Being green while saving green

Written by katie


In the current economic situation, it’s easy to think of being green as a luxury. You might need to postpone that solar panel installation that won’t pay off for years to come. And the non-organic, imported tomatoes at Safeway start looking better and better compared to the more expensive ones at Whole Foods. Fortunately, saving the environment and saving money often go hand and hand. In addition to obvious tips like driving less, turning down the heat in winter (or A/C in summer), and taking shorter showers, here are a few other ideas:

1. Bring your lunch

Around the TerraPass office in San Francisco, it’s hard to get lunch for less than $7-$8. Over the course of a year, that adds up to about $2,000 spent on take-out. By bringing my own lunch, I estimate I cut that in half, even when I’m being lazy and bring something prepared from Trader Joe’s. If I actually make my own lunch, the savings are greater. The environmental benefit is reduced waste — no styrofoam containers, plastic cutlery and tiny packets of condiments all packed into a disposable paper bag.

2. Eat vegetarian (at least occasionally)

Raising animals for food is a big contributor to global warming. The topic has been covered here before, so no need to rehash it. But meat is also more expensive than vegetarian alternatives like pasta and beans. One analysis in Australia calculated a 20% grocery bill savings from switching to a vegetarian menu. The cost savings also hold true for meals in restaurants.

3. Shop online

There was a recent discussion on the blog about how shopping online can be more eco-friendly than schlepping to the mall. When done right, it can also be quite a bit cheaper, even when you buy from the same stores you’d normally drive to. Most major retailers issue online coupon codes, which often save you 10-15% or more. In recent years, it’s gotten easier to find good coupons, thanks to sites like that incorporate user feedback about which coupons have expired, or what conditions there might be on their usage. There are also sites that give you cash back (or points redeemable for gift certificates) if you visit them first and click-through to your shopping destination (they work by sharing a portion of the affiliate bonus that the retailer pays for sending visitors their way). Combine the rebate sites with coupon codes, and the savings become significant.

4. Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk reduces the amount of wasteful packaging that you toss away (hopefully mostly into the recycle bin). It can also reduce the number of trips you take to the store, especially the “shoot, this recipe requires 2 cups of sugar and I’ve only got 1 left” type. Even if you can’t justify the membership fee for a big warehouse store like Costco, many grocery stores sell things like flour, cereal and coffee out of bulk bins, and you earn bonus cred by brining your own containers.

The obvious catch here is not to overbuy perishable goods — really, that gallon of mayonnaise will probably spoil before you can get through it. And don’t buy large quantities of things you never needed in the first place just because they seem like a bargain.

5. Buy used

Buying used on sites such as Ebay and Craigslist cuts down on emissions from the manufacturing and transport of new goods. And these days, it’s done for much more than electronics and media. For example, I used craigslist to buy a sleeping bag for a recent camping trip, and it cost me about 20% what it would have at REI (this came as quite the surprise to some TerraPass coworkers who are familiar with my somewhat germaphobic tendencies). Just browsing the list of categories on craigslist might give you some ideas of areas where you really don’t need to buy new: furniture, tools, baby & kids gear, etc. Conveniently, you can turn this into a money-making tip by going on the selling side of it. Get rid of the old space heater that’s gathering dust in your basement and that’s one less that gets made new, and a little extra money in your wallet.

If you’ve got any more tips, share them in the comments below.

You May Also Like…


  1. Johnny

    Good article Katie,
    It’s very important for people to be mindful of the environment when shopping. It’s very fun to find deals online without having to visit the actual stores. I find it cuts down on my emissions and on my frustrations :).
    I just read a post you may find interesting. ( I really liked what they said about waiting 30 days to see if you really need the item you’re looking for. So many of the things we buy are spur of the moment and end up collecting dust somewhere in our homes.
    Hope this is useful.

  2. Valerie

    Having lived for over 20 yers on a strict budget, due to not earning a lot of money and wanting to be a home owner, many of the things mentioned. As a single person, I have always rented part of my home to help with the cost of my mortgage. I shop at thrift stores for just about everything! We also have Habit for Humanity store for recycled home renovation of which I use when decorating for my home. Anything from paint to floor tile have been available at this store. The most interesting and simple is garage sales! I meet very wonderful and interesting people and usually have a story to tell about how I got the material for a certain project. Life can be simple if you so choose!

  3. atoms

    Yes! thanks for the helpful and timely piece. At your request, here is my tip: ride a bike.
    I save thousands of dollars a year by not having a car and potentially hundreds more by not needing to pay for a gym membership.
    I wonder if schlepping to the mall on a bike though negates the environmental gains of online shopping?
    Keep up the great work!

  4. Dan

    LED lights! I’m not a big wally-world fan, but Wal-Mart sells them now, for much, much less than the online places I’ve loooked at them. There’s no start-up surge like cfl’s, so you don’t worry about the kids who turn them off and on constantly, and they use much, much less energy than cfl’s. my 40 watt equivilent cfl’s are about 10 watts, and my led is only 1.5 watts! the light is a whiter white, so I don’t use them everyehwere, and I don’t want to go and get rid of all my cfl’s, but when a cfl goes out, it’s being replaced with a LED light for the most part.

  5. Elizabeth Ferguson is also a great resource- to give and receive items for free

  6. Russ

    Dan, I don’t think LED lights are really quite there yet. They’re still far too expensive to make them an overall saver. CFLs are a very good solution for now — and you need not be concerned about the power-on surge. I’m pretty sure that, at this point, if you keep a light on for more than 10 seconds, you still come out ahead with a CFL versus tungsten. (Even long-tube flourescents come out ahead in 30 seconds — modern ballasts consume far less power these days.)

  7. the real mary

    This year I’m trying solar-powered lights on an outside evergreen tree for the first time. I used to put up regular strings of mini-lights but got tired of the big surge in my electric bill every holiday season, plus it was becoming harder and harder for me to justify the energy use. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

  8. Logan Green

    Ridesharing is a great way to make money by selling the empty seats in your car, or chip in for gas and let someone else drive. There is an application on Facebook (which I helped develop) that will help you find a match.

  9. atoms

    I think it is not freecycle.[the other TLD]
    The .com site appears to be trying to cash in on the generosity of the people.

  10. Rachel

    While I understand the fuel savings of shopping on-line (and I’m one of those rare women who HATES to shop, unless it’s at a consignment shop!)
    I like to support local businesses, and think it’s important to do so with the economy in such rough shape. While I’m not a fan of over-consuming, if you can help your local merchants and keep people employed, it’s something to consider. I tend to go to the storefront shops nearby, and leave the car and walk back and forth to store stuff (locked in the trunk of course!!)

  11. Lowell Michalove

    The following brief outlines the ONLY immediate SOLUTION to the energy crisis and global warming.
    America Wastes over 70% of the Energy it Consumes.
    Our hedonist energy waste is pervasive and tragic !
    (1) 100’s of millions of lights burn unnecessary during the day and night.
    (2) We over heat and over cool our homes, businesses, offices,
    schools, churches, etc……….
    (3) Most Americans do not minimize their driving. Road congestion is horrendous.
    (4) America’s obsession with road construction is the ultimate contradiction.
    The ONLY way to eliminate over demand and energy waste is by using the
    economic impact of taxing energy. Crude oil needs to be taxed at $200
    per barrel(55 gal) and ‘offset’ by making Federal Income Tax begin at $60k.
    Only with a substantial and tangible dollar reward/consequence, will
    Americans care to conserve. Until the price of gas is $7 to $8 per gallon,
    Americans will not reduce their over consumption and energy waste.
    In the mean time, the USA continues its hedonist energy waste and gives away
    its economic and political wealth to the Islamic Middle East via OPEC.
    Know that the Islamic dominated OPEC cartel is glad to allow
    supply and demand market forces to drive energy prices to $8/gallon.
    China, India, and other ‘developing countries’ have just begun to
    compete for the world’s remaining fossil fuel. If global demand for
    energy is not dramatically reduced, World war is inevitable
    ( geopolitical unrest is directly related to global competition for
    energy and natural resources ).
    Ford and General Motors are headed for bankruptcy, which will leave
    100,000,000 Americans unemployed, ruin our economy, and lead to
    anarchy. America can no longer continue to ‘do business as usual’.
    Ford and GM must quickly transition to the lucrative business of
    building solar and wind ‘energy producers’ for the world’s 6.7 BILLION
    people reason$. The world cannot continue to support all the
    automakers. We are running out of petroleum !
    Mass transit must become FREE, SAFE, CLEAN, and CONVENIENT,
    thereby rewarding those who reduce their driving.
    Global warming continues to increase with our persistent waste and
    overuse of fossil fuels.
    The incentives necessary to create sustainable and renewable energy supplies
    can ONLY occur when we implement the economics of TAXING ENERGY.
    Lowell Michalove,phd [email protected]