Thursday, February 22, 2007

Save Money, Save the Planet

Sometimes saving the planet seems like a middle-class fad. It's so expensive, isn't it? Organic food costs more than conventional food, eco-friendly cleaning products cost more than the standard alternatives, low-energy light bulbs cost more than regular ones, and as for solar panels, wind turbines, hybrid cars? Forget it.

It's true that many canny marketers have jumped onto the green bandwagon as an excuse to peddle expensive products, but that's not the essence of an environmental lifestyle. A simple maxim that will get you far is "if it saves money, it's probably saving the planet". If you can't afford low energy light bulbs (actually they'll save you around £100 over their lifetime) just turn off as many lights as you can. There's nothing magic about LE light bulbs that's good for the planet. They just use less electricity. You can use less electricity with a regular light bulb too, by turning it off.

If you can't afford organic food, can you grow some of your own? I once grew cherry tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill of a 3rd-floor flat, and the plant grew so big no light got into the kitchen. We had delicious organic tomatoes every day all summer for the cost of a packet of seeds.

"Eco" cleaning products cost more, but bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and soda crystals are cheap as chips. Hot water and lots of elbow grease is cheaper still. I've got an "A" rated tumble dryer that cost more than a less efficient one, but I make my biggest savings in energy by drying on a line as often as I can. Anyone can do this. Washing at 30-degrees and leaving out the detergent altogether saves money without forking out for "eco" washing powder (I tested this a few months ago and now I don't use any detergents, but find my clothes still get clean without them). Or try using just half the amount of your regular detergent - keep reducing the amount until you find the minimum that gets the clothes clean.

Forget about solar panels and wind turbines. The first thing we all need to do is to reduce the amount of energy we use in the first place, and that means saving money. Drawing curtains after dark, stopping draughts (with home-made draught excluders perhaps), lowering your thermostat, insulating your hot water tank (an old duvet does a great job at this), turning off lights and so on all save money and save the planet as well. Once you are as energy efficient as possible you might want to think about generating your own power, but it makes no sense at all to cover your roof with photovoltaic panels generating electricity that is promptly wasted.

People who are really hard up struggle to run a car, and minimise their journeys because they know how much it costs in petrol. They don't dream of flying all over the place, but maybe save up all year for one holiday with a budget airline or holiday in their home country. It's the well-to do who have the largest carbon footprints, and paying out some of their expendable income on a great big wind turbine for the side of their house may look green but it really isn't making much of an impact. So if you feel you can't afford to be green, you probably already are.


Frankie Baby said...

Excellent advice, I completely agree. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: How to save money and be greener at the same time but WITHOUT spending more. This week I decided we should try harder at doing one big shop less frequently and then walking or cycling to the smaller shops near by. The extra exercise wont do us any harm either.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately your maxim "if it saves money, it's probably saving the planet" doesn't necessarily hold true.

We've just found that while we've cut our electricity consumption for the second year in a row, we're actually paying more for what we do use. (Actually, we've been cutting back for longer but this is the comparison period.)

We've cut electricity consumption by 7.32 per cent but electricity prices have risen by 19.61 per cent and that means the bill for this quarter was 12.29 per cent higher than the same quarter last year.

I suppose you could argue that we have made a cost "saving" as without our cut in consumption we'd have paid even more but even a 12.29 per cent rise in cost is far above any rise in income we've had.

Full details over my blog as I don't want to repeat myself!

Melanie Rimmer said...

You're right, Stoney, it's not always true that cheaper options are better for the environment. But broadly speaking environmental footprint correlates with income. I was trying to emphasise that living "greener" isn't just a luxury available to rich people. Anyone can "green" their lifestyle, whatever their income.

Yellow said...

Adding to this, when I get up on a morning I go round opening all the curtains. Even at this time of year it's light enough to get dressed by at 6.30 am, and far better than walking round the house turning the lights on.

Anonymous said...

If only people remembered that in the seventies (when we grew up) everything cost more. Energy was expensive, people saved up for years to buy a tumble dryer and we had fewer clothes, fewer holidays and less of everything. Much of what we think we need is unnecessary, certainly to our happiness. Good old fashioned thrift is good for the planet and our wallets.

Anonymous said...

Hi - here's a good site with cleaning tips using traditional cleaning products like vinegar, bicarb, borax and soap flakes. As you say, they're dead cheap and a lot less harmful on the environment. Dri-Pak>

Anonymous said...

Really nice post, I like your approach on this point because there is always a strong debate on "green lifestyle" is for rich people...blabla (like we say in France).
I'll try to translate you post to put it on my french "green-blog".(If you allow me, of course... )

Organic City Garden said...

Hi Melanie - I understand where you are coming from entirely. Unfortunatley, in setting up my raised bed organic veg plot at home, I seem to be incurring costs every which way I turn!

My paper potter has been a huge success though - not only does it allow me to make "free" pots from a biodegradeable material, it will also prevent me from buying hundreds of border and patio plants each spring because I can now grow them myself.

I have really enjoyed your blog over the past few months and credit you partly for my first blogging attempt!

Anonymous said...

Wolfie, keep a close eye on the former for your paper potter - especially if there are children around!

My wooden former has vanished for the second time in three days and I need it as I have a huge amount of seed to sow. But can the children remember where they left it?

No chance!

Melanie Rimmer said...

Dmitri, certainly you may translate and publish the article on your site as long as you give me credit and link to the original article. Thanks for asking.

Wolfie, it's great that you've started blogging. I've added a link to your blog and I'm looking forward to reading your posts.

Stoney, where did you get your pot-maker? I make pots using toilet rolls as a former and I find my rolling pin fits inside perfectly for bashing the bottoms into a neat shape.

Anonymous said...

I like your title-challenge and your post as well. I absolutely agree with you. You have given good advice.

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