Earn Rewards by Going Green

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Earn Rewards by Going Green

There’s a new spin on loyalty programs -- rewards for cutting back on trash.

Programs that encourage environmentally benign buying pay off for both consumers and businesses. Manufacturers and retailers are participating in green rewards programs that give shoppers the chance to earn points toward purchases of other products by living sustainably.

Consumers get some welcome greenbacks for making environmentally friendly choices. Meanwhile, companies get to burnish their environmental reputations, attracting more consumers who already make a point of buying green products from good environmental stewards. At the same time, the distribution of associated coupons and rewards raises foot traffic and brand awareness.

Advocates of eco-conscious living hope the programs will spread environmental awareness to more-mainstream consumers, who may be deterred by higher prices for organic food or the extra time it might take to separate out their recyclables. The economic downturn is “a great time to introduce an incentive” for sustainable living, says Tiger Beaudoin, the founder and vice president of marketing for EcoBonus, a green rewards program that will launch on Earth Day 2011. “People have good intentions, but price is an important purchase driver.”

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Take a look at some of the programs catching on:

• RecycleBank. Consumers earn points, redeemable toward purchases at national and local retailers, for curbside recycling -- including e-waste such as old cell phones or mp3 players. The recyclers can redeem the points at national stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods or McDonald’s as well as at local businesses. More than 300 communities work with RecycleBank because they gain too, reaping savings by diverting trash to recycling facilities instead of landfills. The towns keep some of the budget savings and share the rest with RecycleBank, which uses the money to fund its projects. RecycleBank recently started an energy savings program with the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois that rewards residents for energy reduction, based on individualized energy-saving recommendations.


• Waste Management’s Greenopolis kiosks. The trash removal giant gives rewards points to consumers who recycle bottles and cans at kiosks stationed outside retailers and other businesses. Points can be turned in for coupons or gift certificates usable at local businesses or with national sponsors such as Sherwin Williams, Embassy Suites and Hertz.

• EcoBonus. The program from global incentives company BI Worldwide – which will officially launch on Earth Day 2011 – grants points to consumers who make environmentally sustainable purchases. Eligible products are marked with a special EcoBonus symbol. Shoppers can put the rewards toward additional environmentally friendly buying -- stainless steel water bottles, for example -- plus groups and organizations can collect points toward major purchases such as rooftop solar panels.

• And TerraCycle’s program benefiting nonprofits and schools. The company collects what is typically nonrecyclable waste, such as candy and snack wrappers, pens, coffee bags and toothpaste tubes, from consumers, as well as recyclable items such as cell phones, plastic containers and more. It uses the trash to make new products sold at major retailers including Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Consumers who make the effort to get their trash to TerraCycle earn monetary rewards that go to nonprofits of their choice. Some manufacturers, such as skincare products maker Aveeno, even encourage consumers to send their brands’ empty product containers to TerraCycle for repurposing.

The green rewards programs are just part of a wave of new initiatives aimed at shaping consumer behavior beyond returning to specific brands or retailers. Health care related retailers aim to encourage healthful living: In April, Rite Aid started its “wellness +” program, which gives members benefits such as 24/7 access to a pharmacist and the chance to accrue points redeemable for product discounts or to use for health screenings. CVS recently completed a pilot program that rewarded consumers who remembered to take their blood pressure medication regularly. And Kroger and drugstore Duane Reade are partnering to test a national program called WellQ, intended to coax consumers into setting and achieving wellness goals, including timely refills of drug prescriptions.


The fact is, Americans seem to love loyalty and reward programs and are more than happy to add another membership card to their key rings. The average U.S. consumer belongs to 12-14 loyalty programs. The trick for consumer organizations and brands is to use the programs not only to influence shoppers’ buying habits, but to encourage other behavior, says Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner with Colloquy, part of the global marketing company LoyaltyOne.