True Price


An Engaging Activity and Introduction to Solutionary Thinking


True Price offers an interesting way to analyze products. Try doing this with your Solutionaries group or with your entire class.

Choose a food from your pantry, a product from your bathroom, or an item of clothing from your closet and research its true cost to yourself, other people, animals, and the environment.  At its most basic, True Price asks us to examine a product, such as a bottle of water, a fast food cheeseburger, or a T-shirt, and ask a series of questions.

1. Is the item a want or a need?

The point of this question isn’t to make us feel judged about what we consider a want or need, but to help us unpack what is truly vital to our well-being and happiness. We might also have different criteria for whether certain kinds of objects are a need. For example, some people may consider products like a car, a computer, and a cell phone indispensable. And the way we’d categorize those items might be different from the way we’d categorize an item of clothing.

2. What are the effects, both positive and negative, on you, other people, animals, and the environment?

This question helps us think deeply, broadly, and critically about all the various impacts of a product throughout its entire lifecycle.

3. What systems support, promote & perpetuate this item?

This is a complicated question because our systems are very complex and there are so many underlying systems involved in the production, distribution, use, and disposal of the products we use. We can change our personal choices, but we also need to address the underlying systems involved.

4. What would be an alternative, or a change to a system, that would do more good and less harm?

When we can make choices that do more good and less harm (MOGO choices), that’s great. But, many times there is no such choice available. There may be no MOGO cell phone, car, or health care plan, for example. So, it’s important that we look at what changes in systems would help do more good & less harm and would also lead to humane and sustainable items becoming ubiquitous.


A True Price Example

Here sample responses from one group of students, who briefly explored the impacts of soda in a plastic bottle.

1. Is it a want or a need?

It’s a want.

2a. What are the positive effects?

caffeine kick; pleasure; jobs; the company does philanthropy; you could repurpose the plastic bottle for building material (e.g., creating a light source).

2b. What are some of the negative effects?

obesity & other negative health effects; plastic is a carcinogen; plastic waste that harms people, animals, and the planet; pollution; the amount of oil used; oil spills that kill animals & destroy habitat; animals consume plastic; habitat destruction, etc.

3. What systems support, promote & perpetuate this item?

economy, cultural, peer pressure, marketing/ads, multinational corporations, globalization

4. What would be an alternative or a change to a system, that would do more good and less harm?

personally: tap water from a reusable glass or bottle;
systemically: create a healthier recipe? bring more work back to the U.S.? more corporate responsibility? incentives to phase out unhealthy drinks & the use of disposable plastics? better recycling programs & universal return deposit programs.

Doing True Price also reveals the seemingly contradictory facts that there’s so much we don’t know about the products and services we use; and, we also have a belief that we “know” a lot of facts and information, but that “knowledge” hasn’t actually come from a deep investigation of, say, research in peer-reviewed journals. We’ve claimed these beliefs and this knowledge based on what we’ve heard or read about what others have heard or read.

True Price, then, forces us to look deeper and more critically at not just the impacts of these products on people, animals, and the planet, but also at our own beliefs and assumptions about what we think we know.

To see a couple more examples of a brief True Price analysis, read these essays by IHE president Zoe Weil:

Making MOGO Choices: The True Price of a Cheeseburger

Making MOGO Choices: The True Price of a T-shirt

The True Price of Bottled Water


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s