Earth911's Quick Vote poll asked readers to complete this statement: "The one thing holding me back from being more green is…"
Not at all surprising, 378 of the 1,070 responses listed "money," as their No. 1 barrier to being more green. Individuals and families living on tight budgets may not have the option of reaching for that Fair Trade coffee bean package or the pure organic produce. Although being a green consumer requires money, being a green citizen does not.
Green Citizens vs. Green Consumers
A green consumer commits to purchasing environmentally friendly products and services while a green citizen actually lives an eco-conscious life. But it is possible to get the best of both worlds. You can be a green citizen by committing to a sustainable lifestyle, incorporating green purchases and modifications without going into a life-long debt.
Don't believe us?
We spoke to some experts to explore the options available to consumers and citizens facing financial obstacles. They advised us on how green consumers can determine the costs of implementing eco-friendly lifestyle changes in order to save money in the long run. They also suggested choices green citizens can make to maximize their impact of their actions.
"The idea that you need to spend a lot of money to go green is a misconception," says Green Architect, Eric Corey Freed. "This is because Green buildings are always perceived as more expensive."
As evidence, Freed cites a USGBC study that found green buildings cost an average of $4 per square foot more than buildings that don’t have the same environmental standards. However, green buildings save 63 cents per square foot in electricity cost. This means that over the architectural lifetime of a building, a green consumer will save $67 per square foot by living in a building designed with green standards.
Make Some Upgrades, Spend Less Green
If you don't have the time or money to invest in a green building, there are cheaper solutions that are still environmentally friendly. The trick is knowing where to start. It's always better to keep it simple and make modifications that fit your individual lifestyle. Here are some suggestions from Freed coupled with a few of Earth911's favorite solutions:
- Upgrade old appliances to smaller, ENERGY STAR models. Target your refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer first. Move your fridge away from the oven. Replacing a fridge older than 1991 will pay for its replacement costs in less than a year.
- Install occupancy sensors on select rooms around the house. Look for rooms where lights are left on. The California Energy Commission estimates you'll see a 35 to 45 percent savings.
- Replace your thermostat with a programmable model. Look for ENERGY STAR pre-programmed model. Save $180 a year on your heating bill.
- Shop at your local farmer's market. Not only does it benefit your local economy, but it also saves on carbon emissions associated with importing produce from other locations. Plus, you might find a great deal while you're at it.
- Caulk and seal around your windows and exterior doors. Most homes average a 20 percent air leakage. Replace leaky single paned windows with low-e, double-glazed ones.
- Invest in smart strips. Using smart strips or manually unplugging electronic devices that are not in use saves both energy and money lost from Vampire loads.
- Purchase recycled toilet paper and paper towels. Extremely frugal Green consumers can always opt to purchase brands like Marcal, which saves 230 tons of paper annually, and each ton of paper saves 17 trees.
- Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk means less trips to the store or online orders, saving gas money and carbon emissions. The more of a product you buy, the less cost you'll endure per unit because the manufacturer will give you a bulk price rate.
- Reduce food-related paper use. The average American family uses 1.5 rolls of paper towels each week. Use reusable cloths for cleaning the house. You'll be cutting down on your paper towel consumption. Cutting your use to one roll a month would save $45 per year.
- Use rechargeable batteries. The average family buys 32 batteries a year. Rechargeable batteries can be recharged hundreds of times. Plus, it's easier to find recycling locations for rechargeable batteries.
Get Back to Your Roots
While making modifications to your home and purchasing habits is a great way to go green, getting in the mindset of becoming a green citizen creates a major impact without spending a single penny.
Kim Carlson, author of "Green Your Work: Boost Your Bottom Line While Reducing Your Eco-Footprint," suggests that you do more activities outdoors and simply enjoy being in nature .
"When we lose our connection to the natural world, we lose our instinct to protect it," Carlson says.
There are also those options that teeter on the cusp of green consumerism and green citizenry. While there are choices that do not require a purchase, they impact the marketplace, nevertheless.
Martha Danly, founder and CEO of Green By Design, urges consumers to avoid unhealthy options such as polyvinal chloride (PVC). Danly believes that doing what’s good for the environment starts with doing what’s good for ourselves.
Danly suggests taking the big picture and scaling it down to fit your community. Most people may think that going green means buying stuff. Educate your community that it's about much more than that. Being green is a set of behaviors. Mind drives behavior, and behavior drives action.
"Green is about action," Danly says. "Action takes time. Don't take this as a list. Take it as a suggestion."
Read more about Susanna and her work at SusannaSpeier.com