Tuesday, 5 April 2011

It's not what you buy, it's how you use it

Around three or four years ago, the home interest press fell in love with all things green. Many rushed to dedicate a whole page, section or, in some instances, a whole magazine to the eco crusade with the determination to highlight the best of the best environmentally sound solutions for around the home.

Fast forward to today and it seems that consumers are as interested in eco products as they are about the latest kitchens and bathrooms news (a staple of almost every home interest magazine from House Beautiful to Real Homes).

And of course, every manufacturer out there is working to find an eco angle for their business or their product portfolio. If the consumer wants green, they’re going to buy green so better it’s you than their competitors. From appliances to showers, gadgets and even textiles, there are more home related goods than ever ready to boast their green credentials.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the lifestyle shift to more environmentally friendly ways of doing things but I feel the point is being somewhat missed. Just because Mrs Jones buys an energy monitor doesn’t mean she’ll actually save energy. If Mr Smith buys a shower with a flow limiter, it doesn’t guarantee he’ll save water.

To truly get the most from these kinds of products, and benefit from the cost savings and eco thumbs up that comes with them, people need to change their lifestyle. Last month at Ecobuild, I attended a fascinating seminar called ‘Sustainable design needs sustainable behaviour’ by Mat Hunter from The Design Council. What he said was so simple, it was inspired: ‘Consumers think that sustainability ends at procurement.’ Simply put, we think that if we buy an A rated appliance or a Prius car, we have done ‘our bit’, job done.

However, this is just the beginning and if we do not use these goods in a sustainable way, guess what? We won’t be doing diddly squat for the planet. It’s like saying if you buy Weight Watchers food, you’ll lose weight. Yes, you will if you combine it with lots of exercise and plenty of willpower, but simply buying their meals won’t do the trick alone.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to consider the lifecycle of a product at the design stage in order to develop something truly sustainable but ultimately, it’s the way we use these things that determine whether they are sustainable. To really get your green stripes, you need to change your lifestyle, not just what you buy.


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