YOUR MONEY: Earth Day is past — now what can we do?If only cash sprouted as easily as backyard weeds, we'd all be cheering. But greening up your wallet is still doable. In homage to Earth Day on this month's calendar, we've harvested some Earth-friendly money habits you might want to adopt.
By: Claudia Buck, McClatchy Newspapers
If only cash sprouted as easily as backyard weeds, we'd all be cheering. But greening up your wallet is still doable.
In homage to Earth Day on this month's calendar, we've harvested some Earth-friendly money habits you might want to adopt.
It's grown from a Bay Area brainstorm into a global campaign to get businesses into the spirit of environmentalism. Buy a shirt, a chocolate bar, a beer - even fencing supplies or legal services - and 1 percent of the company's gross sales are pledged to environmental nonprofit groups.
Since launching from a California Patagonia store in 2002, the One Percent for the Planet - or 1% FTP - program has now spread to some 1,138 businesses in 38 countries, said Terry Kellogg, the Vermont-based CEO of 1% FTP.
"It's a very tangible way to make a very discrete impact. If I make this purchase, I know that X amount of dollars will go to a cause I care about," said Kellogg.
The participating companies range from big retailers like Sony to independent jewelry sellers. The recipients run from high-profile nonprofits like the Sierra Club to tiny grassroots groups. Based on company audits, Kellogg said more than $42 million has been contributed to environmental causes in the past six years.
For details, go to www.onepercentfortheplanet.org.
One way to feel environmentally good about your investing dollars is with so-called "green mutual funds."
The GreenMoney Journal recently released its new Top 10 list of mutual funds that invest in companies devoted to alternative energy, clean water, organic products and those that avoid alcohol, tobacco, gambling or weapons.
The annual list is a mix of new funds and those that have changed or enhanced their investment mix to be more environmentally conscious, said Cliff Feigenbaum, founder and president of the Green Money Journal, based in Santa Fe, N.M.
"The funds represent different ways people can align their money with their values," said Feigenbaum, who has published the journal since 1992. "Our goal is to make money and make a difference."
His list of mutual funds that are "greening it up": Appleseed Fund, Integrity Growth & Income Fund, Wells Fargo Advantage Social Sustainability Fund, Dreyfus Global Sustainability Fund, Calvert Large Cap Value Fund, Calvert Global Water Fund, Pax World Global Green Fund, Pax World International Fund, Pax World Small Cap Fund and Firsthand Alternative Energy Fund.
For more details, go to www.greenmoney.com.
All kinds of companies, from banks to your local utility, are urging customers to switch to electronic billing, statements and payments. The notion: Pay online, save a tree. Or two.
(It also saves companies the payroll and overhead costs spent processing paper accounts by mail.)
PayItGreen is a coalition of financial services companies that promotes electronic billing. According to the coalition, if the average U.S. household switched to electronic payments, it would annually:
-- Save 6.6 pounds of paper.
-- Save 0.079 trees (not a whole tree, evidently).
-- Eliminate 4.5 gallons of gasoline (consumed by mailing and delivering all those paper payments).
-- Prevent 63 gallons of wastewater released.
-- Eliminate 171 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (the equivalent of 169 miles of driving or conserving 24 square feet of forestland).
A handy calculator at www.payitgreen.org lets you compute your "financial paper footprint." Type in how many checks you write and how many bills you pay by mail each month and it'll add up how much you'd save the planet by switching to electronic payments.
Another proponent, eBill Place (www.ebillplace.com), puts it more personally. By its "Cash & Time" calculation, the average family would save $50 a year in postage and five hours of time spent writing and stuffing checks into envelopes.
If your wallet is weighed down by plastic gift cards, credit cards, gasoline cards and such, maybe it's time for some pruning. As we all know, clipping up or paying down costly credit cards can be a huge lift to your bank account.
But don't just snip and toss that plastic.
If it's a used-up gift card, ask to have it reloaded with cash (your local merchant will love you). If it's a no-longer-needed credit card, hotel key or other plastic, toss it in your recycling bin.
But check to be sure it's actually recyclable; some companies are converting to biodegradable materials. The Sacramento, Calif., landfill says most aren't suitable for recycle.
A greener solution? Pop it in the mail to Earthworks System, a company in Solon, Ohio, that's on a crusade to rid the world's landfills of those tiny rectangles of credit.
Founder and president Rodd Gilbert, a plastics broker who started Earthworks as a business sideline, says 75 million pounds of PVC cards go into landfills each year.
"That's what we're trying to prevent," he says. "My goal is to keep it out of the earth."
His company gathers up millions of pounds a year of scrap PVC card plastic and reprocesses it into "100 percent recycled sheets" that are sold back to credit card manufacturers.
Most of his material comes from "skeletons, overruns and obsolete" stock left over from plastic card manufacturers. Other contributors are retailers like Rite-Aid, GAP, Applebee's and Whole Foods, as well as movie theaters, hotel chains, even universities that ship him leftover student IDs.
But what warms his heart are the "little soldiers," like the Ace hardware employee in Sacramento who sends an envelope stuffed with plastic cards every so often. Or the Arlington, Va., mom who was selling plastic scrip at her kids' school and couldn't stand the thought of all those used-up cards going into the local landfill. Her solution: She set up recycling boxes for used cards at her favorite retailers, then sends them to Earthworks.
"From a business level, I deal in dollars and cents all day," said Gilbert. "But when I talk to these people, it's just people who genuinely care."
For more information on Earthworks, go to www.earthworkssystem.com.
Looking for more creative uses for outdated plastic? Lots of crafty types are turning them into earrings, guitar picks, kids' toys, trivets and artwork.
To see some examples, go to: www.treehugger.com or www.creditcards.com (search for credit card crafts).
(Buck is the assistant business editor of The Sacramento Bee. Personal Finance Notebook answers questions about money matters, tapping a roster of experts for advice on navigating the often-confusing world of personal finance. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 15779 Sacramento, CA 95852.)