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20 Ways to Save Green by Going Green

Written by Kelli B. Grant, Smart Money
Published: April 22, 2010

Companies are increasingly willing to offer consumers discounts for green behaviors such as recycling electronics and receiving statements electronically. But while the behaviors can have an environmental impact, the savings for consumers are usually nominal.

Among the recent movements: Last year, Target (TGT: 55.59, -0.36, -0.64%) began offering a five-cent discount to shoppers who pack purchases in a reusable tote, while CVS (CVS: 35.60, +0.44, +1.25%) launched a green tag program that offers shoppers a $1 store credit for every four visits they bring a bag. (The program costs 99 cents to join.) And last week, Starbucks (SBUX: 33.07, -0.58, -1.72%) offered free coffee to customers who brought in a refillable mug as a way to publicize its campaign to reduce paper cup waste.

Consumers’ growing interest in going green has prompted businesses to look for ways to tout their environmental friendliness. “More companies are realizing they have to do something in that area to get consumers’ attention,” says George Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University in California. But because green discounts are usually nominal, offering them is more about cutting costs than gaining a competitive advantage. “If they can cut an expense like paper statements and spin it as positive for the customer and the environment, it’s win-win for them,” says Curtis Arnold, the founder of credit card comparison site

So why offer the incentives at all? “It’s basic psychology; when you want someone to engage in a behavior, incentivize it,” says Jennifer Berry, a spokeswoman for, a recycling resource. Without them, fewer consumers would participate.

Most deals don’t offer significant enough savings or green impact to warrant switching companies, but they’re enough to save eco-conscious consumers a few dollars here and there, while helping reduce waste:

Bring a bag

Saving a few cents on your grocery bill might not be incentive enough to switch to reusable bags, but getting charged extra for plastic could be. Aldi grocery stores charge five cents for a paper bag, 10 cents for plastic. Local governments are tacking on fees, too. On Jan. 1, Washington, D.C. began charging shoppers five cents for every plastic bag used at a grocery or liquor store.

• CVS: Purchase a CVS 99-cent Green Bag Tag and swipe it each time you bring your own bag or decline a store bag at checkout. Four visits earn you a $1 store coupon, printed on your receipt.
• Giant: Save five cents per bag.
• Kroger: Save four cents per bag.
• Shop Rite: Save two cents per bag when you reuse one of the store’s paper or plastic bags, or five cents per bag when you use a non-disposable tote (does not have to be a store tote).
• Target: Save five cents per reusable bag.
• Whole Foods: Save five or 10 cents per bag, depending on the individual store’s policy.

Go paperless

Roughly a third of all garbage, before recycling, is paper and paper products, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Going paperless is usually a condition of getting the most favorable terms,” says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at You might be able to get a better interest rate or secure extra reward points. Companies, of course, cut costs by sending an email instead of printing paper statements and paying postage. Just make sure to check your email regularly so that you don’t miss the email or let it get buried in your inbox.

• Allstate: Customers who sign up for paperless billing (with automatic withdrawal from a bank account) receive a discount of up to 5% on an auto policy, depending on the state. The discount is not available in California, North Dakota and South Dakota.
• Progressive: Policy holders who sign up to get documents electronically save up to 5%, depending on the state and whether the customer buys directly or through an agent. The discount is available in 41 states.
• Sprint: The company gives a one-time $5 credit to customers who sign up for Sprint’s eBill service. (Consumers who get a discount on their plans through an employer are not eligible.)
• Time Warner Cable: Time Warner Cable customers in New York can get a $1 credit on their bill each month if they opt for paperless billing.


Figuring out where and how to recycle some goods can be tricky, so some companies are beginning to offer free recycling of defunct gadgets and extending postage-paid shipping. Many states are also offering extra cash to consumers who recycle an old appliancs and buy a new, energy-efficient one.

• Apple: Bring in an old iPod for recycling to an Apple store and the company will provide a 10% discount on a new one. (Discount not eligible on iPod shuffle models.)
• MAC Cosmetics: Through the Back to MAC program, customers who return six containers from MAC products receive a free lipstick of their choice.
• Consumers earn points in this free program for recycling old electronics and, depending on where they live, regular recyclables such as paper, glass and plastic. (Participating cities include Cherry Hill, N.J., and Mesa, Ariz.)
• Staples: Recycle ink and toner cartridges in store to receive $3 in Staples Rewards to use on future store purchases. (Limit 10 per month per customer.)

Buy green goods

A handful of credit card and other reward programs are directed at consumers who are buying green products. But before signing up, research how many of your purchases actually qualify, Arnold says. It could be that the card benefits only work with certain partner merchants, or makers. There’s almost certainly a card with broader reward categories (like groceries or entertainment) that’s a better fit for a consumer’s spending habits.

• American Express: The Zync charge card with Eco Pack from American Express offers two reward points per dollar spent on purchases only at select eco-friendly merchants rated on; it also gives a 25% discount when cashing in green rewards. The card carries an annual fee of $25 -- the same as you’d pay for a standard Zync card (one point per dollar spent on all purchases) but $20 less than those with add-on reward packs offering two points per dollar spent on travel, entertainment or communications.
• Duane Reade: Consumers who join the drugstore chain’s free Eco Club rewards program earn double points on environmentally-friendly products from participating companies, including Physician’s Formula organic makeup and EcoSpiral light bulbs. (Under the main FlexRewards program, earn two points per dollar spent at the store, with a $5 reward for every 500 points.)
• UMB: With the UMB Eco Rewards Visa, customers earn two points per dollar spent on green purchases. (Enter environmentally friendly purchases in a separate rebate site to have rewards credited.) Earn one point per dollar spent on other purchases.


The average American office worker uses -- and tosses -- 500 disposable cups each year, according to the Clean Air Council. Switching to a reusable container for your morning coffee limits that waste and can cut coffee addicts’ bills slightly, assuming you remember precaffeine to bring your mug.

• Einstein Bros. Bagels: Customers who bring in a refillable mug for coffee are charged $1, a discount of up to $1 off regular menu prices. Some locations also offer “Free Refill Fridays,” when consumers who use a refillable store mug get a free coffee refill before 2 p.m.
• Peet’s Coffe & Tea: Save 10 cents with a refillable mug. Save 25 cents when reusing a coffee bag for bean purchases.
• Starbucks: Save 10 cents with a refillable mug.

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