Can consuming make you healthy and wealthy?

Our culture of consumerism is damaging to both our earth and our wallets.  One of my goals with this blog has been to document our steps away from the greed and gluttony of first world society and toward a more sustainable life – both monetarily and ecologically.  Fortunately they go hand-in-hand.

I haven’t approached this before on this blog, but between student loans and credit card debt from a previous failed business as well as our own poor financial planning, my husband and I have found ourselves deeply in debt – and almost dangerously so.  We have been working the past few years to erase that debt – although in the past few months we have finally become truly serious about it.  We’ve started using Dave Ramsey’s plan, which in theory is brilliant.  With the right attitude, I am confident it will work – because it’s about changing our mindsets about consuming, not just about getting out of debt.

I think that’s the key to changing our ecological habits, too.

If we can overcome the mentality that our self-worth is in what we own, instead of who we are, we can overcome the consumerist mentality.  We can overcome the burdens we’ve put upon ourselves in our search for satisfaction and adoration.

The problem with “going green” in the US is that it’s marketed as a salable lifestyle. Shop at whole foods, buy the right (and expensive) cleaning supplies, cash in your clunker, and install solar panels.  If you buy the right things, you will be so ecologically friendly.

These companies see green alright – in the form of cash.  But do their products really make the world cleaner?  Sure, that organic cotton t-shirt has fewer chemicals in it, but how much water did it take to grow the cotton so you could buy another t-shirt to add to your overflowing closet?  How much gas did it take to transport the cotton to the processing plant, the fiber to the spinners, the spun thread to the weaver, the fabric to the factory, and the finished product to the warehouse, where it sat until the store called for it?  We don’t see anything but the end product, so we don’t think about all of the resources it took just to make those items.  In the end, the fact that the cotton is organic is only an insignificant change in a long series of events that are no better than they ever were.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But it’s reached a new low. Yesterday a new commercial came on as I was watching a cartoon with the kids, and every time I saw it, I grew more disgusted.  The commercial advertised a book called “The Green Millionaire” by Nigel J. Williams  (Free with a trial membership to their emagazine, which is expensive  and probably impossible to cancel.)

The premise of this book is that there are ways to be green that will make you rich.  Most of the ideas appear to be fairly obvious and require purchases.  Some of the claims from the website:

Would you buy a used car from this guy?


“Get your share of the billions that will go unclaimed in Government “green” money.”

“Learn how to keep your gas tank full for free.”

On the commercial, the author talks about “making your electrical meter flow backwards” and getting cash for greening up your automobile, your appliances, and your home.

First of all, many of you have probably figured out exactly what he’s talking about with a lot of this.  The electrical meter – installing solar panels or wind generators may mean you can sell energy back to the electrical company.  But installation on that scale is still expensive and requires a good investment of money.  You won’t get rich on that, though I have heard of people making a small profit.  And what about the manufacturing process for the panels?  And disposal of old electric systems?

Gas for life?  Complaint boards are full of explanations – the book tells you to buy a diesel vehicle, install a biodiesel converter (more buying), and find a source of free used vegetable oil.  Where do I start?  Raw vegetable oil is not a legal motor fuel and will cost you in expensive government fines if you got caught using it.  It has to be converted to biodiesel to be truly efficient, which for the average person, could be costly as well.

Cash from the government for your clunker?  That program is over, and even when it was running, you wouldn’t see a dime of the money in your pocket.  It was a rebate – a discount, basically – off a brand new car.  When we bought our Chevy back in August, it simply meant we got a better deal. But we still paid $18,000 out of pocket in the form of a loan.  We aren’t getting richer, my dear readers.

We won’t even head in the direction as to whether or not the program was effective – considering an estimated 25% of the lifetime emissions on a vehicle is from the manufacturing process, it probably wasn’t.

And cash for your appliances?  That’s over, too, though the story is the same.  You may save some electicity, but the manufacturing and transporting process probably required a lot more than you will ever get back in green brownie points.

The book appears to talk about government grant money for “green” improvements.  You don’t need Williams’ book to get that information – it’s right here. And it’s free.

I could go on and on, but that’s not my point.  Everything this man advertises is scammy – not only is the internet fraught with complaints from consumers about this guy and his book, but nothing he says seems to come close to actually helping the environment or his readers’ wallets.  Every suggestion from the book that has been publicized requires buying stuff! Stuff that the average person doesn’t need to buy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The most “green” thing a person can do is not consume unnecessarily. Buying new things when what we have is perfectly serviceable is not ecologically friendly, and it’s not frugal.  (I also don’t think it’s morally wrong, just for the record.)

Here’s my plan to help the earth and grow my wealth:

1. I’m going to remove my financial obligations to others by paying what I owe so I can put future money in the bank.

2.  I’m going to buy what I need, and only a little of what I want, so that I have more cash to put towards those debts/savings and so I have less that requires manufacturing and disposal.

3. When I do buy, I’m going to buy mindfully – buying used when possible and choosing products that have a minimum of packaging – particularly packaging that can’t be recycled or reused.  I’ll also try to choose products that are as whole as possible – that is, they are as close to their natural state as possible, with fewer chemicals, dyes, chemical fragrances and preservatives.

4. And I’m going to consider whether or not I really need it.  Can I do without?  Can I use something else? Instead of buying the $10 all-purpose cleaner, can I use vinegar?  Baking soda?  Can I use potent essential oils to scent my house instead of buying fake smelling air freshener?  Could I use cloth napkins instead of paper or cloth menstrual pads instead of tossing away uncomfortable paper ones every month?

Ultimately, I know there will be purchases I make that will be unnecessary.  And that’s okay with me, as long as I’ve considered the things above and made a purchase bought with thought rather than compulsion.  And we must think about these things – our society is capable of change only when we change our minds about the necessity of consumption!

Advertisements

2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi – a fine post may I say and one that chimes perfectly with what we at Green Thing believe. In fact, I thought you might enjoy one of our campaigns about this called “Buy Nothing(tm)” 😉 http://www.dothegreenthing.com/amazero

    Reply

  2. Posted by Lisa on August 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you! I have been mad for years about all of these “rebates” for people to buy new furniture, appliances, vehicles. My question has always been…but what happens to the old stuff. It’s still workable and now it’s sitting and rotting in some landfills. And that rebate to buy a new car because it would help the environment…they put sand into all of the gas tanks on the trade-in cars and again they got sent to a junk yard to rot into the earth!!

    Wonderful post…absolutely wonderful.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: