170 The Cost of Convenience


Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast

Episode 170

The Cost of Convenience


Few people would believe that I lived without running water and electricity for over 15 years. But I can tell you from first hand experience when you live that way it changes how you think. 

But the same is true with our modern conveniences. It changes how we think, or should I say don’t think. We no longer have to put any thought or energy into many of our daily activities. However, for that convenience we do pay a price. 

In our pursuit of over consumption we sacrifice our money, our physical health, our mental health, the environment, and simply the ability to problem solve for ourselves. Many would ask me about the true cost of sustainability. But I would ask “What is the true cost of convenience?” So join me for E170 The Cost of Convenience. 

Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E170 which is called The Cost of Convenience. 

So let’s start out with the sustainability question of the week.  

Sustainability question of the week. 

How many disposable coffee cups do we throw away each year and what is the true cost behind this waste?

Good news story of the week

Five headlines that showcase the world’s fight against climate change. 

  1. China has led the world in new solar installation. The country has shown a 30% rise in solar installations year after year. 
  2. Renewable energy may beat out global warming. Last year 200 countries agreed to triple the global renewable energy capacity by the end of 2023. Such an increase is exactly what is needed to prevent any further global warming and keep us all safe. 
  3. Coal use plummets in the US. The US has continued to phase out coal even in the face of a global demand that has remained steady or even increased. In 2023, global use of coal fell by 20%. 
  4. Electric vehicle use continues to rise mainly due to the reduction in the cost of battery production. 
  5. Southeast Asia is cleaning up their energy sector. Although southeast Asian countries are some of the largest investors in new coal projects, their wind and solar capacity increased by 20% in 2023.

So there you are folks, big business and big government are truly making progress. So a round of applause to five ways in which we are making progress in the fight against climate change.  



Alright, let’s now move on to this weeks episode, The Cost of Convenience. 

But first of all, let me start out by asking you a couple of questions because I want you to really think about something. 

Do you think of electricity as a necessity or a convenience? Do you think of clean drinking water as a necessity or a convenience? Do you think of an indoor toilet as a necessity or a convenience? 

Well, 1.3 billion people in the world live without modern electricity. One in three people globally live without an adequate source of drinking water and 4.5 billion people either don’t have a toilet or do not have adequate sanitation services. 

Yes I did in fact live without electricity for over 15 years. For a long time it was a convenience I could not afford. I was unwilling to pay the hefty price of having utilities run to the cabin. I learned quite quickly the trick to living without electricity was to just be creative. Although it was challenging at times, in retrospect that time living without electricity was actually a good thing because I learned a lot. 

The good news for me is that over a 10 year period the price of solar declined dramatically. This made it completely affordable for me to install a full solar array. And by the way, I just recently looked into the cost of more than doubling the size of our solar array. The cost has gone down by another 50% over the past 8 years. 

But back to my point. It is entirely possible to live without electricity and still have refrigeration, cook a hot meal, and have a hot shower. But living like this changes the way you think and how you go about your day. It is much the same when you focus on the practical application of sustainability. It changes what you do and how you go about your day.

Modern technology is so fantastics because it helps us in so many ways. But it also changes the way we think, or should I say don’t think. We tend to take it for granted that the lights will come on when we flip the switch, the car will start when we turn the key, hot water will come out of the faucet when we turn the knob, the item we ordered online will be on the doorstep when we come home, and the toast is brown when it pops up. It’s called modern conveniences.

But like most conveniences it all comes at a cost. 

If you have never spent time living in a third world country I highly recommend it. It is at the least eye-opening. At the most you develop a healthy appreciation for what you have at home. But once again, such an experience changes the way you think. 

How would you think differently if you knew that 50% of the time when you went to the supermarket they were not going to have what you wanted or needed. Well, I can guarantee that you would change the way you think and plan your day and how you cook your meals. That is exactly what I had to do when living on a small Caribbean island. 

Would you really use 300 gallons of water a day if you had to get up and get it yourself? What I mean is if you had to supply your own water would you continue to use 300 gallons of water per day which is typical for the average American household. Mostly likely if you had to manage this resource on your own, you would be a lot more conservative. This is what we do at the cabin with two adults, two dogs, one cat, multiple chickens and turkeys and a greenhouse. We use less than 600 gallons per month in the summer when we have to water the greenhouse everyday, much less in the winter. 

Would you leave the lights, leave all your electronic devices plugged in and leave the internet modem on 24/7 if you knew there was the possibility you would run out of electricity? Most likely not. It would change the way you think and how you run your day. 

This is what we do at the cabin. A couple of times a year, usually in January and February, we run out of electricity and everything shuts down. It’s a combination of fewer sun hours, stretches of 5 to 7 days of cloudy conditions and extreme cold. Because of this, the battery bank never gets fully charged. The extreme cold reduces battery efficiency. When the battery voltage gets too low the inverter shuts down as a protection mechanism. So we loose electricity. 

You may think this is unique to living off of solar but it’s not. If you are living on one of the bay islands in Honduras, you quickly find out they supply electricity much different than most modern countries. You have to go to the local utility provider and pay in advance. 

You can purchase as much or as little electricity as you want. They give you a code to input into the meter that is in your house. Once you do that it shows how much electricity you have meaning the number of kilowatts your purchased. 

Needless to say, you monitor your electricity usage very closely. If you run out over the weekend you are out of luck. You have to wait until the next business day to buy more. How many people in this country do you think actually take the time to look at their electricity meter on their house to monitor how much they are using. I dare say it is much less than 1% bother to do so because we just pay the bill and have the expectation that the electricity will always be there. 

But would you be so eager to use so much electricity if you had to tour even one of the 265 toxic waste dumps full of coal ash associated with over 100 years of burning coal to produce electricity. After all what’s the harm? It is only 5 billion tons of coal ash which would fill enough train cars to reach the moon. These waste dumps leak toxic metals and chemicals into the ground water. For the most the government chooses to ignore the issue and not hold anyone accountable for clean up and mitigation.  But you know at least the lights come on when you flip the switch. But this is the cost of convenience. 

So what exactly is the cost of convenience? 

Well, it is the price that we consumers are willing to pay in order to make our lives easier. The average American spends $4,073 per year on conveniences. But if you save that money by living on only what you need, over the course of 45 years of your adult working life you could add an additional $183K to your retirement savings. Maybe instead of spending all that money on household services, pet services, food delivery services and subscription boxes such as Hello Fresh, you could at least take that money and live an extremely comfortable life in a less expensive country.

But that is the cost of convenience. But why do we do this? Almost 70% of people say that use convenience services because it saves them time and money. Nearly 40% say they use these services because they do not want to do the task themselves. So we agree to pay the cost. 

But you may wonder if I am guilty of the same sort of thing. Well, sometimes. Yes I do have busy weeks at times and I am away from home for a couple of days. This is when I will purchase convenience foods or take out food because I cannot cook for myself. 

For many years of owning the cabin property I always bragged that I have never had to purchase firewood. Well, last year I purchased firewood because it made my life more convenient. My rationale went something like this. I was running low on firewood and wanted to stock up for at least two years. I found a guy that had been working for the US Forest Service on a big fire mitigation project. He would give me a discount if I purchased in bulk. 

It would take me 6 to 8 weeks of my spare time to cut that much firewood myself. It would only take me a day and a half of veterinary work to come up with the money to pay the guy for the wood. I had numerous other projects that I also needed to get done. By this reasoning the decision to purchase wood was a no-brainer. Was it a convenience? Absolutely!  I paid the price and freed up nearly two months of my spare time. To me that was a fantastic trade off that was worth the price. 

But let’s go a step further. 

Given the choice, would you take the escalator or the stairs? Given a choice, would you drive the one mile trip to the supermarket or would you walk or ride a bike? 

A survey of 100 students that lived within 4 km of the college they attend revealed that practically no one rode a bike or walked. All of them utilized some form of motorized transportation. But this is consistent throughout most developed cultures. Nearly 80% of the trips we take in our vehicles are less than a mile. Instead of walking or riding a bike, we drive. And if you think that is an unfair judgement because you are so busy, then think about the 80% of our population that sends a text message to someone in the same household or office instead of simply getting up, walking into the next room and having a face-to-face conversation. 

We are truly addicted to convenience. And I would contend that this is a fatal attraction for both us and the planet. 

There is a story that is often told about Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza. He founded his business in 1960, which was a perfect time due to his business model. There was a sudden increase in dual-income families and people were more and more willing to pay for an easy 30-minute dinner solution. Mr Monaghan famously said, “We don’t sell pizza. We sell delivery. We offer time to families who are looking for it.” 

And as the speed of our lives continues to increase so does the appeal for convenience. From food to coffee to auto care to health care to food boxes to remote controls to smart homes to not even having to get up and answer the door. Convenience now pervades every part of our lives. In fact, convenience is no longer merely appreciated by the average consumer it is expected and demanded in every part of our economy. But no one even considers that every time we choose convenience over putting out some extra effort to simply do something for ourselves it costs us something. 

So what is the cost of convenience? Well, consider the following. 


First let’s consider the money. 

Did you ever stop to think about how much you are paying for the convenience of drive through coffee? I know for a fact that I can make a specialty coffee at home that competes well with convenience coffee both in taste and cost. I do this all the time. Yet the average person spends $300 to $600 per year for this convenience. And that is what they are selling,  convenience. 

But what about convenience foods, those ready to eat foods that require little or no preparation. On a global basis, we spending nearly $485 billion annually because we don’t want to take the time to cook a meal. And of course all the waste that can’t be recycled goes straight to the landfill. 

More and more frequently, people choose to order groceries online and have them delivered. Some of the major supermarket firms charge $10 to $12 per order or even higher depending on the store. Apps that provided delivery from multiple different stores charge $4 for same day deliver on orders of $35 or more. 

And what about online restaurant apps such as DoorDash or Grub Hub. Besides the cost of the restaurant food you pay an annual fee or a per-order fee as well as a service fee on every order. And that does not include the tip. You also have to realize that as gas prices go up these delivery services are passing that cost on to the consumer. 



Now let’s talk about our health. 

In the past year the sales or pre-package foods has grown by nearly 60%. These of course are the highly processed foods that are the worst possible thing you could eat. Not only are they loaded with preservatives they often contain 50% more than the recommended daily allowance of salt. It is well known that consuming highly processed foods adds exponentially to our diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. 


And what about our over consumption. Goods and services have in many ways become cheaper to produce and purchase. The ease of availability further adds to our tendency to purchase and consume far more than we need. Strip malls, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and online shopping makes it even easier to over consume. 

Environmental Concerns

And as you could likely imagine, increased consumption means increased waste. Each of us now produces nearly 5 pounds of waste per day. And this does not include the environmental impact of the resources needed to produce what we over consume, the transportation cost, energy consumption and green house gas emissions.

Intentionality and Perseverance

But our tendency to opt for convenience is also ruining our intentionality and perseverance. Our days consists of a long list of tasks we perform on autopilot where we do things without thinking. Psychologists call this automaticity. Maybe this helps us to manage the many tasks we have to accomplish but this is so embedded that most of us can’t even remember if we brushed our  teeth this morning. 

But we are also loosing our perseverance which is something that is valuable in every stage of our lives. It helps us to stay motivated and pursue a goal no matter what. Students that pursue a degree have to pass difficult exams. Athletes who want to become their best continue to pursue that goal despite injuries and failures. If you want to start your own business that often takes months to years of hard work before you truly see the reward. 

But in a culture where convenience and comfort are pursued above everything else the opportunity to develop perseverance becomes less and less frequent. As I have so often told my students, you will never truly learn anything if things always go well. We often learn our best lessons when we make mistakes, when the task at hand is difficult and it takes time and perseverance. But fewer and fewer people are willing to work in that way because we want instant solutions. 

Now don’t get me wrong. There are times when paying the price for convenience is well worth it. For many people it is far easier to pay someone to build the house, make the clothes and grow the food than it is to do it all yourself. For me, it was well worth the price to pay the guy for the firewood and save myself two months of my spare time. It was far less effort to work and make the money to pay him than it was to do it myself. When I started the new cabin it was far less costly to pay someone to do the initial framing that it would have been for me to take the time off work and do it myself. I could then finish it a little at a time. It was a win-win. 

But we have once again taken it too far. Our lifestyle of convenience has robbed us of our money, our health, our environment, our intentionality and our perseverance. Ease and convenience is top priority at any cost. Almost every time we choose convenience over taking a bit of extra effort to do something for ourselves, we lose the chance to get a bit of exercise. We lose the chance for some social interaction. We create more pollution. We consume preservatives and toxins in highly processed foods. It it any surprise that we are plagued with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stress, mental illness and a 70% increase in early onset cancer over the last 30 years. 

As the speed of our lives continues to increase, we are truly loosing out on a significant part of what makes us human. We are losing our ability to communicate. We are losing our sense of community. We don’t even know the neighbors anymore. We are even losing our personal intimacy. But then again, maybe virtual reality will take care of that as well.

The bottom line is that we are paying a hefty price for our convenience and truly missing out on some important parts of our lives, we are becoming mentally careless and we are trashing the planet. Some of the best things in life require some time and effort and perseverance. That is how we gain perspective value, and personal growth. 

So, look at it this way. If you are a pilgrim walking the Camino de Santiago, which is almost 500 miles by the way, and you now demand to have motorized roads, are you not foregoing the effort that was intrinsic to the path in the first place? 

That is much the same as we are doing today. We use money and technology to add potential value to our lives and solve our problems.  But along the way we are losing what was intrinsic in the path to guarantee our survival. We are losing the planet, our environment, our forests, our food supply and our fresh water. And who is going to help when we really need it. We don’t even know the neighbors anymore. 

What is intrinsic to our path is sustainability. But that requires a little effort. Is there a little inconvenience to how I live?  Yes there is. But the price I pay for my inconvenience is worth walking out my door in the morning and hearing nothing but quiet. It is worth seeing the moose almost everyday. It is worth taking a walk in the forest for a little solitude. It is worth that little bit of personal security I have created because I choose the little extra effort it takes to manage a great deal of my own resources.

It is interesting to note that the origin of the term convenience comes from the Latin word “convenire.” Con- meaning “together” and venire meaning “come” But somehow I don’t think that Facebook, Instagram, iPhones, online friends, and driving back and forth to work as fast as you can has anything to do with that. 

Sustainability is often about simplicity and only taking and using what you need. So take a close look at all the things around your home and the things you do that bring you convenience: the microwave, the toaster, the ready-made meals, online shopping, the dishwasher, online banking, contactless payments, social media, video calling, slow cookers, YouTube. Does it all really add value and meaning to your life or does it disconnect you from convenire, or coming together. You really must give this some thought because we are truly paying a great price for our convenience other than the obvious which is the environment cost. 

So I would encourage you to take the time and effort to do something for yourself instead of opting for convenience. You never know you just might learn a new skill, make a new friend and save the planet in the process.  

So that’s about it for this week folks. I hope I have give you a lot to think about. But, healthy improvements alway take some time and effort. So, I am going to start wrapping things up by answering the sustainability question of the week. 

How many disposable coffee cups do we throw away each year and what is the true cost behind this waste?

Globally we throw away 500 billion disposable coffee cups every year. Seven million coffee cups are used everyday in the UK. The Australians throw away 1 billion cups per year. Canadians 1.5 billion, Germany 900 million. 

In the US alone, we throw away 16 billion coffee cups per year. That cost us 6.5 million trees, 4 billion gallons of fresh water and enough energy to power 54,000 homes for an entire year. That is the cost of convenience. 

But you can just as easily purchase a reusable coffee mug for well under $10. I have had the same one for 20 years. 

So give that some thought and take one more step toward sustainable living. Until next week this is your host Patrick signing off. Always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future. 


Five Headlines that Showcase the World’s Progress in the Climate Fight


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