Why pay more for ‘green’ products?

© Valigursky | Dreamstime.com

© Valigursky | Dreamstime.com

Are you willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly wine of equivalent quality? If sustainability means using less water, less power and fewer chemicals, then maybe you should be paying less (not more)?

Obviously it is not quite this simple. For example, the producer may have had to accept lower yields, introduce more labour intensive practices, and/or invest in new technologies and more efficient equipment to justify their environmental claims.

Even so, I find it intriguing that consumers have been conditioned to think that paying a premium for environmentally friendly products, from wine to recycled toilet paper and multi-star buildings, is normal.

Some consumers also expect eco-friendly products to be superior – whereas others believe the opposite to be more likely. Both views may be correct depending on your priorities.

Consider two domestic freezers with the same number of energy stars. The more expensive option may be better insulated, use a more efficient motor and/or incorporate sophisticated design features to improve air circulation etc, while the cheaper option may have achieved its rating largely by increasing the compressor cycles on a less efficient model. The latter freezer may not be suitable for a laboratory that stores sensitive chemicals and research samples (e.g. if the temperature varies significantly around the set point), but could be fine for most homes.*

Suppliers’ representatives and websites are often our primary source of information when comparing the environmental merits of a range of products. However, suppliers are limited by what they know and what they sell. They also have a vested interest (but hopefully place a priority on the customer’s needs and interests if they want repeat business).

The onus is therefore on customers to ask enough questions to satisfy themselves that the device they choose is fit for purpose, cost effective over its useful life, and has an acceptable environmental impact. Unfortunately I have seen small businesses buy expensive equipment, such as enzyme-based parts washers, because they want to do the right thing – when a cheaper option may have been just as eco-friendly and had lower ongoing costs and maintenance requirements.

It takes time to investigate and compare options. As time now seems to be a scarcer resource than money, we need to find ways to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices. Energy and water efficiency star ratings and eco-labels are a good start but not enough.

Ask questions and don’t simply accept a higher price for a green product unless it’s worth it.

* CHOICE magazine’s website provides an independent ‘Fridge and freezer buying guide’.

For information about minimum energy and water efficiency standards and labelling schemes for equipment in Australia, see E3 Program and Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme.

Categories: Sustainable procurement

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. This is a topic that I could wiffle on about for a very long time. 🙂 I think there’s a fundamental flaw in our current economic system, in that ‘externalities’ are simply not counted. This means that things like water and materials used and pollution generated during production aren’t paid for (or even acknowledged to exist). It’s a large societal problem, because the profits are privatised (go back to the company) but the costs are socialised (paid for by society).

    If manufacturers had to pay the total cost, including remediation of all pollution and fair cost for water and resource use, I think the cost of ‘green’ products might be less expensive most of the time.

    Of course, that wouldn’t affect the public expectation that they’re more expensive, at least not immediately.

    Sorry, you hit one of my ‘rant’ buttons here. 😉

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