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Why Sustainable Goods Cost More (And Why You Should Consider Choosing Them Anyway)

Have you ever felt like you just can’t afford to maintain a conscious consumer lifestyle?

Have you ever considered purchasing a sustainable product, but opted for a conventional version to save money?

Have you thought about buying a pricey sustainable product, determined that you could afford it, but refrained anyway because spending that much money just felt too opulent?

If your answer to any of these three questions is yes, then you fit into a pool of what we would guess is about 99.9% of the people who have been exposed to conscious consumerism and sustainable living. We really wish we could tell you that we have a perfect black and white solution, but the truth is that sometimes you shouldn’t spend more money on a sustainable product and sometimes you really should! But before making the decision of what’s appropriate for you, it’s worthwhile to understand why these goods can cost so much more.

 

 Demand is on the rise, but still not as high as conventional alternatives

 

Why they’re more expensive | Sustainable products are a relatively new phenomenon and aren’t yet as accessible as their traditional counterparts. As a result, demand for these goods hasn’t reached the same levels as other options, and sustainable products don’t yet enjoy the economies of scale that would allow them to pass cost savings along to consumers.

Why you should pay for sustainable goods | Double whammy! When you buy a sustainable product, not only are you limiting your environmental footprint by opting out of a less sustainable version, but you’re contributing to a greater demand that will allow businesses to begin reducing costs!

 

Sustainable materials and ethical labor cost more

 

Why they’re more expensive | Nobody sources irresponsibly and generates pollution because it’s fun. They do it because it’s cheap! Doing business ethically and sustainably comes at a premium for manufacturers.

Let’s look at an example. You’ve scored an unbelievable deal and found a cute sweater on Amazon or at Target for only $10! That $10 captures the whole cost to make and transport the product, plus a little more money for the reseller to earn a profit. It’s likely made of a synthetic, petroleum-based fiber, which is cheaper than natural materials because it can be produced on a massive scale. And it’s almost certainly made abroad at a factory that exploits laborers and pays them significantly less than a living wage. The factory likely does not take steps to minimize textile pollution or ensure safe working conditions, because those efforts are expensive, and they simply can’t afford it. Let’s recap -- to make that sweater, you need to extract raw materials, weave them into fabric, assemble the sweater, transport it to the reseller, and make sure the reseller earns some profit on the sale. Does $10 sound right? 

In developing countries, textile workers receive only .6% the cost of a standard t-shirt.2 It's estimated that less than 2% of workers in the textile industry earn a living wage.4

Why you should pay for sustainable goods | When you buy that $10 sweater, you’re telling the reseller and manufacturer that you approve of their practices. You’re funding pollution and unfair labor. You’re disincentivizing them to do it differently. When you purchase only sustainable and ethical goods, you’re making your values heard in one of the most powerful ways you can. You’re voting with your dollar and funding a better world!  

 

Reusables cost more than disposables

 

Why they’re more expensive | We don’t know of any exceptions to the rule that reusable products cost more than their disposable equivalents. In fact, many disposables will cost you (seemingly) nothing at all -- plastic utensils and napkins from the fast-food restaurant, grocery bags and produce bags, takeout containers. However, for all those disposables you are paying for – plastic water bottles, cotton balls, packs of napkins or paper towels – the reusable option will almost certainly save you money in the long run.

One more example: you buy and drink two Aquafina bottles every day. They cost $1 each. In total, you spend $60 a month on water. A reusable water bottle, depending on the quality, costs $10 - $30 and will last for years. That's a whole lot more than $1, but it will certainly save you money in the end. 

Why you should pay for sustainable goods | Our collective affinity for disposables is problematic and is the source of a large portion of the trash polluting the ocean. By avoiding disposable items, we’re moving the needle toward a more circular system. 

About 50% of the plastic we produce is for single-use purposes. More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean each year, and over 90% of sea birds have plastic in their stomachs.3

 

Quality goods cost more

 

Why they’re more expensive | Makers of sustainable products often put special care into quality because they want to minimize the use of resources and generation of waste by ensuring that your good is usable for as long as possible. Quality doesn’t come cheap. Making a high-quality item will require more durable materials, more skilled labor, and more time for inspection and testing. All these things cost money. But, like purchasing reusables, purchasing quality goods will likely save you money in the long run.

This is the important distinction between price and value. A low quality good might cost you $10 and last for 6 months, where a higher quality version would cost $20 and last 5 years. It’s more expensive, but there’s no question which option provides the better value!

Why you should pay for sustainable goods | Purchasing quality goods that last longer allows us to make purchases less frequently. This preserves resources and reduces the volume of materials we discard.

 

When you shouldn't pay for sustainable items

 

1. You shouldn't buy a sustainably made item when you already have something that adequately serves your needs. 

2. You shouldn't buy a brand new sustainably made item when you can find a second-hand version that fits your needs.

3. You shouldn't pay for sustainable items when the upfront cost is truly out of reach for you.

If you are in need of an item and can’t afford the investment in a sustainable product, that’s okay. Being a conscious consumer doesn’t necessitate that you do it perfectly. It just means that you are aware of the impact of your purchases and do what you can.

We really believe in all the important ways you can promote a better, kinder, cleaner planet by making sustainable purchases. And, we have good news -- you can support all of these objectives without spending money! 
  • Boost demand for sustainable goods by following sustainable companies. Help them by engaging with their social media pages and sharing good content and cool products with your friends!
  • Communicate your values to businesses by getting in touch with them! Ask them about their labor standards and sustainability efforts. Tell them that you want to make purchases from companies with practices that align with your values.
  • Limit disposables and single-use items by reusing them a few times. If you have some plastic cutlery from the last time you got take out, clean them and use them again. Refill your disposable water bottle a few times before you recycle it.
  • Make your goods last longer by taking great care of them. Read care and use instructions and learn how to repair items as they break or tear.

 

What are your motivations for being a conscious consumer? Tell us in the comments or reach out to us on Instagram!

 

Sources: 1 | Fabric of the World, Manmade vs. Natural Textile Fibers: A Fair Comparison, 2 | Global Living Wage Coalition, Garment/Textile, 3 | Plastic Oceans, The Facts, 4 | Nisolo, Why We're Publishing Our Wages

Comments

Lindsay:

Hi Sage. Thank you for your thoughtful response. You’re exactly right that not everyone can afford the upfront cost of sustainably made products. That’s why we highlighted instances where it’s NOT appropriate to opt for sustainably made goods, and ways that people can support sustainable movements without spending any money (see the bullet points at the end of the post). Specifically, reusing single-use goods and repairing broken items are two ways to promote sustainable living while SAVING money! We truly regret that any of this post did come across as poor shaming. It would be a profound shame if anyone who couldn’t afford sustainable goods was made to believe they didn’t have a role in the solution. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Nov 01, 2019

Katie Kinney:

Super insightful article. Love how you break this down. Thanks for sharing!

Nov 01, 2019

Sage:

This really needs to take into account people like me who are living in poverty, but still want to make eco conscious decisions about the products we buy. This blog post basically amounts to poor shaming because the higher quality, reusable goods are much more than we can afford.

Nov 01, 2019

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