On Judging Expensive Products and People Who Buy Them

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Over the past few months we’ve read a number of comments across blogs eviscerating products (and the people who own them) that are expensive or newly purchased on the grounds that ‘true’ green living means being, essentially, frugal. Even if the products in question have definable green qualities or aesthetic value (i.e. sustainably manufactured, locally produced, durable or iconic, etc), these comments communicate a No-Exceptions policy: don’t spend money, buy only secondhand, and don’t buy it if you can DIY it. But this dogmatic view is at odds with the following fact: most products, practices, and designs that are shaping our world and changing it for the better cost money. So how can we demand better products if we’re not willing to pay for them?

The confusing part about this line of thinking is that we’d venture to guess the same people who appear outraged at the price of a handmade textile or handcrafted piece of furniture, and who express distaste at the presence of a newly-purchased Knoll chair would also likely state that they support local artisans and believe in the importance of knowing where their stuff comes from, that they in fact believe it’s very important for large, industry-standard-setting companies to implement strict environmental standards for their products and actively work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other waste, source their materials from sustainable or renewable resources, and eliminate the use of hazardous substances in their products. (All things Knoll states they’re working on as laid out in their aggressive 8-point environmental strategy.)

So why is there a barbed undercurrent to these comments? Why is there such a backlash against any display of consumption?

Don’t get us wrong: we support buying less. We support buying secondhand. We support DIY’ing. (In fact, we love nothing better than a great DIY.) But we believe this NOT because we’re against consuming. Rather, we believe first and foremost that one should purchase things carefully, thoughtfully, and with an eye for what will make your home a healthier and more beautiful place. We believe in good design, and we believe in supporting the future of good, green design. And we know that doesn’t come cheap.

Here’s some food for thought, as written by William McDonough in Cradle to Cradle:

We are accustomed to thinking of industry and the environment as being at odds with each other, because conventional methods of extraction, manufacture, and disposal are destructive to the natural world… the environmental message that “consumers” take from all this can be strident and depressing: Stop being so bad, so materialistic, so greedy. Do whatever you can, no matter how inconvenient, to limit your “consumption.” Buy less, spend less, drive less, have fewer children—or none. Aren’t the major environmental problems today—global warming, deforestation, pollution, waste—products of your decadent Western way of life? If you are going to help save the planet, you will have to make some sacrifices, share some resources, perhaps even go without. And fairly soon you must face a world of limits. There is only so much the Earth can take.
Sound like fun? We have worked with both nature and commerce, and we don’t think so…
We see a world of abundance, not limits. In the midst of a great deal of talk about reducing the human ecological footprint, we offer a different vision. What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate and abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?

Feel free to tell us where you stand on this.

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