As we mark Earth Day this April, we can all be proud of the fact that Canada’s switch from paper currency to polymer bills results in a 32-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 30-per-cent reduction in energy, according to a life cycle study commissioned by the Bank of Canada.
But what can we do as consumers to make our financial choices more Earth friendly? Here are just a few suggestions for going financially green.
1. Use alternatives to the branch
One study in the U.S. found that the increase in adopting online banking saved 17 million trees and got rid of four billion tons of greenhouse gases a year. This shows that alternatives to a branch visit can yield environmental rewards.
Whenever you can, choose telephone, online or mobile banking over a trip to your branch since this reduces the use of paper in processing transactions. It also eliminates the need to drive to the branch, which cuts down on your use and emission of fossil fuels and consequently your environmental footprint.
2. Skip the paper route
Foregoing the chequebook may not work for everyone, but it’s an excellent way to go financially green. If you make regular cheque payments, replace this with a pre-authorized payment plan.
Opting out of mailed paper statements from your credit union or bank is another way to reduce paper use since most financial institutions allow you to view your transaction records online. You can also access most bills on the service provider’s website, saving the environment from the impacts of printing, mailing and transporting them to you.
If you’re a small business owner who mails out bills, ask your customers if it’s okay to send them out by email instead. If you pay your employees by cheque, this may also be a good time to consider the direct deposit option. It will make life much easier for your staff and Mother Nature will thank you for it.
3. Pay to go green
A common argument against purchasing environmentally friendly products is that they are too expensive. But you may want to think again.
Although the initial purchase cost might be higher than that of its less energy efficient counterpart, most green products pay off in savings in the medium to long term. For example, if you replace a fridge older than 1991, it will pay for the replacement cost in less than one year. So, if you have old energy-guzzling appliances in your home (especially fridges, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers), it may be a good idea to save some money, or apply for a line of credit from your financial institution, to replace them.
If you own a business and are considering retrofitting to energy efficient products, you may also qualify for BC Hydro’s Business Energy Saving Incentives, which can cover up to 75 per cent of your project costs.
4. Consider the environmental cost
Make it a habit to think not just of the financial cost but also the environmental cost of your purchases. For example, a roll of paper towels may cost less than a cloth napkin, but the paper towel has a much higher environmental cost. You may save dollars by purchasing the paper towel, but you’d be racking up a greater “green bill” that future generations will have to pay for in negative environmental impacts.
On the other hand, your purchase of a bicycle for work will have a lower financial as well as environmental cost, compared to a car purchase.
It’s advisable to take some time to understand common environmental labels and claims in Canada so you can use this to guide some of your purchasing decisions. Learn about these labels by visiting the Government of Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs website at https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/oca-bc.nsf/eng/ca02523.html.
If we all use a bit of our financial power to help protect the environment, collectively, we can make a significant positive impact on our own lives and that of future generations.
Kathy McGarrigle is Chief Operating Officer for Coast Capital Savings (www.coastcapitalsavings.com), Canada’s largest credit union by membership.