How to Save Green When You Shop Green

By Karen Schiff on 24 September 2009 (Updated 1 March 2010) 3 comments

What's the top reason shoppers don't buy green? (Hint: It ain't cheap.)

That's right. Price.

According to a 2009 survey by market research firm Mintel, the top reason consumers don't shop green continues to be cost. Fifty-four percent of survey respondents said they would buy more green products but the products are too expensive. Hopefully, supply and demand will eventually bring down the price of eco-friendly goods. But in the meantime, what's a frugal green shopper to do?

Here are a few thrifty tips that can help eco-conscious consumers stretch their dollars.

Finding Green Bargains

Online Coupons

Unfortunately, coupons for organic foods are not nearly as common as they are for conventional grocery items. However, many of the larger companies producing organic foods, such as Horizon Dairy and Stonyfield Farms, do offer coupons you can print from their websites.

Savings Books

If you're lucky, there might just be a local coupon book for green products and services for your metro area. Examples include Green Zebra (San Francisco, Silicon Valley); EcoMetro (East Bay, Silicon Valley, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Twin Cities); Green Savings Indy (Indianapolis), and the Go Green Coupon Book (San Diego).

Mobile Coupons

Mobile coupon applications are starting to go green as well, like T-mobile's Green Perks, which delivers discounts on green products and services right to your phone. Just be cautious when using automated applications like these — sometimes products slip through that are a shade short of green (more on "screening for green" below).

Bulk Discounts

Buying in bulk is one of the easiest ways to save money. Amazon.com, on its Green and Natural & Organic Grocery pages, offers lots of super-sized green goods — everything from 10 packs of Seventh Generation paper towels to 24 packs of Clif Kids Organic Fruit Ropes. Plus, shipping over $25 is usually free.

In addition, many organic food companies, like Eden Foods and Rocky Mountain Organic Meats offer bulk orders through their websites. If a large quantity order is too much for your household, find a "bulk buddy" and split the order.

Sales and Discounters

Online, you'll find lots of green e-tailers with sales pages and seasonal promotions — everyone from big names like green-living superstore Gaiam, which has a terrific Outlet section, to small mom-and-pop sites. Other online retailers noted for deep discounts also sell eco-friendly products, like Overstock.com, Drugstore.com, and Sierra Trading Post. (Just remember, though, that sometimes the dirt in dirt-cheap isn't always good for the earth. Just because a company sells eco-friendly products, doesn't necessarily mean that they operate in an environmentally responsible manner.)

Free Shipping

Free shipping deals from green e-tailers offer a great value for folks who don't live within easy driving distance to stores with eco-friendly products. Just be sure to read the fine print — restrictions usually apply.

Don't Get Green-Fleeced

"Green" can mean a lot of different things to different people. And that produces some understandable confusion for consumers as to what is truly "Green" and what is instead "Greenwashed."  Greenwashing is when companies over hype the positive environmental impact of their products or policies. Tsk-tsk.

So before you start shopping, make sure you've done your homework. You don't want to fall for misleading claims and get green-fleeced!

A smart approach for consumers is to review the criteria for eco-friendly products established by trusted non-profits, such as Green America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Consumer Reports. Here's a quick compilation of their suggestions:

  • Are the products or services friendly to the planet? Do they help save energy on the road and at home; conserve water; support organic and sustainable farming? Are they nontoxic, recycled, cruelty-free and/or fair-trade?
  • Are the products certified or does the company have a membership association? Examples include:
     

    • Household Products: Green Seal; Certified Biodegradable
       
    • Cosmetics: Leaping Bunny; Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Signatory
       
    • Food: Organic Certification; Marine Stewardship Council; Certified Humane Raised and Handled
       
    • Wood: Forest Stewardship Council
       
    • Overall Green Business Practices: Green America Approved
       
    • There are many, many more certification and associations. Consumer Reports "Greener Choices" has a terrific eco-label section which can help you sift through the meaning and relative significance of various labels.
  • If the company doesn't have certification/membership affiliations, is there some way for consumers to evaluate their green claim? For example, products that claim to be natural should include a complete ingredient list.

Shoppers looking to go green are of course welcome to use these rules of thumb as a starting point when trying to evaluate the "greenness" of product. But in order to become true green consumers, there is no substitute for first-hand knowledge. Consumers are highly encouraged to become as educated as possible on what is and isn't considered green these days, and how to evaluate green claims. The organizations mentioned above are excellent places to start.

This is a guest post by Karen Schiff, co-founder of Ecobunga, a site that lists hundreds of deals and giveaways for eco-friendly products.

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Daniel

I think one important issue consumers should consider is the transport distance implicit in the produce they buy. All else equal, a customer in Maine who buys a peach from California is being less green than if she buys a peach from New Jersey. And if the transport costs are lower, then the prices are likely to be lower too (not always, of course, but usually).

This means looking at the country of origin label on your produce, looking for signs in your grocery store for local or in-state fruits and veggies, and also seeking out farmstands and farmers markets in your community.

Focusing on transport distances can really help you "save green while being green."

Dan
Casual Kitchen

Guest's picture

I hope it just gets to the point that companies that aren't selling green produce and items will slowly start too go green so that all our items are green ones. It's not that people really want a chemical filled tomato over a fresh garden tomato it they don't want to pay 4 dollars for a garden tomato and only 89 cents for the other.

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Gigi

It really is the reason why people aren't buying green. Sadly McDonalds can leave someone with a more filled and satisfying (although massively unhealthy as well) feeling than a single apple at the same price can. These families would buy green if they could but it's way too expensive and unfortunately Mcdonalds go a long way for the budget these kind of people have. If only the government would subsidize the farmers who go by the organic system, everything would be cheaper but there's a lot of politics in it at play. It's all in the documentary Food Inc. Watch Food Inc. It will change your life, I swear.