Posted on February 12, 2016 @ 04:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Sometimes it is a fine line between being green and being cheap. Is the person upcycling old pallets into furniture doing it because they want to be green or because they don't want to spend money?
If the person simply doesn't want to spend money then it is a nice side-effect that they can also advertise themselves as being green. The fact that it is often difficult to tell the difference between being green and being cheap means that there are at least 2 routes to being green - the eco-minded route or the cheap route.
What is the best way to achieve the goal of being green? My own attempt to be green is more of an intellectual than a lifestyle commitment. For example, I generally drive my small truck in cases where I could be biking to get where I need to go. If I was cheaper about not spending money on fuel I'd be living a greener lifestyle. I, like many people, wonder why so many green people fly to conferences to discuss sustainability issues. I suppose they have to meet sometime but if they were cheap would they find greener ways to coordinate on these issues?
North Americans consume more than our fair share of the world resourses. By any measure our lifestyle is less green than someone in a developing country. The big difference is the amount of money we have available for consumption. If we curb that consumption through voluntary cheapness then we might achieve higher levels of sustainability. Some might call the lifestyle voluntary simplicity but voluntary cheapness might be a core element of that lifestyle. David Holmgren (co-founder of Permaculture) prefers the term voluntary frugality and maybe you would as well.
The idea of "homesteading" is arguably becoming a more popular ideal these days. The idea of making your own food, building your own stuff, making your own medicines and so on is attractive to many people. Some methods of homesteading are more energy and resource intensive than others. Ben Hewitt in his book, The Nourishing Homestead (2015), offers up a good example of how to do cheap homesteading.
Even though they use alot less energy to run their house and farm than most people, Ben's family is always looking for ways to eliminate the need to use purchased energy to run things. In part this reflects concerns over whether energy will be as easy to obtain in the future, and it may also reflect a committment to being green, but I can't help feeling that Ben likes to operate his homestead as cheaply as possible so that he doesn't have to run as fast on the economic treadmill to maintain a lifestyle he enjoys. Any green halo he might enjoy is secondary to his goal of living cheaply.
One example of Ben's ecocheap lifestyle is how he refrigerates his food. Because he lives in Vermont and experiences cold conditions for a good chunk of the year, he decided to purchase an insulated cabinet, or icebox, and vent the icebox to the outside world. Viola, refrigeration for free. Living off grid for most of your life, and being cheap, makes you think up innovative ways like this to reduce energy consumption.
Cheap often has a negative connotation which is probably deserved in some cases. I think, however, that our consumptive society also gives being cheap a bad name. If we were all cheap our economy would grind to a halt.
If Ben's lifestyle is anything to go by, yes he is cheap in some things, but he is also willing to spend money where he feels the investment will yield the greatest return. In his case, it involves investing in the soil around his farm. Purchasing a wide range of amendments to get the balance in his soil that he is looking for. He will also spend money on greenhouses to grow food. He won't spend money on energy to heat them preferring to rely on free passive solar energy instead.
I would agree that if we were cheap in all things that would be a problem for the economy. If we are selectively cheap then I think the argument does not hold. It is all a matter of how we want to invest our money. Which industries we are willing to support and which ones we won't support.
I think we need to take seriously the connection between being cheap and being green because being cheap is often a more sure-footed way to being green than through eco-mindedness. How to be green is often not clear whereas how not to spend money generally is. Ben Hewitt's book provides some useful guidance on what an ecocheap lifestye consists of if you want to learn more.