14 Apr Can living a sustainable life be affordable?
What’s crazy about this concept is that, fundamentally, living sustainably and in a way which is good for our planet should be affordable. It should be the norm rather than the more expensive alternative. Living sustainably shouldn’t be a luxury that’s only within reach of those who can afford it. It’s certainly possible to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, whatever your budget, but it does need some thoughtful consideration.
Are sustainable products more expensive?
Whilst it’s important to recognise that an enormous part of our role as individuals wishing to be more sustainable is to cut back on our consumerist nature, the reality is that modern life needs ‘products’. You need something to put your lunch in at the office, you need clothes on your back, and you need bags to put your groceries in. Living sustainably doesn’t need to mean living in sackcloth and only eating foraged food.
So, if you aim for sustainability in your life, you will inevitably turn your attention to sustainable products. And straight away you may feel that those products, and thus sustainability full stop, are more expensive than their less-than-green alternatives.
There is some truth to this, although it is not universal. At a very general level, it is fair to say that sustainable products are generally more expensive. However, this needs to be understood in the context of other factors, such as how long the products last.
Why are sustainable products more expensive?
So the question isn’t really ‘is sustainability expensive’ as much as why it is more expensive. Then you can make decisions as a consumer about how to develop a sustainable lifestyle that is more affordable.
Sustainable materials that go into making sustainable products are more expensive to grow or produce, and manufacture or process. For example, growing organic cotton using fairly paid labour with rigorous labour rights, will inevitably cost more compared to pesticide laden cotton harvested by poorly paid workers.
There are additional reasons for the added expense too. Whilst the drive for eco-friendly and sustainable options is growing, demand is still relatively low compared to mainstream alternatives. This means that whilst the mainstream non-green products can capitalise on economies of scale, that’s not so easy for those within the sustainable market.
What’s more, to keep things sustainable, it’s often necessary to keep demand under control. However, the more you buy sustainable products the more you send out the signals of demand to change the landscape. As a result, non-sustainable producers start to realise that they need to change their production processes to suit their changing customer, and sustainable producers are able to produce their products more cost-effectively.
There’s also another factor hiding in there which can make sustainable products appear more expensive: they last longer. For example, a plastic-free reusable water bottle, such as the beautiful Neon Cactus Glass Water Bottle, costs around ten times the amount of a single-use well-known brand of water that you can grab in a store. However, you can be sure that the Neon Cactus bottle will last an awful lot longer overall, never had any plastic near it in the first place, and will save money in the long run.
Where is your money going?
We also like to consider where our consumer pound actually ends up. For us, spending our money consciously makes us understand more about where our money is going. When we can see where it’s going, we can understand why a product costs what it does.
When you buy a sustainable product, you know that all workers in the supply chain are getting a fair deal. Do you really want something that costs less but doesn’t pay someone a fair wage or uses children or slave labour? You know that the planet isn’t off-setting the cost on your behalf. Again, do you really want something that costs less but puts plastic microfibers in our oceans, or causes deforestation, or fills rivers with chemicals?
But how do I afford to live sustainably?
Of course, you can say that all of this is all very well, but if you don’t have the budget, what can you actually do? The good news is that there are tonnes of affordable and low cost changes that you can make to live a sustainable lifestyle. Here are some of our favourite ideas:
1. Don’t replace until you need to
Making the decision to live a greener lifestyle is important, but then going ahead and throwing out all your plastic storage containers, or full plastic bottles of shampoo, doesn’t actually do anything to help the planet. Part of living sustainably is to use what you’ve got for the fullness of its life. Only then, replace things with an eco-friendly alternative.
2. Choose the products which make the biggest impact
Certain products, for example single-use plastics, have disproportionately negative effects on the environment. Swap out these small everyday items with sustainable alternatives and you can make a big difference. For example, opt for bamboo cotton buds.
3. Go for a sustainable capsule wardrobe
Choose ethical and sustainable fashion that is cost-effective, high-quality and reasonably timeless. By choosing classic much-loved items which you can jazz up with accessories, you can move beyond fast-fashion to pieces that last.
4. Do what you can
No one said sustainability has to be all or nothing. If you feel you can’t afford a completely sustainable approach to life, do what you can afford. Something is better than nothing.
5. Do less
In the bid to develop a sustainable lifestyle, don’t make the mistake of becoming a rampant consumer in other ways. Fundamentally, the best approach to sustainability is to have less. Ask yourself if you really, really need another reusable coffee cup! If you need some food-for-thought to back up that concept, ponder this thought from Oxfam:
The richest 1% of the world’s population is responsible for over 2 x the carbon pollution as the 3.1bn people who make up the poorest ½ of humanity.
6. Let responsible brands do the hard work for you
At Wearth, we bring together loads of different ethical and sustainable options across multiple areas of life. This enables you to find the best-of-the-best UK sustainable items under one roof, from the comfort of your sofa. We know that affordability is often an important factor, so we work with partners who offer fair and realistic prices.
Sustainable products may appear more expensive on initial glance. But that doesn’t mean you won't save money in the long run, nor that living sustainably needs to be a preserve of the wealthy.