by Chris Towery
Wherever you look these days, the media is touting the latest green innovation. Whether it’s hybrid cars, wind farms, solar panels or biofuels, typically the flashiest, most expensive green inventions get the most attention. Given this, it’s easy to see why some people think they have to spend lots of money to go green.
“In typical American fashion, many people think embracing the green movement means buying lots of new stuff, including lots of really expensive stuff,” says Jeff Yeager, who writes the blog “The Green Cheapskate” on www.thedailygreen.com.
With that mindset, the current economic crisis may bode poorly for the green movement. In fact, we may be already witnessing a scaling back of environmental enthusiasm. In early 2008, when gas prices were topping $4 a gallon, there was widespread support for alternative fuels, and people actually began driving less. Now, with the recession in full swing and gas prices below $2, some of that support has faded.
“Six months ago, high oil prices, easy credit and political pressure led many governments to promote biofuels, wind farms and nuclear projects,” wrote reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times. “But the logic of spending more on such plants has at least partly evaporated.”
Massage therapists with modest incomes may be particularly vulnerable to seeing the recession as an obstacle to going green. If you’re struggling financially, spending a substantial amount of money to be green is not just impractical, it can be impossible.
However, becoming eco-conscious doesn’t have to mean spending lots of cash. In fact, some of the greenest choices cost little or no money at all. By taking these simple steps to reduce your practice’s environmental impact, you can actually save money, increase business and create a renewed sense of loyalty among clients.
Excessive marketing is one reason going green has become so entwined with spending money. At some point, advertising executives realized if they were packaged correctly, green products could be a cash cow. Now there’s no end to the number of green products available—from dog toys made of recycled sweaters to environmentally friendly cuff links. But with such overkill, the environmental movement risks morphing into more of a fashion statement than a social cause.
In a column for the National Resource Defense Council’s OnEarth Magazine, Articles Editor George Black warned of pop culture’s transformation of environmentalism into a fashionable marketing trend, labeling it “eco-narcissism,” and describing the mainstream marketing of green as “a contest for corporate branding advantage.”
With all of this hype, it’s important to point out many companies are genuinely concerned about the environment and make products that really benefit the planet. But the overtly commercial branding has diluted the true cause and even made it comical in some cases. Moreover, when people think the only way they can benefit the environment is by purchasing expensive new products, there can be resistance.
“I hear so many people say, ‘The problem with going green is that it costs so much,’” Yeager says.
Conservation is key
The first thing people should do when going green is look for ways to cut back on their consumption of natural resources. This can often have a more dramatic and immediate effect on the environment than making an expensive green purchase.
“Often, the greenest thing you can do is simply consume less,” says Yeager. “You could buy a new $30,000 Prius, which is a great car, but a better thing to do is carpool to work with three friends in a regular gas guzzler. It saves all that money, and it’s much greener because it conserves more gas and takes cars off the road.”
This is not to say you shouldn’t buy green goods, but if you are wasting resources through inefficiency, any positive effects of the new product can be canceled out, and the money you spent to help the environment will essentially be wasted. So before you rush out and buy the latest green gadget, examine your current practices to see if you’re doing all you can to conserve what you already have.
Save money and the planet
You may think you’re fairly responsible with your energy use and waste, but if you look closely, you’ll likely find areas where you’re not being as efficient as possible. Because these things are free and easy to accomplish, anybody can do them, and the payoff is often immediately apparent.
“We try to make the best use of what we already have instead of spending extra money,” says Mirra Greenway, owner of Greenway Massage Team and founder of www.greenmassage.org, a company that supports and certifies green massage practices. “Many things cost literally nothing, and others cost very little. Plus, you usually recoup what little cost you put into it in one billing cycle.”
Greenway has instituted many green practices that cost nothing, including turning off lights and other electronic devices when not in use, caulking gaps in doors and windows to prevent energy loss, using e-mail or the company’s website for marketing instead of paper and setting her thermostat a few degrees warmer or cooler depending on the season. These simple tasks are not only green, they save money.
“Our power bills are now roughly half of comparably sized businesses,” she says. “Cutting back and conserving energy is one place where you really see an instant payback.”
Even if you don’t have the budget to buy many green products, you can still do your part. You can switch from paper to e-billing, use double-sided printing and copying, carpool or bike to work, recycle, reduce your water heater temperature to a maximum of 120 degrees, take full advantage of natural lighting, drive the speed limit, combine errands to save gas and wash linens on a cold-water setting.
Jennifer Bode owns Equilibria Wellness in Portland, Oregon. While she has been fortunate enough to afford incorporating some costlier green practices, such as using sustainable electricity sources, organic skin-care products and an environmentally friendly laundry service, she notes there are many free things therapists can do that are just as valuable.
“Some of the basic things cost absolutely nothing: recycling, cutting back on printing, advertising and paying bills online—these things are not only green, but they save you money,” explains Bode. “You don’t have to spend tons of money to be green, and every little bit really adds up.”
In addition to the free things, other changes can be made with just a few extra dollars. This tiny investment will allow you to take your greening to the next level and save you even more cash. Some ideas, such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), might be slightly more expensive than their energy-wasting alternatives, but when you factor in the resources and money you’ll conserve, the payoff more than covers the small extra expense.
Go green on the cheap
Each of these items typically costs less than $50 and will pay for itself through savings in just a few months:
• Compact fluorescent light bulbs: CFLs use 70 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Each bulb can save $30 to $50 over its lifetime.
• Aerators: Low-flow faucet and shower aerators use 30 to 50 percent less water than standard models. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates one home fitted with such fixtures can save 30,000 gallons annually.
• Cotton towels: Instead of buying loads of paper towels, use folded cotton hand towels in your bathroom. You’ll not only save money, but clients will appreciate the added luxury.
• Natural cleaning supplies: You can clean every surface and even clothes using dirt-cheap, nontoxic ingredients, such as vinegar, lemon juice, borax, pumice stones and baking soda. Just ask grandma.
• Reusable coffee filters: Why buy stacks of paper coffee filters every few months, when you can buy just one?
• Nondisposable cups: Enjoy water, coffee or tea in reusable mugs or inexpensive stemware. Don’t have a supply of your own? Pick some up at dollar or thrift stores for a few pennies apiece.
• Water filters: The average bottled-water drinker spends hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of dollars each year to feed her H2O habit. Get a decent water filter to generate your own sparkling clean water, and stop throwing away your money—and all that toxic plastic along with it.
• Rechargeable batteries: Unlike one-use batteries that cost about $4 per pack, rechargeable batteries can be reused as many as 500 times.
After a short time, you should be able to save enough money to invest in slightly more expensive green projects, such as organic oils, natural linens, green massage tables, energy-efficient appliances and natural flooring. When making purchases, buy in bulk where possible to cut down on costs.
For a list of 18 steps you can take to reduce carbon emissions, along with how much CO2 and money each step will save, visit www.massagemag.com/carbon.
Keep careful track of each thing you do and how much you save. By doing this, along with a bit of research, you can reach out to your landlord or fellow tenants to see if they would split or share the cost of bigger improvements. By offering concrete evidence of how much you’ve saved and the cost-benefit ratio of the proposed project, they’ll be more likely to get involved. Start small by suggesting one or two modest ideas, and once they’re in place and producing benefits, suggest more ambitious ones.
“Property owners will likely be more receptive if you do the research first,” says Laura Key, owner of Lotus Massage and Wellness Center in Tucson, Arizona. “Show how much it will cost, where to get the materials and how they stand to benefit. If you do the initial work for them and offer several options, a good percentage will probably chip in to help you out.”
Key was able to talk her landlord into paying for half the expense of installing double-paned, energy-efficient windows in her practice. This improvement, like many green practices, has benefits that go beyond saving money and the environment.
“The new windows save energy costs and are more environmentally friendly, plus they also block sound from the busy street and increase the quality of the client experience,” says Key. “This is a good example of a green choice that has multiple benefits: benefits for the planet, business and clients.”
In providing enhanced services by going green, you also stand to increase your business by attracting and keeping more clients. Clients, of course, want to find the best quality massage experience, but there are a growing number of people out there who support green businesses and will seek out those practices who share their values.
According to Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS), a national organization promoting earth-friendly practices, nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults—63 million people—are consumers of the sustainable marketplace, which is valued at $209 billion. These consumers represent substantial buying power, and because they generally have more disposable income, they’re exactly the type of clients you want to attract.
“By going green, we’ve definitely seen an increase in business,” says Greenway. “A lot of people know us strictly based on these principles and are referred to us that way.”
Although you might think consumers—even wealthy ones—would cut back on spending during a recession, a new study by Edelman, a leading independent public relations firm, shows almost seven in 10 consumers (68 percent) would continue to support businesses during a recession if they engage in positive social action. The same study found the environment is the leading social cause among consumers, with 88 percent concerned about protecting natural resources.
Potential for change
While a recession might not appear to be the best time to focus on the environment, some believe it may actually work as an important catalyst for positive change.
“I believe the current rate of consumption and spending in America and some other developed countries is unsustainable to the Earth and unfair to other people on the Earth,” says Yeager. “If you believe that—and not everyone does—then a ratcheting back of the economy might not be such a bad thing.
“As when people drove less with high gas prices, there can be positive benefits to a negative situation,” he adds. “We may come out of the recession with a new respect for what’s really important in life and a devotion to a simpler existence.”
To see a list of 57 ways you can go green and save money at the same time, visit www.massagemag.com/frugal.
Visit www.massagemag.com/goinggreenguide to learn about the new “Going Green Guidebook: Outstanding Green Business Practices.”
To read about a new program for manufacturers and vendors who commit to green practices, visit www.massagemag.com/truthfulclaims to read “Nonprofit Advocates for Truthful Product Claims.”
To discover some simple ways to be part of the green movement, read “Simple Tips to Go Green.”