Should consumers expect Eco-friendly products to be less expensive or is this unrealistic?
There is a common misconception that being a manufacturer/producer of green products also requires making products inexpensive, of lower quality, and competitive with products that are not green. While this is possibly the case in some industries, although I have seldom come across this in the products I have purchased, this is certainly not the case with high end audio. Let me address each of these misconceptions as they relate to the audio industry.
Myth #1: Green audio equipment should be less expensive.
Fact: To manufacture products that are more energy efficient often requires more research, knowledge, and more expensive component parts. For example, a CD player, such as the NAD C- , that consumes less energy while in standby requires more sophisticated circuitry to be able to receive the "on" command from the remote because it is consuming less energy in standby. The "on" sequence is more difficult to receive when only a trickle of energy is there to receive it. The development of this circuitry requires more knowledge and experience to do correctly and in a way that it does not hinder further the functionality or the sound. This additional engineering costs more to include in the product.
Also, many products that are not as green are manufactured in countries that have more relaxed laws against pollution, employee abuse, and quality control. This allows these products to sell at a lower price point. Green products must follow stricter guidelines to reduce pollution, treat employees better and to ensure the quality meets minimum standards for safety and functionality to the consumer. These products often come from countries where labor and production costs are higher as a result and this is reflected in the final product price. For example, Zu Audio makes speakers and electronics in the US that meet several of our criteria for being green, but they also cost a tad more than comparable products manufactured abroad.
Myth #2: Green Products are of lower quality.
Fact: While there is an argument to be made that certain products such as, for example, household cleaners that are green are not as effective as their non-green competitors, this is not something that can be said about audio products. Being manufactured by people who are paid fairly and treated equitably, the likelihood is that these people will take greater care to ensure the product is well made. Build-quality for green products is typically outstanding. Likewise service for these products in everything from pre-sales to warranty repairs, as well as marketing, packaging, and shipping, is likely to be better when done by employees who are treated fairly.
As for sound quality, the belief has been that this must be compromised if the manufacturer is required to use eco-friendly parts, assemble and construct using safe and non-polluting methods, and use less energy in the process. Take solder for example, for years the industry was steadfastly convinced that using lead-free solder would degrade sound, yet today’s lead-free (and lead-less) products are every bit as good as the ones of the past, if not better. Another example is the use of toxic glues to combine loudspeaker sections. There is little evidence today that the new lower-emission glues are less effective and even less evidence that they affect the sound of the loudspeaker. The fact is, that with new research and development each non-green product, component, or method can be replaced or improved to meet safer and healthier standards.
Myth #3: Green products are not competitive on price.
Fact: If we consider the above facts, it is also clear that green products can, and more often than not are, of higher quality. They are manufactured, assembled, and serviced better. They are designed to last longer. Not only are they less likely to injure the workers who build them, but ultimately they are also less likely to injure the owner who eventually has to live with the product for years, perhaps decades. Consider that if the non-green product off-gasses a very toxic substance that was not dealt with during manufacture because of relaxed standards, over time, this could injure the owner. Likewise if there was a fire at the home, and the product was dangerous if it reached a too-high-temperature, it could also injure the owner. Consequently, this could also result in an interesting lawsuit against the manufacturer.
So green products offer greater value, safety, and peace-of-mind to the owner and this will cost a bit more up front. This is akin to purchasing an extended warranty on a car or home and rolling that into the purchase price. Undoubtedly non-green products will be less expensive, but that also comes with greater risk and ultimately, that is a choice the consumer has to make.