23 April 2007

Paying the Piper

Save the planet - just not on my dime
Consumers are clamoring for everyone from governments to corporations to green up their act - everyone, that is, except themselves.
By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer
April 12 2007: 7:25 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Everyone wants to be green. But when it comes to ponying up the cash, parting with the green can be a bit more difficult.

A number of recent studies suggest consumers - ever pressuring corporations to clean up and recently kicking out a Republican-controlled Congress seen as less than enthusiastic on the environment - are not willing to pay extra for green products.

In a nationwide telephone poll, the consumer behavior research firm America's Research Group found that while 43 percent of shoppers say protecting the environment is important, only 18 percent said they were willing to pay extra for an environmentally sound product.

The same poll also said only a quarter of shoppers were willing to pay 5 cents extra per grocery bag to cover recycling costs.

Passing the buck on fuel economy
In England, a recent survey by MORI Research said only 10 percent of flyers were willing to tack on an extra $3 to an airline ticket to offset the carbon used during the trip, usually accomplished through a tree-planting program.

"You listen to people talk about concern for greenhouse gases and they say 'it's important, but I'll let someone else pay for it,'" said Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group.

Now two polls don't necessarily make a trend, and it's easy to point to a number of green products that have gained in popularity.

Take organic food. According to the Organic Trade Association, sales have gone from under $4 billion in 1997 to nearly $14 billion in 2005, despite the fact that organic food generally costs more.

And Japanese automakers are burying their Detroit counterparts when it comes to sales growth, partly because their cars are seen as more fuel efficient.

But both these products offer benefits that go beyond simply saving the environment - there's the health factor with eating organic and saving money at the pump with a car that gets better gas mileage.

This leads some to suggest that what's needed to benefit the planet isn't individual sacrifice per say, but rather macroeconomic incentives to encourage better products to begin with.

"There is only so much an individual can do," said Liz Hitchcock, a spokeswoman for U.S. Public Interest Research group. "The solutions are economy wide."

Tim Sanchez, spokesman for the Center for a New American Dream, said people may be willing to pay more for things if they simply knew more about what products were available.

"A lot of people don't want to take the time to figure out how to do this," said Sanchez, whose center happens to provide a Web site offering help with just this kind of thing. "Americans lead very busy lives, they just need the tools."

We've become so accustomed to having everything cheap and plentiful that we've been willing to sweep the costs of environmental damage and subsidized energy under the rug for decades. Now the time to pay up for these mismanagements is coming due and no one wants to fess up or pony up. Well, the big surprise here might be that there will be nothing we can do to mitigate this. We will either be forced to start paying a lot more for everything, or we'll just continue the delusion and ponzi scheme until there really is nothing left to buy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons people are resisting a "tax" (myself included) is you are never sure if all (or any) of that money is going towards its intended purpose. Take the DRM tax you pay on writable DVDs and portable music players - is all that money going back to the artists. Umm... no. On the other hand, I suspect people don't mind paying more for an actual organic product because they feel they are getting immediate value from their purchase and providing business to the company of their choice.

- Dennis