Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ecofrugality

It occurred to me that there ought to be a term--"ecofrugal"--for people who routinely do things that both save money and help the environment. Some folks may be doing these things primarily to be green, while others want chiefly to keep more green stuff in their pockets, but the result is the same in both cases: a healthier planet and a healthier bank balance.

I Googled the term to see if anyone else was using it this way, and I got a few hits, but they seemed kind of scattered. For example, Frugal Village has an article on "Eco Frugality" (two words), which cites some well-known thrifty practices that "run parallel with green living." An article on reusing household items from a site called Gomestic uses the term "eco-frugal" with a hyphen, and someone calling herself grrlscout224 has posted a photo set on Flickr with the title "ecofrugal." And there is also a recently created blog titled "The EcoFrugal," which as yet has a grand total of one entry. But so far, the use of the term seems fairly haphazard. It doesn't seem to have gained much popular currency.

The only source I found that offered anything like a definition of the term was an article on "Eco-Bounty" at trendwatching.com, which noted that many manufacturers are seeking to shift the image of their products "from ‘worthy but expensive’ to ‘cheap and, oh yes, worthy’" in order to attract both "cash-strapped consumers...going out of their way to save money" and "consumers [who] are still primarily interested in sustainable consumption, but no longer willing or able to pay the usual premiums." It cited as examples the new Zoe and Zac line at Payless and the Mini, which is now being marketed as a planet-friendly car that's cheap to run.

Which is all well and good, but a bit incomplete as a philosophy. The products you buy can be a part of an ecofrugal lifestyle, but they're not the only part, nor even necessarily the most important part. In fact, I'd venture to suggest that ecofrugality has more to do with not buying stuff. It's about thinking before you make a purchase: "Do I need this? Will it really make me happier? Could I repair the old one instead of replacing it? Could I make do with something else I already have? Could I borrow it from a friend, take it out of the library, get a secondhand one on Freecyle or Craigslist?" Only after thinking through these questions do the ecofrugal start balancing considerations of price and pollution.

The point I'd like to make about ecofrugality is that it's really a single ideal, not just two unrelated ideals that sometimes go together. A sustainable lifestyle isn't really sustainable if you have to go into debt to maintain it; a frugal lifestyle isn't really frugal if it wastes natural resources. And in most cases, the eco-conscious choice is also the wallet-conscious one. Most of the money-saving trends I cited in my April 11 entry are green trends as well. More people may be adopting these measures now as a way to save money, but as they become more mindful about how they live, they may discover they value the environmental benefits just as much as the financial ones. In the end, this recession might just turn out to be the dawning of the age of ecofrugality.
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