The next time someone tells me they can’t be as green as they’d like because they always buy “what’s cheapest,” I will lose my mind. It’s time for me to expose them as the FILTHY, DIRTY LIARS they are. Nine out of ten times, the green option is the cheapest. And no, I’m not including the 99/100 times when the greenest option is just “don’t buy that.”
Sustainability is problematically associated with upper-middle-class moms who shop at Whole Foods and lease brand new Priuses every year. Many people with the intention to make good lifestyle changes for the planet never follow through because of the perceived huge costs of those changes.
The idea that living sustainably is expensive or unrealistic on a budget stigmatizes conscious consumerism, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s why:
- The best thing you, individually, can do for the environment is switch to a plant-based diet. Never buying meat again could prevent a huge amount of CO2 from entering the atmosphere compared to other well-meaning actions like recycling or carrying a reusable bag. If you don’t believe me, here’s the study. Eating a plant-based diet is invaluable to lowering your carbon footprint, but it also offers several economic advantages. Unprocessed, plant-based protein sources like nuts, beans, and grains are non-perishable, allowing them to be bought in bulk for huge savings, and 0% of those foods will go to waste. Yes, fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and largely unavailable in food deserts, which primarily occur in underprivileged areas. But, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are very affordable, and help combat food waste by being almost non-perishable. Any money saved from buying meat products can be rerouted to the veggie budget. According to this New York Times article on climate change, “You’re better off eating vegetables from Argentina than red meat from a local farm.”
- The most sustainable mode of transportation is public. Many of the wealthy suburban white kids I grew up with still refuse to take the bus. In many cities, public transportation is, in the eyes of the elite, reserved for the lower classes. There’s a good reason for that. It’s the cheapest way to get around. Sure, the bus doesn’t have that new car smell, but neither will that boat you’ll have take in 50 years to get to the lost underwater city of Miami. (The icecaps are melting, guys.) As much as you can, take the train and the bus. Grab a Greyhound instead of a plane next time you travel. The money you’ll save will be noticeable, and the attention you’ll get for riding an 18 hour Greyhound to your friend’s wedding will be truly priceless.
- Buying no stuff is better than buying 100% sustainable, green-sourced, fair trade stuff. We are using too many resources. Every time we recycle, it uses energy. The water footprint for the clothes on your body is enormous. The best change you can make when it comes to your purchasing habits is to just stop purchasing. Hand-me-down or thrift store clothes have zero footprint, and they are even cheaper than that $4 shirt at H&M that will fall apart in two weeks anyway. Afraid people will judge you for getting secondhand Christmas gifts for your kids? The second you tell your friends (and your kids) it’s for environmental purposes, they’ll think you’re the classiest mom on the block.
- You don’t need a tiny house to live within your means in as small a space as possible. Want to be green? Don’t go over-budget when it comes to housing. Stay in your old, crappy apartment for as long as you can because keeping your building occupied requires way fewer fossil fuels than tearing it down and putting up some gentrifying luxury condos. Fix things when they break. Wash your dishes by hand. Broke moms have been doing this forever, but somehow the woman with solar panels on her McMansion and a reusable Starbucks cup is the liberal hippie treehugger in our minds. Earth needs us to drink fewer organic soy lattes, not more.
- Simplifying your beauty and cleaning routine will save you money (if you’re smart about it.) Don’t buy the Green Goddess Nature’s Kiss Organic Sanitizing spray for 3x the cost of Lysol. Buy a gallon of white vinegar and fill up that empty Lysol bottle with a vinegar-water solution and clean your house for months for just $2. Don’t go to LUSH for luxury natural soaps, just buy that box of store brand bar soap instead of your fruity body wash in the huge plastic bottle.
- Having a kid isn’t a good idea for anyone else right now either. You might be taking birth control religiously because the idea of raising a child on your salary and in your studio apartment is terrifying. Or, maybe you’re debating having a third because you can afford to. Earth says not to. We already have enough people sucking it dry, so the longer you wait to have kids and the fewer kids you do, the better. According to a recent study analyzing the impact of individual actions on climate change, having one fewer kid is the most eco-friendly thing you can do. So have your kids, but only 1 or 2. And teach them preachy things to say about climate change on the playground. Read the study here.
- Lower your standards. Broke moms are the true sustainability queens that we need but don’t deserve. They’ve been doing this for years. Maybe Clorox wipes do a better job than that vinegar solution and a rag, but they’re expensive and you don’t need them. Just use a little more elbow grease. Make beans and rice at home instead of getting Mexican takeout. It won’t be as good, but it will be vegan, cheap, and way fewer calories.
So, you may be broke now and already doing what I’ve suggested above. I beg you, though, when you’re lucky enough to move on up in the world and have the opportunity to buy tons of stuff to keep in your huge house, please remember that the way you’re living now is way more sustainable than shopping exclusively at Whole Foods and American Apparel. Now, go and beat those organic-$4-latte-solar-panel women at their own game.