The Pocketbook Environmentalist

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On this Monday Pulitzer afternoon (no Breaking News award? What gives?), I wanted to turn your attention to an interesting piece in the Huffington Post from Lynn Jurich, the president and co-founder of SunRun, a major home solar-energy installer. Jurich notes that at the very time when a sluggish economy, high unemployment and back-breaking gas prices have Americans counting their pennies, green energy—and energy efficiency—is beginning to become an affordable option, not just a virtuous one:

As the co-founder of a company that addresses this money-saving need by bringing affordable solar power to homeowners, I’ve also noticed that bargain purchases and “green” purchases have finally become one and the same.

There is a new wave of environmental consumers I like to call Pocketbook Environmentalists. They’re going green primarily because it makes good financial sense, but the fact that it benefits their families’ health and the environment also makes them feel good. More often than not, they no longer have to choose between their pocketbooks and the planet.

Jurich points to the success of companies like Zipcar, the automobile-sharing start-up that had a sparking IPO just last week, along with the growth of her own business SunRun. SunRun does more than just install home solar panels—the company also works out the finances for a new solar system, helping customers overcome the high initial cost that can make solar a tough financial decision. SunRun actually buys the solar system and owns it for the first 20 years, while customers pay to rent the system and get the power. Homeowners get the benefit of years of steady electricity at relatively low prices, no longer dependent on rising and falling fuel costs. “This makes being green cost-effective,” says Jurich. “It’s Pocketbook Environmentalism in a nutshell.”

Of course, there’s still a large premium on many green products—think the high costs of a hybrid or electric car, though if gas prices remain as high as they are now, that gap will narrow. But it should be clear by now that people aren’t going to go green just because they think they should. A study that came out today from the sustainability consultancy OgilvyEarth found that while 82% of consumers have good green intentions, only 16% are actually dedicated to doing anything about their green notions. The pocketbook usually wins, especially in tough times—and greens should take advantage of that.