Green is good, and it’s getting even better.
You can’t help but notice. There seem to be more organic foods available at your favorite grocery or warehouse shopping store. The media is paying more attention to the development of renewable energy, and some governments and private businesses have begun to invest heavily in this industry. Everyone seems to be talking about climate change. Healthy living is a big buzz word these days: the obesity problem in the US, the farm-to-table movement brought into schools, the importance of eating fresh over processed foods, and the ways that people are being exposed to toxic chemicals in their flooring, child car seats, lotions, sunscreens, and other personal care products have all made major headlines within the past year.
Public alarm at the increase in diseases like autism, cancer, and disorders like nut allergies, neurological ailments and infertility is high. Estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network are that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. today have autism spectrum disorder. This has led some parents to ask out loud what environmental factors have caused this rise in the numbers.
More people are paying attention to the things that pollute the air, their bodies, and the environment.
Green businesses are booming, too. The US Bureau of Labor reports that from 2010-2011, employment in green industries grew at a rate four times faster than employment in all industries combined. A rise in the renewable energy sector and decline in fossil fuel demand (along with the falling price of crude oil) are a large part of the reason for this boom.
So what does this mean for you, your family, and your wallet?
Here are 3 ways in which the growing green movement benefits you and those around you:
1. The prices of green foods and personal care products are going down.
Demand for organic and non-GMO food currently outstrips supply, but this trend is rapidly changing. Big retailers like Wal-Mart and warehouses like Costco have begun to offer organic and non-GMO foods at prices well below those of industry stalwarts like Whole Foods. In some cases, they offer their own store brand organics, which are usually cheaper than other brands.
While it seems like a promising development, consumers have to be savvy about their purchases to know if these companies are merely “greenwashing” their products. Greenwashing occurs, for example, when a company promotes its organic products but fails to mention that their factories cause extensive pollution or that their supply chain is inefficient in its use of energy. One of the most egregious forms of “greenwashing” occurs when companies promote as “organic” a product that does not contain 100% organic ingredients.
The good news is, there are more resources available for consumers to make informed choices. One good set of resources can be found in the Environmental Working group’s consumer guides. These guides rate food, personal care, and household products, and suggest green alternatives to the toxic choices currently on the market.
Overall, the national trends in the US and Canada are towards an increased availability of organic and non-GMO products. That creates competition, and competition historically translates into cheaper prices for consumers.
2. Small businesses are doing a better job of reaching you and encouraging you to buy their cheaper, greener products.
While big businesses are jumping on the organic and green bandwagons, small businesses are benefitting from the rising green movement as well. Initiatives from the US federal government include the 2014 Farm Bill, which enabled the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program. This program provides grants and incentives to small farmers to distribute their products more effectively in their local communities. Maybe you’ve noticed more offerings from local farmers in your grocery stores – they tend to be cheaper, too, since they don’t have to be shipped from long distances. They also taste fresher and are packed with more nutrients.
Back in Feb 2014, I blogged about CSAs (community supported agriculture) and how they can dramatically slash your grocery bill if you use them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Many CSAs now also accept WIC and SNAP benefits or allow low-income customers to pay by the week. In some cases it translates into only $10 a week for farm fresh fruits and vegetables.
Other businesses, such as those that focus on household and personal care products, are taking advantage of business models that allow you to reap financial benefits in exchange for promoting their products and services. By becoming an affiliate, for example, you can get products for little to no cost, and even generate extra income. Details about some of the best programs out there and how to take advantage of them are included in my forthcoming ebook, Go Green without Going Broke, which will be published in a few weeks.
3. Schools are creating, and educating, this generation and future generations of environmental advocates.
Schools and higher education institutions are poised to become models of environmental sustainability that others can emulate. With support and recognition at the level of local communities and government, and with incentives coming from the federal level, schools are at the vanguard of social activism in the growing green movement. Some schools have become the sites of local initiatives that are designed to raise funds in exchange for partnerships with companies seeking to promote their green products and services. Other schools have been able to reduce their operating costs through the use of alternative energies like solar power. Still other schools are providing education (including free classes) for local communities about how they can benefit from green initiatives and business opportunities in their area.
By and large, these initiatives benefit not only the schools themselves, but the surrounding community, catalyzing change by educating others about adopting healthier, greener lifestyles and by getting the community to develop solutions to shared environmental challenges and their related problems (such as racial and social justice and their interrelatedness with sustainability issues).
Overall, there are a growing number of nationally recognized green schools in the US such as those that participate in the Green Schools Initiative, based in Berkeley CA; the Green Schools Alliance, based in New York City; and the Green Schools national networks and conferences in the Midwest. A number of colleges and universities have also made one or more nationally ranked lists of the top green schools. These institutions all work to reduce energy costs, raise awareness about sustainability and climate change issues, teach parents about how to make more environmentally conscious choices, and export ideas and strategies to others.
Although schools in poor urban and rural regions remain underrepresented in the ranks of green schools, the trend suggests an overall upswing in the number of green initiatives being spearheaded or sponsored by institutions of learning.
These trends in the growing green movement suggest something fundamentally different than its earlier counterparts. These days, the movement’s reach is much broader and more vocal than in decades past. It relies not only on emotion or spiritual overtones to galvanize action, but also on scientific data. The passion and commitment of the people who are part of this movement – and of those who become part of it – will ultimately determine if the “go green” trend continues in the long term. Given the environmental stakes, consumers, corporations, governments, communities, and individuals need to become more proactive in going green. It’s not only a lifestyle choice any more. Our collective future depends on it.