Sustainability — Is It Affordable?

Bloomberg News’ Alexis Benveniste took a look at the ever-expanding universe of eco-friendly products — from re-usable metal straws and aluminum water bottles to shoes made entirely from recycled plastic — and found most of them to be too expensive for the average American consumer to afford.  There are several products she points to as examples:

  • $24.50 for a metal straw (on sale) when the plastic one is free.
  • $99.50 for a reusable water bottle with a UV-C light in the cap to purify it, as opposed to a bottle of water that costs $2.
  • $20 for reusable beeswax instead of plastic wrap at $3/box to store food leftovers.
  • $145 for shoes made entirely of recycled plastic.

So what will it take to make all of this good green stuff affordable?  In a word, scale.  According to Joe Sandberg, the co-found of a financial firm that lends to sustainable companies, “Bringing down the prices of eco-friendly products will come from massively growing demand for eco-friendly products. The more we can make it easy for consumers to pick eco-friendly products, the more there will be a demand for those eco-friendly products and the more the prices for those products will fall.”

Why This Matters:  Affordability matters — whether it is for renewable power or reusable products for use in the home.  It took time and assistance from the government for renewable energy to scale up and become affordable — and it is only now beginning to reach more moderate-income communities.  For example, in California investor-owned utilities will spend $100 million bringing solar to low-income housing developments under the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program that will launch later this year.   The same is true with electric vehicles, as we wrote in January.  it will take patience and perseverance for scaling of eco-friendly products to happen — but it will also require companies to be willing to sell these products at prices that make them affordable even when demand is high. And perhaps some government incentives and investment too.  In the meantime, the best strategy is to keep these products on the market by buying “green” as much as possible and feasible.  In the meantime, we will keep an eye out for affordable green products and pass on those tips to you.  

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