Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Growing Supply of "Green" Products

An old question asks whether capitalism is a "friend" or "foe" of environmental sustainability? The "foe" proponents point out the scale effects of capitalism. The pursuit of the American Dream leads to more cars and more farmland paving.

Today's New York Times Personal Shopper piece by Marianne Rohrlich points out some new "green" products that may be widely purchased: "IT'S getting easier to be green, at least at home. If you thought "ecofriendly" design was only for the Birkenstock set, it may be time to take a second look."


1. Crate & Barrel has jumped on the bandwagon with the Bento collection of furniture, using boards made from pressed bamboo. The TV Cabinet - 39 inches wide, 23 deep and 66 high - has a lacquer finish; $1,399 at Crate & Barrel stores, or (800) 967-6696.

2. A king-size platform bed with attached night tables, designed by Barlas Baylar, is made from sustainably harvested American cherry wood. It uses dovetail joinery rather than screws and nails and has a hand-oiled finish rather than glue and polyurethane; $14,700 (custom sizes available) at Hudson Furniture, 433 West 14th Street, (212) 645-7800 or

3. Last year Anthony Cochran, an interior designer, and Jesse Johnson, who has a degree in environmental management, introduced the sleek Q Collection, which uses natural materials. Their ceramic garden stools are fired in a wood kiln and glazed clear, without harmful colorants; $1,625 each from the Q Collection, 915 Broadway (20th Street), Suite 1001, (212) 529-1400;

4. Horizon interior and exterior paints, by Rodda Paints, are low on volatile organic compounds and fumes. Exterior paint is $24.99 a gallon; to order, or for store locations:

I AM always amazed by capitalism's ability to create permutations of products. We are all used to choosing between BMWs versus Tercels but these examples highlight that more eco-friendly products are being designed and marketed. They do look expensive! Will you buy them? More generally, do people vote their pocketbook to enhance sustainability or do they free ride and buy the "brown product" that is cheaper?

An obvious point. People are more likely to buy the green product if they think it has a direct impact on their well being (i.e eating organic veggies) or if they gain a "warm glow" from showing off their green furniture to their friends. In this case, these products can be a form of status symbol. Like the "Mink Coat", you are signaling to your friends. The irony here is that environmentalists will applaud such signaling while they do not love mink coats!