Why do environmentally friendly products suck? Economics 101

ScotchMagicGreenerTapeMy economics 101 lesson for today is not to my students, nor to the future policy makers they will one day become, but to the people that ‘make stuff’. Not the industry of people who sell or market the stuff that other people make, but to the designers, engineers, and scientists who create it. Because quite honestly, my students won’t be able to do their job and save the planet if you keep falling asleep on yours. And so the lesson begins…

I’m at the grocery store the other day doing a regular round of single mom speed shopping. I send my oldest to get scotch tape while the others finish a game of tea ball in Aisle 9. Much to my consternation, my son returns with double priced fancy tape. Of course my gut reaction is to impart a lesson in frugality and send him back for working class tape. But before I begin the perennial ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’ speech, I notice that this tape is marketed as ‘greener’. Assuming that this justified the double cost and seeking to impart a different lesson on my son that day, I agree to buy it and we enjoy a teaching moment in the importance of saving the earth one step at a time. With the exception of the angry woman who caught a tea ball to the head on Aisle 9, we left the grocery store with a self satisfied glow of doing our part. That is until we get home and figure out that the damn tape is worthless. It won’t stick, and it won’t stop when you pull it out. Pretty much the two things you need tape to do. So as we make a quick run to CVS to purchase the real stuff, I catch myself complaining to my son about the expensive worthless tape. At this point it dawns on me…the real lesson I imparted to my son that day is that environmentally friendly products suck.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a reduce, reuse, and recycle kind of parent. But the tape debacle really got me thinking, and I started taking an inventory around the house of all the environmentally friendly products I have that suck. For example, those G diapers that my youngest defecated straight through as an infant…$100 investment in diaper infrastructure down the toilet. Or all those organic fruits and vegetables tossed directly in the compost because they went bad the day after I bought them, or maybe they just didn’t satisfy the taste buds of my environmentally unfriendly children. Or what about that toilet paper that scratched up everyone’s nether regions…now that was a nightmare. Or those double priced eggs I buy just to know that the poor chicken inmate is designated ‘cage free’, as if there is anything free about being an egg laying chicken.

So here is my economics lesson for the day… A rational consumer such as myself won’t be duped for long. We all make decisions every day and balance our choices and opportunity costs to maximize our well being, or utility in economics lingo. I show my preferences towards the environment by regularly purchasing green products. I’m convinced…’save the earth’, ‘buy green’, etc. etc. I believe in toxin free environmentally friendly products, and I’m willing to pay more for them. But that is not enough, and I have my limits. If the earth is made better off by these products, so too should be the people who purchase them. For goodness sake, make tape that sticks! Throw a single mom a bone and make a product that lasts for more than a day. Or eventually someone is going to catch on to this ruse and start a ‘shit on green’ campaign, and I just may be their first donor.

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