It has recently become quite fashionable for companies to market their products as "green" and "eco-friendly" and "low-impact". All of this is well and good--don't get me wrong, I really do think that the environment deserves a bit of our consideration, if only because letting it go out of whack is gonna get us all killed.

There's only one problem:


You can all believe that the average consumer can discriminate between green products and non-green ones, but ultimately none of that matters. The real cost to the environment is not from using arsenic in our iPod LCDs. The real cost is from the fact that an iPod lasts reliably for only a couple of years. They are designed to fall apart. Why?


Companies are not stupid; they want to generate as much revenue as possible. At present, "green" is just the fad, the gimmick, the way to move more inventory than the other guy. The best way to describe this is through an example deployed by Terry Pratchett's character Samuel Vimes:

  • A rich man can afford to buy boots that cost $50 and last him 10 years
  • A poor man can only afford to buy $10 boots that last one year, because $10 is what he has
  • After ten years, the poor man has spent twice as much as the rich man and still has wet feet.

The company selling $10 boots makes more than the company selling $50 boots, too. Because of that fact alone, $10 boots are the best business model for the company, which means the company has a disincentive to produce quality product.

"But, webmaren," you say, "I'm not a poor man. I can buy the $50 boots."

Now here comes the inconvenient truth (loosely) about An Inconvenient Truth:


People buy based on price. Really. I know. How do you think Capitalism works?

People buy at the lowest price they can find because they want to pay as little for each item as possible. This can work out fine, in fact it worked out just fine for hundreds of years, mainly because everybody was the poor man. Then something funky happened.

The rise of the middle class meant that people who were used to thinking like the poor men suddenly had enough money to stop doing that. But they didn't. Walk into any house, anywhere, of a middle-class person (including mine). What do you find? You find a bunch of stuff that isn't being used. Not ever. Why? Because we keep thinking like the poor man.

The poor man's thought process treats any spending money as extremely valuable and extremely uncertain. So he spends it in order to make it into something that is certain. But rather than spending on a few purchases of well-designed products, he spends on a lot of poorly-made products. I live in a four-person household that has seating arrangements for twelve people. I cannot remember the last time we needed all of those chairs, but we bought them.

Anyway, where this really becomes a problem is the lifespan of the products. When you buy a product that degrades quickly in order to save money, all that you're doing is increasing the cost to yourself and to the environment. Waste is our number one problem. Cut out waste and you cut out lots and lots of pollution, lots of decomposition-proof plastic, lots of strip-mined countrysides.

The solution:


If you really want to be green, toss the idea that you need a lot of stuff. Toss the idea that you should buy something because it looks good or is cheap, and start buying things because they'll last a long time. Until those notions are gone, we'll keep buying too much stuff, and we'll keep ending up tossing it by the wayside, wrecking the planet.

Maybe this is offensive. Maybe this won't make you change anything. Maybe it's too much yelling. But I'm betting on "Maybe this makes you think". I like the bet.

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