Is thinking green and making greenbacks opposing ideas? In a word: No. So then why must economics and environmentalism be mortal enemies? Yes, calls for environmental protectionism often comes with a healthy dosage of regulations, and they usually fall upon businesses too. But there is no reason that the two can’t thrive merrily (and have a planet to do all that glorious thriving upon, too).
Free markets and businesses are super tight. Like, best friends. And free markets hate regulations. That’s the real trouble here. But what if we could find a middle ground between business and environmentalism? A mutually beneficial relationship whereby one hand feeds the other?
Is it possible to do both?
From an economic standpoint, businesses can profit from environmentalism. And vice versa. And it all comes down to the buyer. If the buyer wants something, then it becomes profitable for businesses to supply it to them (simple, right?). We saw this with the food revolution regarding GMO-free foods, and how, now, naturally sourced food businesses are booming. Thus, more firms could potentially profit if they adopted greener practices. But the buying community has to take the first step. Not the selling one.
The people have to want it first.
If we care about environmental issues, we can re-shape the markets accordingly. The business market does not shape us. And the buyer is truly in control of which direction the market will head, in many ways. The company Patagonia is a good example of a green business that is thriving. But, to be fair, their target market is hikers, bikers, etc. This demographic already adores nature due to the fact that they are constantly attached to, biking over or climbing upon it. This idea that exposure brings compassion is the driving principle behind programs like Every Kid in a Park, which waives the park admissions fee for fourth-graders across the country, and seeks to instill a love for these lands in children, with high-hopes that they will continue to care for and protect the parks throughout their entire lives.
Engagement breeds attachment
Creating this personal connection to the land is crucial. Nobody who lives in Los Angeles, for example, doubts that air pollution exists (regardless of whether they believe it to be a global issue). Perhaps in Denmark, however, the skeptics are more densely populated, with all of that fresh mountain air they are constantly breathing in. In the same vein, sorrow-filled documentaries that record the abuses of the planet are certainly exhaustingly sad to watch, but unless we are actually living in a decimated region, the sorrow is less likely to extend past our television or laptop.
Giving as many people as possible extensive access to publicly protected lands with programs such as Every Kid in a Park, and increasing education and knowledge of causes, will increase people’s appreciation and love for nature. The resulting increase in demand of environmentally friendly products and the resulting increase in supply will eventually drive costs down. It is only natural.
As Adam Smith writes in The Wealth of Nations (considered the premier text in classical economics), if the profits of a company in an untapped market were “commonly known [in this case, the sustainability business], then their great profit would tempt so many new rivals to employ their stocks in the same way, that … the market price soon would be reduced to the natural price, and perhaps for some time even below it.” (Who doesn’t love a good quote?).
In other words, if the people want it, it will become profitable, and the asking price for it will decrease as well, rendering the purchasing of it to be not overly-expensive.
Ways to help and save money!
So, there are a few things we can all do to go green, get in the spirit of this thing, so to speak, and help this green revolution to start truly going. If you live in the city then this tip is tricky, but if you live in a suburb or, better yet, the country: Then consider growing your own vegetables! It is an easy thing to do. It just takes a bit of planning, and they will surely taste better without all of those chemicals. Um. Did I mention you save money … on buying vegetables, specifically?
Let’s reverse the game here for a moment. If you live in the woods, this tip might not be for you. But if you live in the city, then this is a green-loving-no-brainer: Ditch the car! If you have one, get rid of it. And if you don’t have one, keep up the good work. See? You are an amazing environmentalist already, and you didn’t even know it. Look at you, riding that bike of yours to work. Bravo!
Ever heard of FreeCycle? Probably not. Online platforms such as this one deserve far more credit than they receive. And it is up to the consumer — as already mentioned — to boost the visibility of things like FreeCycle by demanding them more often. What FreeCycle does is provide a platform for members to post things that they need, and to get rid of things that they don’t. In this way, a sharing economy is established whereby reusability is the focus and the goal. Online sharing marketplaces such as FreeCycle not only save the “market-goers” tons of dough, but it also saves tons of resources that go into making these products. On a large scale, the impact could be transformative because it would drive down demand and thus products wouldn’t be made quite so often, and be quite so expendable either.
Here’s another example of how businesses and even the government can step up if the consumer just wants it bad enough. After all, money rules the world, so why not make that fact work in favor of the environment instead of against it? Harness the power of the sun (sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Harness the Power of the Sun II + III coming soon to a theater near you). Seriously though. Solar panels. These are especially doable in rural areas, though not so doable when you rent from a grumpy landlord. However, for those who can, it is possible to — speaking long-term here — see the difference both in the welfare of the environment and in your annual bottom line.
Ditch the straw! Did you know those plastic dispensables are used for roughly three minutes on average and waste away on landfills the size of New Mexico for 10,000 years? Consider investing in your own bottle so you don’t have to keep going through those things like hot cakes. Think about how much you can save on paper towels for instance, by just investing in a good, old-fashioned rag. It will decrease your monthly budgetary needs, for sure.
Consider vegetarianism, pescatarianism or, dare I say it veganism (Godspeed. No, seriously. If you can hack it, that’s dope for your wallet and your world.) You can cut your carbon footprint by at least 45 percent by becoming vegetarian (and probably closer to 60 percent by becoming vegan). Plus, the amount of money that each meal costs would be decreased by roughly 75 percent. Beans and legumes are super duper inexpensive compared to meat! Are you up to the challenge?
Be simple. Be minimalistic. Be Thoreau-in-the-woods spartan about your needs. Do you really require that second shower (see that rhyme)? Or to do laundry 17 days in a row? Can you forgo that third cappuccino? And do you really need plastic cups for the party, or can you get by and then do a cleaning-session after everybody leaves? Questions, questions…
Still not convinced? Well, there is definitely more to say on the subject.
Although business and the environment seem to be engaged in an epic and never-ending battle for the soul of humankind (too dramatic?) that doesn’t mean we can’t get in between the two colossal empires and say: “Well, this is what I want! I’m here, too.” If we’re lucky, we might even be able to show them how they can engage in a non-antagonistic and pro-symbiotic relationship with each other. Plus, let’s not be lazy with our thinking: In reality, going green is a money-saver, not a money-drainer (it just takes more effort). So there’s really no excuse. We have the power!
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