For some, the challenges of a transition to implement sustainable practices lie mostly in changing hard-learned habits. For others, going green is difficult for other reasons.
How can we make green affordable and achievable for everyone? What are the implications of failing to consider the unintended impacts of green projects, some of which aren’t always positive? Are there ways to carry out sustainable practices in day-to-day living that are realistic for those who can’t always make the greener choice? Especially those who can’t because it’s not the best financial option?
These are some of the questions we’re trying to answer. Thereby to make sustainability sustainable for people from all economic backgrounds.
Gentrification and the Green Movement
Even the most well-intentioned, progressive movements sometimes have unintended negative consequences. When you picture neighborhood improvements like upgraded public transportation options, increased green space, or an added bike lane, it might be hard to see the downsides.
However, the problem of eco-gentrification is rising prices. Prices in areas where green urban development is taking place and growing. So it impacts the people living in neighborhoods. Places where development costs can’t be made up for. Made up by the people already living there.
Therefore, these green upgrades are meant to improve these spaces. They sometimes result in those areas becoming too expensive. Especially for current residents to continue to affordably live.
It’s also true that green projects are more likely to be underway in areas where residents tend to be more affluent. “Large-scale projects for ‘greening’ cities, such as the High Line, have become bigger and more targeted to more specific audiences. Thereby contributing to the problem of residential segregation,”notes Jeanne Haffner in a piece from The Guardian, discussing the risk of eco-gentrifying spaces.
So the effect of residential segregation has serious consequences for the people living in areas that don’t receive the benefits from improvements. We can see examples of the impact of this in places affected by this year’s hurricane season. Climate change is resulting in increased flooding and destruction from storms, and areas most affected tend to be those where residents don’t always have the incomes to afford costly upgrades to infrastructure that could help reduce property damage. It’s a cycle that pushes people living in gentrified areas into those areas that are less likely to receive investment.
Haffner goes on to offer some insight on better options for introducing green projects, including projects of a smaller scope being implemented across different neighborhoods in cities simultaneously, to easy the effects of sudden changes that might push people in or out of a particular area. She also points to “conscious anti-gentrification” tactics as a possible solution. So things like including residents in discussions surrounding greening projects. As well as avoiding projects that have high aesthetic appeal but less green benefits. Addressing the social factorsthat give to the issues of residential segregation and eco-gentrification can also have a positive impact on the green movement.
Affordable, Sustainable Choices for Individuals
It’s true that in the long run, many green options are more affordable than their standard counterparts. For example, switching to choices like solar energy and Energy-Star rated appliances can result in sizable savings for homeowners. And there’s no doubt that the payoff for the environment is worth the cost. However, not everyone can afford to make expensive up-front investments in more sustainable options, even if they know it’s a smart financial and environmental move.
Current incentivization programs don’t always solve this problem for homeowners who come from less advantaged economic backgrounds. Tax credits are an excellent way to incentivize those that can afford to pay for up-front costs, but have little benefit to those that can’t.
There are some ways to carry out sustainable practices that result in more immediate savings. These are often practices that people might be doing in their normal lives already, or could easily carry out, but might not even realize have a green benefit. Sharing the environmental positives of these practices can help encourage people to continue them or try them out.
One great example of this is secondhand shopping. “Buying used clothing is the greenest option of all—and a triple threat in terms of eco friendliness,” notes Green America, adding, “It keeps old items out of the landfill, prevents resources from being used to make something new, and helps you save money.” Secondhand shopping is a great option for vehicles, appliances, and consumer goods like electronics, as well.
More practices that play double-duty in terms of financial savings and sustainability. For example they include being more mindful of energy use around the home. Also buying produce in season. Finally, planning commutes efficiently to save gas.