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Beware the Green Halo

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Jan 10, 2019 11:11:03 AM

Tiny home owners who assume they have earned a sustainable dividend can end up trading one environmental harm for others.

A tiny house owner may want to use their new digs as a base station for a free-spirited, globe-trotting lifestyle—”a place to come back to.” But this phrase sums up a vexing problem with human nature.

Studies have shown that when people purchase products they perceive as “green,” they often undergo a subtle psychological shift. They have now created a green “dividend” for themselves that rationalizes less-responsible behavior. For example, a tiny house owner may reduce their overall eco-footprint by two-thirds, but that reduction in greenhouse gases vanishes almost immediately as they use their new freedom (and money saved) to fly to South America or Nepal.

In other words, the only way a tiny house living really “saves” resources is if you actually live in it most of the time, and spend your creative energy locally, not pursuing far-flung journeys to exotic locations.

Also, Business Insider points out that “Increasingly, tiny houses have become larger, heavier and more expensive. The ideal of minimal impact on the environment is being lost, as businesses capitalize on the popularity of tiny homes. The distinction between tiny houses and luxury RVs is diminishing, causing some of the long-time leaders to abandon the movement.”

It takes vigilance and honesty to keep tiny homes lean and green. For example, you may have bought into the stereotype that a young couple moving into a tiny homes will tread more lightly on the planet than their elders. Not so. Research finds little or no difference in eco-friendly behaviors correlated with age.

To illustrate, let’s begin with the awesome fact that tiny homes at their most optimized may create only 2,000 pounds of C02 per year, compared with a typical home, which produces about 28,000 pounds. That’s no small difference. But this dividend shrinks rapidly if other “bad” behaviors continue: flying, driving, and eating meat, to name just a few (see graphic below).

The bottom line: Living small can be a hugely positive lifestyle choice, with majorly beneficial positive impacts for ecosystems and residents. But it has to be approached with eyes wide open.

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