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The True Cost of Real Estate

Emma is a good person. She drives a Prius. She totes her pottery mug to the coffee shop. She juices organic carrots from Costco. She yogas in Cabo. Emma wants to move to the Okanagan after selling her over-priced house on the coast. To take a break from the mold. To buy something for way less and chop her costs of living.

But Emma is restless. Maybe more time in Cabo, or a new bike, or a better endurance training P.R., …or something… more. What Emma doesn’t realize is that some of the choices in her conscientious life are still being made for her. Made by a culture of convenient consumables. Although, well-intentioned, she's ready to review the true costs of her lifestyle.

Even Well-intentioned Humans Overlook True Costs.

Well-intentioned Emma hops on a plane to find her Vitamin D racking up environmental costs that add $500 to her flight. She overlooks true costs by driviing past the local grocer on her way to Costco.​​

Emma’s closet is a three-trilliion-dollar industry. Fast Fashion overlooks true costs of fair wages, collapsing factories, cancer in cotton growers. Since 60's the U.S. outsources 87% of all it's clothing manufacture. Headquarters of conscientious brands may be fair, but competitiveness compromises fairness on the foreign front-lines. (3)

Pollution costs of manufacture and disposal: not included. Throw-away fashion underlies a 500% worldwide increase in consumption since the 90's. An average American disposes of 82 lbs/ 37kg yearly into landfills elsewhere. The true cost of a 5 dollar t-shirt is sooo much more. (3)

Well, we've shamed poor Emma enough, and she just feels like a jerk. But, she’s resolved to support a more intelligent economy with the largest purchase in her lifetime: her home. She wants to sleep better at night, plus save money over the long-haul. Emma is about to master True Cost Economics.


True Cost is an "economic model that includes the cost of negative externalities associated with goods and services.”(2)


When items exclude the negative costs we "consume them in large quantities without realizing the social and environment impacts" we've supported.(1) It’s like buying food and ignoring the ingredients. Some ingredients sweeten short-term but then sour future effects of consumption.

Traditional economics values Gains, not the costly consequences of a purchase. Pollution, is a billion dollar habit. Outsourced manufacturing sweetens economic growth, but defers costs to the environment, and to other human beings not so sweetly.

Old-School economics excludes negatives, while assuming “that people's decisions are guided by totally rational thought processes”. Awkward. “Clearly, the destruction of one's habitat is not an entirely rational decision to make".(1)

​Old-School economics measures success through

the narrow lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Other, more realistic measurements of economic success

are included in something called the

Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).

Mindful economists are re-vamping pricing to include factors beyond an item's market value. These new wave, rogue economists “will be able to more easily create value, not just in terms of raw profitability, but in terms of overall health and environmental impact.” (1)

Genuine Progress Indicator still measures economic growth. It “takes everything the GDP uses into account, but also adds other figures that represent the cost of the negative effects related to economic activity. It balances positive and negative results of growth, to see if there is a true - longer-term- benefit to humans (2).

As a better measure of sustainability, this new measurement “sees the economic market as a place within an ecosystem.”(4).


GPI balances the positives and negatives of economic growth,

to see if there is a true, long-term benefit to humans. (4)

If an economic activity

takes away from future resources, it is not contributing to well-being.

What are some Genuine Progress Indicators (GPI)?

Genuine Progress Indicator thinks pollution is damage, and so becomes subtracted as a cost. GDP counts pollution twice as income: when it is created, then when it's mopped up. Volatile compounds, carbon emissions, and the social effects of global warming are also recognized as damage in GPI. Genuine Progress Indicator actually counts resource depletion as a Cost, not as current Income.

Work-life balance that allows for leisure is valued upwards by Genuine Progress Indicator. GDP ignores the loss of leisure time for families. GDP measures the money people spend to defend well-being, defending quality of life (ie. water filters). The GPI counts these costs as costs, not as income.

Genuine Progress looks at major durable purchases, and balances the cost with value that the goods bring back over their lifespan. (5) The GDP does not count money lost when what people buy wears out. GDP falsely assumes that the money spent is the value of the product. A house is one such major durable purchase.


T​​rue Costs of Conventional Homes in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley.​​

Homes here go up, fast. Conventional windows and roof replacements aren't factored into true cost. Renovations cost later.

Why is it a daydream to buy a villa in Tuscany? Enduring beauty. Built slowly.

Home-building labourers can't afford the rent, yet bear high pressures for efficiency. Sometimes costs accrue with hard drug use on the jobsite. With these pressures, small contractors have a hard time keeping good labourers.

Fast homes and fast sells overlook true costs. Like Fast Fashion, what are the true costs of even just the wastes characteristic of conventional home building and renovations?


The Genuine Progress Indicators of Elegant Organic Home

Elegant Organic Home scores high for GPI.

Resources for the build were recovered recycled, milled or mixed locally. Clean raw materials required minimal processing and shipping. The landscaping conserves water.

No paints used on walls, no volatile compounds, and few manufacturing pollutants. The property directly improves health and well-being.

The footprint is small compared to sprawling one-levels.

Clean, über insulation drastically reduces heating and cooling, minimizing impact on global warming. The wood stove minimizes impact with its emission converter. The landscape is an appropriate for the region.

Six years of consistent, skilled building labour was a costly upfront investment for work-life balance was a costly up-front investment and is reflected in the price.

​Lifespan of the materials is enduring The design is minimal with classic touches. Its appearance improves with age, reducing the need for renos.​​ ​​

Locals built the home, on healthy, drug-free jobsite. The home's value includes fair-trade, true-cost materials and wages. The build itself added to the community by educating the public and other builders.


Regardless of popular market values,

in Fair Trade, producers don't lose out

for creating a finer product,just because an item is different.

The value is the value.

Innovative, hardworking Makers

don't get thrown under the bus. (6)


The Happiness Index

Emma’s Happiness Index has risen steeply. She used gains from the coastal real estate market that were over-inflated by demand - not by true value or quality - and she invested in a builder who used local, organic materials, and thoughtful architecture. She bought a fair-trade authentic, elegant organic home in the Okanagan.

She spent more on the organic home than she would have for a conventional home, but her health has improved, and she saves on operating costs. She may not have to renovate this classic beauty. Now her family travels to visit her. Her work-life balance is better: she only works a 35 hour week for her monthly bills.

Now, Emma grows her own juicing greens. She wears organic fair-trade cotton. Her home is a peaceful staycation. Her endurance training P.R. has not changed, and quite frankly, who the hell cares? Now she paddle-boards on the lake, and has a Fair Trade coffee on the beach. She tells the story of her Fair Trade home, and feels better about her true impact. She is now more in control over the choices in her life. Emma is more than a good person. She is a good global citizen. And she feels happier.


Låna Brown is the designer and seller of a genuinely progressive, fair trade ecohome in the happiness-elevating winelands of Okanagan, British Columbia Canada.

This article draws heavily from the following references. Major kudos to the authors & researchers! All else © Låna Brown 2017







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