We're glad there's a healthy skepticism around green products—there's definitely a lot of greenwashing going on.
But it's mostly good news. We're seeing green everywhere we go... and we mean everywhere, from Chicago to California to Oregon, and it seems not a day goes by without a new green product—one that's actually green—at a store such as Home Depot... the kind of store that used to stand as a symbol for all things un-green. There's a simple economic explanation for all of this: it's cheaper for huge stores to sell goods, and most people, despite what they may say, like a bargain. It's human nature to maximize every opportunity. And for most Americans, cost is going to be more and more important if the downturn in housing continues.
Take bamboo countertops, for example: it seems like such an obvious product: green, simple, good-looking. But all bamboo products are made in China, which means they have to be shipped. The only cost-effective way to ship something from China is to put it in a container. And here's where the economics of scale come in. First, big chains pay less to ship products over (this article claims Home Depot pays about 2/3 the rate charged to a small company importing bamboo countertops.) Second, big box stores can sell just about anything by the container load quickly and easily -- where as for your local green store, it might take years to sell a container load of flooring, tying up the store's space and money.
The challenge is that the story we've all been telling about green products and local products assumes that bargain shopping—people's basic behavior as consumers—will disappear with increased awareness of green values. That may be what happens to those of us who've had a particular kind of green awakening, but we should remember that this is not the case for everyone.
image of shipping containers by athewma via sxc.hu