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Earth Day: Now more than ever

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, April 22, 2011
Posted: 9 am ET

Today's Earth Day celebration takes on a growing urgency in light of the horrible mess our species has made of the planet in the past 12 months between the BP oil spill and the nuclear disaster in Japan. (Feel free to insert your own timely enviro-rant here.)

If there's a silver lining to this radioactive cloud, it's that we're starting to wake up, smell the toxins and actually steer our behaviors in a more sustainable direction.

According to Hybridcars.com and Baum & Associates, sales of hybrid vehicles increased 39 percent in February over the previous February. Similarly, the U.S. Green Building Council reports that 10,161 homes have received LEED certification since 2008, with more than 38,000 additional LEED homes in the pipeline.

Drop in a bucket, you say? I agree; a handful of green homes and a hybrid vehicle here and there ain't gonna git-r-done. The only way out of this muddle is to follow enlightened leaders in every industry who actually recognize the urgency of the situation.

As this year's catastrophes have vividly illustrated, it's too late for not-in-my-backyard politics; everything is in our collective backyard.

Some property and casualty insurers are doing their part by offering green incentives and discounts across their homeowners insurance and auto insurance product lines.

Travelers and Farmers, for instance, offer premium discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent to hybrid drivers, in large part because they recognize that drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles will likely be more responsible, lower-risk customers. Travelers even offers a discount to owners of hybrid or electric boats.

Some insurers are also encouraging green building by offering discounts on homeowners insurance. These companies recognize that green buildings are safer than conventional homes, reduce energy use and perform better in the long run, leading to a decrease in losses and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fireman's Fund and Travelers have led the P&C field with discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent on annual home insurance premiums for LEED-certified homes as well as innovative endorsements that cover the added cost to repair, replace or rebuild with green materials and Energy Star appliances after a loss.

"Consumers are clearly seeing the financial and environmental benefits associated with green auto purchases and green home upgrades," says Travelers vice president Elaine Baisden. "We expect to see this trend continue as consumers evaluate future auto purchases and home construction or renovations."

I hope she's right. If not, future Earth Days could begin to feel more like a wake than a celebration.

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