Within the conversation of sustainability comes the reality that at some point we have to change our lifestyle habits in order to lessen our impact on the environment. And that can be inconvenient. It’s time consuming. It can be expensive – especially now, at the forefront of this development. I, like anyone, want to make the money I earn go as far as possible. I also want to make choices in my purchasing that I believe in.
Compromises are often made on quality or sustainability in the name of tight budgets, and what we are able, or unable, to afford. We’ve gotten used to the idea that certain categories are “inexpensive” and when faced with a version that is made and sourced locally, there inevitably comes some sticker shock. We’re not used to spending a lot of money on everyday products. Flyswatters, for example, are cheap plastic items that I want to pay as little as possible for at the dollar store. So when presented with a choice that is handmade with quality materials at 15 x the price, does my commitment to supporting sustainable manufacturing hold up?
Overseas production, with cheap labor, materials and shipping, made a wide range of products affordable and accessible to a large segment of people – resulting in a low “normal” price for many everyday goods. That wood and leather flyswatter might last many more years than the plastic one and lessen the load on a landfill, but what determines if it is “worth” the price? Longevity of use? A personal desire to support local craftsmen? Aesthetic appreciation? Concern over workers’ conditions? Each of us has our own hierarchy of priorities, creating a daily balancing act of where we place our money.
One important factor is differentiating “good value” and “good deal.” So much depends on branding, packaging and perception. Tracing down the line of production, there is money being removed from sections of that chain to achieve that price. Someone is inevitably on the losing end of a “good” deal.
As consumers, we are the groundbreakers – and with change comes growing pains. The prices we pay for many mass-produced products are, in a way, fake – achievable only due to low wages and inexpensive materials. At some point, these discrepancies will even out. The cost of making overseas goods won’t be cheap anymore; they will be closer to the “real” price. Wages will rise in developing countries, providing workers with a more comfortable and healthy life – and domestic prices will fall the more we support local manufacturing, allowing makers to not only survive but thrive. Each quality purchase we make now is an investment into our health, our economy and the world as a whole. If we demand better for ourselves, we will improve.
What does “good value” mean for you? Let us know in the comments below.