Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Overcoming Green Envy

The Conscious Shopper preaches on her favorite subject, "Green on the Cheap," for this month's APLS Carnival. Learn more about living environmentally friendly on a budget on August 19 at Going Green Mama.

The day I discovered green blogs, I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me. Here were people who were working on the same goals and were passionate about the same subjects as I was! I felt so lucky to have found them and so grateful that they were sharing their lives online.

But after a few months of reading, I began to feel a new, uncomfortable feeling: green envy. Those bloggers seemed to have all the latest green technologies and toys. Their houses were decorated with beautiful sustainable materials. They wore eco-friendly clothing and drove energy efficient cars. Their children played with handmade toys made from natural materials, and they would have never let their babies drink from a plastic bottle.

I began to feel like an olive green gal blogging in a crayon box filled with forest greens. I can't afford all that stuff - green or not! And if I'm not buying all those "green" products, does that make me less green?

Maybe not.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away millions of tons of trash a year, including 71.6 million tons of paper, 31.6 million tons of yard waste, 15.3 million tons of metal, 14.4 million tons of plastic, and 13.2 million tons of food scraps, 12.5 million tons of glass, and 20.8 million tons of miscellaneous items.

And that's just the end result of all of our waste. Annie Leonard reminds us in The Story of Stuff that "for every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb. So even if we could recycle 100 percent of the waste coming out of our households, it doesn’t get to the core of the problem."

So maybe I can't afford all those shiny new green toys. But by making do with what I have, I prevent more waste from being produced during manufacturing, and I avoid adding something else to the landfill.

Going green can be expensive - at least in some ways - but sometimes the greenest path is also the cheapest. And once I realized that, my green envy subsided, and I was able to get creative with what I have.

Here are some of the ways I'm making do:

If I were a gazillionaire environmentalist, I would drive a Tesla. Oh, beautiful, beautiful car, why do you tease me with your sleek design and fuel efficiency? Alas, I will never be able to afford a Tesla, and it will be awhile before we can buy a Prius, so for now I'm making do by driving less and walking more.

I'm renting, so I can't upgrade my appliances to the Energy Star variety (not that I could afford to anyway), so I'm making do with my energy sucker of a dryer by line drying all of our clothes. And since we don't have a clothesline outdoors, I make do by line drying our clothes on hangers hung on shower rods. It's not the most attractive method, but it gets the job done.

Someday, I'd love a house with solar panels and one of those miniature wind turbines on my roof. But for now, I'm making do by slaying our vampires, being conscious of our overall energy use, and using less A/C and more ceiling fans.

Since we just moved to this house a month ago, I've had the golden opportunity to design without a dime. Instead of buying new stuff to fit the house, I'm making do by decorating with what I have. And honestly, seeing how great all my stuff looks in this new location has made me fall in love with old purchases all over again.

I'd love to toss out all of those plastic electronic toys we've picked up over the years and replace them with some beautiful wood and handmade options. But since my kids can't understand the concept of "taking care of your things" and therefore cannot be the owners of expensive toys, we're making do by getting crafty with our garbage. So far we've made castles out of plastic flower pots and some cereal box houses to go with the wooden little people we painted.

I could go on and on here. Our computer needs replacing. Our couches are wearing thin. We've had the same towels since we got married. And I can't count how many times I've been asked, "When are you going to get a new TV?" I would love to upgrade my entire home to a newer, greener model with a beautiful sustainable garden, a hybrid in the driveway, and solar panels on the roof, and maybe eventually, over time, I will. But for now, I'm making do.


Eco Yogini said...

this was a fantastic post- and so timely for so much of us! I LOVE your plastic flower pots castles- they are so WICKED :)

The Mom said...

Great post. Strangely, I started on my green journey as a way to save money. So much of what is frugal is green.

knutty knitter said...

Sounds familiar to me (except we own our house and don't have a tv) Plastic is reducing slowly as the kids grow up and learn about stuff and as things are replaced with greener things (my 30 year old plastic watering can was the latest fatality - I now have a galvanized one).

Use it up, wear it out, pass it on, recycle it and only after all else has failed, throw it out.

viv in nz

Alison Kerr said...

It seems many forget that REDUCE comes first in reduce, reuse and recycle. Congratulations on conquering your green envy!

Kathie said...

I've always been amazed that more of us don't focus on making do instead of buying. I think we should try to make do with what we have before we buy anything, even if its green. Even green products create much more waste than making do with what you already have.

Green Bean said...

Couldn't agree more. Such, the latest technology is great but I do think we would all be ALOT greener if we just lived like our grandparents did - or like you're living. We'd all save alot of money to boot. Great post.

kale for sale said...

Nicely said. I'm loving your posts!

Daisy said...

Making Do is one of the greenest things you can do. You're doing a great green job!

Crunchy Chicken said...

I totally agree. Buying green products to replace totally usable goods/furniture/etc. is soooo not green.

Over Coffee - the green edition said...

What a great post! It touched on many of my only feelings especially, “I began to feel like an olive green gal blogging in a crayon box filled with forest greens.” I have come to learn that all though we are all “green” bloggers we have different perspectives and different passions. Mine is decreasing the waste so I am with you on the “use what we got for as long as we can.” Every time I walk into a thrift store and see the rows and rows of perfectly good quality items my heart grows sad. Too much consumption. (meanwhile I have weekly giveaways of green stuff on my blog….ugh)

Condo Blues said...

You know it was that "bulldoze your house and replace it and everything you own with the super eco alternative" that ticked me off and made my blog Condo Blues take a sharp turn into blogging green because I've been doing green on the cheap for way longer than it was currently fashionable. Besides if you concentrate on the inexpensive green things, you can save those pennies in order to buy a desired but expensive green thing. Funny thing, no one brought that up until AFTER the economy took a dive!

utahlawyer said...

Thanks for your post. I know what you mean, it is easy to get the impression that going green is only for the wealthy. But, I know more families that struggle to put food on the table every day then I know who can afford solar panels ($50,000 for the average home!). In these tough economic times, a lot of people need to make saving money a priority. In order to help out, I started a blog to highlight all of the ways that people can go green that either cost nothing or save money. I hope it helps give people ideas.

And, I love the plastic pot castle.

Olivia said...

The first of the "R's" is REFUSE. You are right - unfortunately the 'green' movement has just become the latest trend in consumerism - tossing out all our "bad" stuff to run out and buy "good green stuff." When something has well and truly given up the ghost then we may replace it with a more environmentally friendly product but until and unless that happens, we are just contributing to the waste problem.

Tammy James said...

Oh I feel olive green too !! Perfect analogy. I do try to remind myself of the small things we have achieved and recognise that one small chance makes a difference, and another small change then follows.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Eco Yogini - Thanks! They were tons of fun to make, but we put so much effort into them that now I'm as protective of them as if I had just bought expensive toys. At least I saved money!

@The Mom - Yes, frugality and living green intersect in so many ways.

@knutty knitter - That's a great mantra!

@Alison - Great reminder. I think most people don't even realize that they're in that order for a reason.

@Kathie - Exactly. Waste is waste whether it's from a "green" product or not.

@Green Bean - Our grandparents had it right in so many ways.

@Kale for Sale - Thanks so much!

@Daisy - Thanks!

@Crunchy Chicken - Yes, and it's too bad we're such a consumer driven society that the green movement has gotten twisted into the same old message to buy more and more.

@Over Coffee - So true. "Green" means so many different things to different people, and we each find the topic that is most important to us.

@Condo Blues - You're absolutely right about doing the inexpensive green things to be able to afford the more expensive green things. I originally had a paragraph about that at the end of this post, but it didn't fit the flow of the rest, so I took it out. But it's so true!

@utahlawyer - Thanks, and so true.

@Olivia - You're right - great way of putting it!

@Tammy - We olive green gals have to stick together! I'm sure our combined efforts make a very big difference.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post, Erin! Like you, we're renting, and have just been told our landlords are putting our house up for auction. I'm so glad we decluttered/freecycled a few months ago - much less to move now!


maudi said...

Great post! I totally agree. I think some people are turned off by going green because we are told by the media it means buying all this new stuff.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Cath - Great that you've already decluttered, but stinks that your landlords are selling. Good luck with your move!

@maudi - Yes, it's unfortunate that going green has become so associated with buying stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I needed this encouragement today. Sometimes I feel like I'm failing myself and my planet because I can't have my own garden in my rental or because my mini-van is not fuel-efficient. But I am doing what I can, and I will do more as I learn, grow and my life permits it. Greening your life is overwhelming enough without the green envy eating away at us. Thanks.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

rushartist, I think you do the best with what you have. I lived for years without gardening, and you can do nearly as well (and admittedly with less work!) if you support your local farmers market or CSA. You do what you can with the resources you have.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

I learned a big lesson from my kids on this one. Rather than thinking about "making do," they ask, "How can we be smart here?"

This summer I've watched them make (paper) walkie-talkies, a (cardboard) "video game," and clothes for their stuffed animals out of fabric scraps. Best yet, they never thought about what they "should" have and had a ball doing things their way.

I've been pining for solar panels myself but they have me thinking, "How can I be smart here?" more and more.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Steph - I love that answer! What a great way to put it!

Kellie said...

I know where you're coming from. I like to think of it as us regular green folk and the movie star greenies - they're the ones who can afford all the expensive solar panels and organic clothing and hybrid cars. Until I win the lottery, I'm going to have to stick to being olive green! ;)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Kellie - Me too! (But I guess if I'm going to win the lottery, I would need to start buying lottery tickets first. Oh well...)

Lisa Sharp said...

What a lovely post! I think it's almost always better to do with what you have and just as you buy new stuff to try and make greener choices.

There are a few things worth replacing before they are bad like vinyl shower curtains but seeing as I didn't want to spend the money to buy a nice organic hemp one I have a PVA plastic liner with a cotton shower curtain. Someday when those need replace (hopefully a long time from now) I will look for something organic and more sustainable but making due is often greener!

I like the flower pot castle idea so cute!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Lisa - Thanks and great point about the vinyl shower curtains. If it's unhealthy, it's better to buy green than make do.

Nick said...

Best way of going green I have found is to switch from high energy ways of doing things to low energy ways. Like you could switch from using a gas mower to a manual reel mower (and get some good exercise) or stop using the electric clothes dryer and use a good old fashioned drying rack (and also not adding unwanted heat to your home in summer = less AC)


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