Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do Greener Products Really Need to Cost More?

--Feature: "Greener One w/Molly Hovorka"--

Hardly a day goes by when I don't see a headline about how consumers will or won't pay more for a particular kind of green product or service. It makes me wonder where this question came from, and why it is so pervasive. Certainly some "green" products cost more; we see this on shelves all over the country. But is it really necessary for green products to cost more, or have we all just been conditioned to think that they have to?

Hardly a day goes by where I also don't see an article about the financial benefits of sustainable business practices (for example, the cost savings realized by becoming more energy efficient). If "going green" puts a company more firmly in the black, are higher prices still justified?

Some people point to the higher cost of organic food ingredients or to paying a proper wage to fair trade producers. Others will cite employers who foot the bill for a solid benefits package for their employees or other socially-forward thinking activities. And there is merit in those arguments, no question.

Still, there are companies that seem to manage to have sustainable business practices while being priced competitively. One company that comes to mind in this regard is the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which was recently recognized by the Environmental Defense Fund in its 2008 Innovations Review. Sierra Nevada does some amazing things in their plant, currently generating 80% of their own electricity, having one of the largest fuel cell installations in the country, and reusing their waste methane among them. The company is also a leader in recycling, winning Waste Reduction Awards Program awards from the state of California every year since 2001.

I popped down to the corner store before writing this post to check the price of Sierra Nevada compared to other beers on the shelf. Despite its green innovations (I'm sure the fuel cell installation didn't come cheap), Sierra Nevada was no more expensive than other beers of its category, and in some cases was even less expensive. Other examples of comparably priced products that are greener include Stonyfield Farm and Trader Joe's yogurt, which have reduced packaging, General Mills, which reduced the shape of noodles in Hamburger Helper to reduce packaging volume by 20%, and Procter & Gamble and Unilever, in association with Wal-Mart, which changed their liquid detergents to concentrated formulas to reduce water, plastic, and cardboard consumption.

Hopefully I won't be surveyed with the question "Are you willing to pay more for a green product?" because my answer is not a simple Yes or No. It's an "It Depends," and the dependency is not whether the product is a computer or shampoo.

*This post originally appeared on the Greener One blog.

Molly Hovorka is a co-founder and the marketing director of Greener One, an eco-ratings community that gives you the tools and information you need to make greener choices. In addition, Molly writes the Greener One blog on, as well as the Greener One column on The Lohasian - both providing product reviews from a green perspective as well as environmental news and commentary. To compare products or to share your product knowledge with other conscious consumers, visit

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