Science tells us that the climate is changing. The atmosphere is warming, sea levels are rising, biodiversity is suffering, and extreme weather events are occurring harsher and more frequently than ever before. Are these changes relevant to the everyday lives of the typical American household? In terms of the sustainability and the well-being of our planet and its future generations, it is without a doubt relevant, experts argue. But for many people, despite being aware of climate change, knowing about carbon emissions, and its impacts on landscapes and wildlife, there is not enough incentive to take action on environmental issues. The devastating impacts of anthropogenic climate change seem very far away. And yet, as Mindy Lubber of Forbes states, “The societal costs of inaction on the climate are immense, and the risks are rising just as surely as the seas.”
What will it take for people to stop being passive, albeit caring observers, and begin to be activists? How can people be shown that it is time for each and every individual to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and begin to have a positive impact on the natural world? If rising sea levels, intensifying climatic events, dangers to air and water quality, and disappearance of biodiversity are not enough to incentivize people to take action, what will?
It is the dollars and cents that most people want to hear about. It is the actual, tangible, cost-benefit analyses that resonate most deeply with people who are genuinely concerned for the state of the planet, but have not yet had an incentive to turn their care into action. Brad Tuttle of Time Magazine notes that, “some people will adopt environmentally friendly practices because they want to do their part to save the earth. Others – many others – will hop on board once it’s demonstrated that doing so will save them money.”
The reality is that going green is cost effective. This holds true for nations, corporations, small businesses, non-profits, households, and individuals. Major international organizations such as the United Nations Environmental Program, The United Nations Industrial Development Organization, The World Bank Institute, and countless local, regional, and national governments around the world have been encouraging green economic principals for years. People are challenging the old-perception of economic growth necessarily being coupled with environmental degradation. For sustainability to be a viable option for individuals and communities, it must not only come without economic harm, it must come with economic advantages.
Economic benefits of green actions come not only in large, industry-wide and national scales. The advantages of going green can be seen at very personal levels. Changes in simple daily activities can have huge payoffs for both the environment and the financial bottom line.
For the last decade, the energy industry has been convinced that demand for oil, gas, and coal would continue to grow without inhibition for at least the next 20 years. Investment communities have largely accepted these convictions and backed energy companies wholeheartedly. But recently, things have changed. Dirty energy investments are becoming riskier and riskier as the potential for carbon emission policies are becoming a clearer reality. What does this mean for the renewable energy sector? Solar, wind, hydro, and biofuel industries will be the ones to pick up the energy demand. The time to invest in renewable energy is now. These investments may take the form of huge financial sums, or single stock purchases. In addition, the power of consumer choice is an essential investment decision made by households each and every day. Every household has decision making power, and it makes the most financial sense for them to use that choice with the upmost environmental and economic consciousness.
Home lighting costs for the average American household are 11 percent of annual energy costs. Replacing old incandescent light bulbs with efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), light emitting diodes (LEDs), or even halogens, can save the typical household 75 percent on annual lighting bills. This equates to about $112 dollars saved a year for the typical American household. Something as simple as switching to paperless billing can save a household $70 a year, both from financial incentives from companies, and savings on today’s stamp prices.
Investing the time and money in a home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment, is the first step for many towards assessing how much energy a home is consuming, and evaluating what measures can be taken to decrease this consumption and make the home more energy efficient. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, conserving energy in this way can save as much as $600 on the annual electricity bill of a typical American household. In addition, the tax credits typically associated with the energy efficient methods can earn a home up to $1500 annually.
The truth is, 10 years ago, people were afraid of going green because of the huge premiums they thought they would pay – and for the most part, they were right. But green technology has come a long way in the past decade, and there is no reason to be afraid any longer.
As we move forward, green choices are making more environmental and economic sense than ever. No financial or personal investment is more important than an investment in the future, and no investment will have a greater positive impact than green investments. Gone are the days when households were forced to choose between financial viability and environmental stewardship – now the choice can be one in the same, as long as the action is taken. At global and local scales, green investments have huge potential to save people money, and save the environment tremendous costly future expenditures. After all, what investment holds more promise than an investment in our planet?