other ways, as well.
It's become the norm to reuse, recycle and swap goods, and these activities are among the best ways to use our resources wisely. Sites such as Freecycle.org, where people post unwanted stuff for others to pick up for free, and Craigslist, which operates like an online yard sale, maintain steady traffic. We are repairing goods instead of tossing and buying new ones, and making products last longer - magazines urge readers to save money by using less shampoo each day, or soaking up spills with rags instead of paper towels.
Perhaps the slumped economy has been just what our environment has needed. Says MacEachern, "By reducing consumption and simplifying lives, the recession has probably done more than anything else to get people to understand the value of living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle."

Carrie Madren writes about environmental issues, Chesapeake life and sustainable living. She lives in Olney, Maryland. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.