04/18/2011 08:21 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2011

The Rise of the Pocketbook Environmentalist

While the down economy has left millions of families feeling battered, Americans aren't taking it lying down. They are looking for ways to cut back, save money and make ends meet. In this new consumer landscape, saving is in vogue and bargain purchases warrant bragging rights. As the co-founder of a company that addresses this money-saving need by bringing affordable solar power to homeowners, I've also noticed that bargain purchases and "green" purchases have finally become one and the same.

There is a new wave of environmental consumers I like to call Pocketbook Environmentalists. They're going green primarily because it makes good financial sense, but the fact that it benefits their families' health and the environment also makes them feel good. More often than not, they no longer have to choose between their pocketbooks and the planet.

The most important values for shoppers -- cost, quality, and convenience -- haven't shifted. But, increasingly, green products and services are the superior option in all of these categories. For example, companies like Walmart have stocked their shelves with organic foods comparable in price to non-organic products at mainstream supermarkets, making the decision easy. The Food Institute found that while grocery industry sales grew only 1.8 percent overall last year, organic grocery sales were more than twice that (4.4 percent). Going green is cost-competitive with other products and services, and easier than ever.

Another example is Zipcar's convenient and cost-efficient car sharing service. With Zipcar consumers avoid the upfront cost of buying a car, not to mention gas, insurance, and repairs. Plus, they reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road. Suddenly the planet-smart carless option is also the convenient money-saving option.

What's more, while Americans battle the recession they also have to deal with rising gas prices and ever-increasing electricity costs. Not surprisingly, soccer moms from the Midwest are trading in their SUVs for hybrids. Sales of Toyota hybrids, including the Prius, have now topped 3 million, while increased demand for fuel-efficient vehicles has inspired nearly every car company to get into the hybrid market.

Higher home energy bills have also spurred families to look for alternatives to their utility companies. I've met and spoken with them first-hand because they come to solar providers like mine to relieve the burden on their wallets and take control of energy costs. We own, install, insure and maintain the solar panels and all the homeowner does is pay monthly for the power with little or no upfront costs. It's Pocketbook Environmentalism in a nutshell.

Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal summarized it well recently: "Falling solar-panel prices, generous government subsidies and rising power costs are creating a new breed of solar enthusiasts: people who are installing panels on their roof because they see it as a good investment, not because they are out to save the world."

As a result, new solar panels are showing up in a more economically and politically diverse range of cities. For every family in liberal San Francisco that went solar with SunRun in 2010, nearly eight families in more conservative Fresno made the switch to our solar power service. And New Jersey is now second only to California in the growing nationwide solar market.

For Pocketbook Environmentalists, financial savings are the primary motivator. However Pocketbook Environmentalists are changing the face of the market and the planet for the better by demanding that going green saves you money. And that's a new Earth Day motto we can all get behind.

Lynn Jurich is the president and co-founder of SunRun.