"The thing is, I care about the environment. And everybody knows that it costs more to live green."
That statement — or something very similar — inevitably pops up whenever I talk about the virtues of living a more frugal lifestyle. So it may come as a surprise to learn that I've been an ardent environmentalist my whole adult life. In fact, my decision to live a more cost-conscious lifestyle is largely based on my desire to live lighter on the planet.
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It's been in only the last decade or so that Americans have started equating "living green" with buying specialized — and often higher-priced — green products. For the most part, that's faulty thinking. True green living costs less, not more. The fact is that if you're a typical American, the most earth-friendly thing you can do isn't to buy pricey green products, but simply to buy and consume less. It's just that simple.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, if everyone on the planet consumed at the levels that we do here in the U.S., it would take three planet Earths to provide the resources necessary to sustain us. Americans are only 5 percent of the world's population, but we consume 30 percent of the world's resources. According to U.S. Census data, the rate of per capita consumption (i.e., the amount of "stuff" we consume) has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 30 years.
So the good news is, what's good for the environment is usually good for your wallet, too. Here are some examples of how you can save some green while living green:
Cleaning Products. Specialized green cleaning products are definitely better for the environment, but a quick survey in the cleaning aisle of my local grocery store reveals that they typically cost 50 percent to 150 percent more than their toxic equivalents. Don't despair. Good old-fashioned products like baking soda and vinegar can be used to clean nearly all household surfaces. They cost only pennies per application and are even lighter on the environment than many specialized green cleaning products.
Hybrid Cars. There's no denying the fact that hybrid cars get better gas mileage and have lower emissions than cars with a conventional internal combustion engine. But most hybrids will set you back $25,000 or more, creating a price differential compared with many new nonhybrid models that's difficult to recoup in gas savings alone. Even if your current car is a relative gas guzzler, it's likely to be more eco-friendly (and much more economical) to drive than a hybrid if you simply drive less, consolidate trips and carpool when possible. Driving your 55-mpg hybrid to the office every day by yourself may make you feel green, but carpooling with four friends in an 18-mpg clunker uses much less gas and creates less pollution per passenger. Of course, all driving options pale in comparison to what are always the greenest and cheapest options of all — using public transportation, walking or bicycling whenever possible.