The False Perception (part one) – Value


Recently, I picked up Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell.  This insightful and well written book is a must read and an eye-opening exploration of our addiction to cheap goods.  Naturally it got me thinking about a.k.a. green and our marketplace locally.

Approaching 5 years in business now, we have had plenty of time to reflect on our journey.  When we started a.k.a. Green, we were beginning to hear snippets of a green dialogue popping up locally and nationally.  Before “green jobs”, before the focus on energy efficiency, before Vanity Fair’s Green issue.  No mainstream attention, yet.  We felt and continue to feel our timing was spot on.  At the same time, we underestimated location.  In our zest for positive change, we were a bit optimistic about the momentum that would be required to overcome the challenges that existed (and still exist) in our marketplace…


  • a State Legislature that doesn’t accept the science behind Climate Change nor recognizes human contributions to it,
  • a Home Builders Association that sees green building as a threat, and lobbies for legislation to prevent the adoption of green building codes or programs (even its own program – the NAHB National Green Building Program),
  • a Home Depot’s or Lowe’s on every corner (like Starbucks or Walgreens) – something fairly unique to our city,
  • a fast-paced housing market that bred ‘contractors’ as kings whose main concern was time to market rather than their clients’ quality needs,
  • cheap land, a political climate that worshipped boundless growth, and an economy lethally dependent on attracting people to the Valley and putting them to work building inexpensive homes and amenities to attract more people to the Valley,
  • and a general lack of public dialogue regarding green issues; renewable energy, energy efficiency, public health etc…

This combination of challenges is unique to Phoenix, especially when you compare us to Portland, Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, etc… where many of the challenges don’t exist.  Quick and fast has been the story of development here for 40 years; and with it, we have too often sacrificed quality, craftsmanship, durability, planning, education, and just about everything that takes tomorrow into consideration. Tomorrow is here and we are paying for it.

In contrast, however, these challenges are relatively minor compared to the biggest challenge we, as a society, face … that of ‘Value. It used to be, in previous generations, that Value, was a balance of durability and affordability.  People then didn’t buy the cheapest car, they bought the best car that they could afford.  They didn’t buy the cheapest TV, they bought the best TV they could afford.  They knew that the cheap products may not last as long, and they looked at their purchases as long term investments. In fact, cheap products were not really common. How many parents/grandparents still have that huge solid wood furniture TV from the 70/80’s?  Don’t be shy, there is one in every family.  Fish Tank TVYou can look at investments in much the same way.  Previous generations looked at investing over the long term, often looking at returns for when they retired.  Furniture was also passed on from generation to generation because it was built to last forever. Looking back several generations, the mantra has always been Quality over Quantity.  But things have changed.

Now investing is quarter to quarter and if companies don’t produce profits for shareholders in 3 months, they will likely go other places.  This also extends to the products we buy.  Nowadays the idea of passing on furniture is foreign… frankly the Ikea shelf falls apart when you move it, forget about trying to ‘pass it down’.  Today our definition of ‘Value’ is defined by price and price alone.  Our mantra has slowly shifted since our parents’ generation, and has now become Quantity over Quality.  How many times have you heard yourself or someone else say “…its OK, it didn’t cost much, I’ll just buy another one”.  We have all heard it and certainly done it.  What we have become is a society that values cheap at the expense of durability and craftsmanship.  We are an ‘Away’ society, meaning that we just throw it away when it breaks and we accept that it will break because it was… Cheap.

to be continued…

~ by jeff frost on October 13, 2009.

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