The Price of Eco-Consciousness

August 19th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should consumers be financially responsible for helping businesses go green?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Reduce your carbon footprint. It’s the current mantra of environmental responsibility.

Many consumers have reduced their primary footprint by making changes in their daily lives, like shrinking electricity use, switching to more energy efficient light bulbs at home, and cutting back—or cutting out—driving a car.

Consumers who want to reduce their so-called secondary footprint have to make tougher decisions about products and services beyond their daily control, weighing the whole lifecycle of the things they consume, as well as the environmental practices of the businesses they deal with.

But in many cases, going green costs green—and raises a question about whether consumers should be responsible for paying the price of reducing a business’s carbon hoof marks.

Some small businesses are now asking their customers to pay extra to help them, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a San Francisco engineering firm that tacks a modest surcharge on to every bill to help pay for the company’s own renewable energy credits as a way of reducing its carbon footprint.

So far, no customer has refused to pay the extra fee. “I think they would feel too guilty,” said the CEO.

But the answers were very different when the Journal posed this question to its readers: “Would you mind paying extra to help a business reduce its carbon footprint?”

“Yes, I would mind,” one person wrote. “I do not ask you to pay for my charity work. It is pretty arrogant and self-righteous to ‘slip’ that into the bill.” Another reader was also opposed: “I would not pay something to someone to do something they should morally be doing anyway.” And there was this more business-like response: “Couldn’t they just bill more and not charge a separate fee?

Tell us what you think: Should consumers be financially responsible for helping businesses go green? Where does personal responsibility end and business responsibility begin when it comes to the cost of helping the environment?