Renting solar panels? Paperless wedding invitations? Some green-tech ideas are really out there. But if they work, they might save you big bucks.
By Michael Koretzky

How far can the green revolution go? Well, now that Walmart sells organic cheese and yogurt, anything’s possible. Here are five new eco-friendly ideas that might save you money. We haven’t tried them out yet, but we plan to. If you want to live on the cutting edge yourself, check out…

1. Paperless Post
Online wedding invitations are nothing new. Here’s what is: online invites that look as realistic and as intricate as their paper predecessors. Paperless Post lets you email invitations for darn near anything, and they look identical on screen to the invites you’d send through the post office – and at a fraction of the cost. (You can send 1,000 for $50, compared to $440 if you did it the old-fashioned way.)

Pros: The invitation actually comes in an envelope – you click to open it, and the invite pops out. So it looks much better than the typical online invitation, but you can still RSVP from the site.

Cons: Let’s face it, some folks are still going to think you cheaped out on them.

2. Green Baby Bargains
Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, “Organic is a grocery term meaning twice as expensive.” That goes double for clothing – eco-friendly duds can be four times as costly. That’s why Green Baby Bargains has caught some buzz. Every weekday morning, the site announces one deal for the day. Yesterday, it was jewelry for mom. The day before, socks and cloth diapers. Each deal is supposed to be chemical-free and made of recycled or sustainable products.

Pros: It’s nice to see green deals for a change, especially those having to do with babies – which are never cheap, whether they’re green or not.

Cons: With only one deal a day, it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be interested in the offering. And the deals don’t come with expiration dates. As the website says, “You have until it’s gone to scoop it up.”

3. SunRun
Solar energy is a conundrum: It can save you a little money every month on your electric bill, but only after it costs you a lot of money. “Commercial systems range from $30 to $80 per square foot of collector area, installed,” the U.S. Department of Energy says. And even used, a home system can run into the thousands (like the $3,600 DIY one on eBay.) Enter SunRun, which rents you its solar power system. It claims to install it at “little to no cost” and then charges you “a fixed monthly fee for 20 years” – which will be less than what you’ll save. And maintenance and repair is included in the price. It’s a clever idea, but does it work?

Pros: Some of us rent cable boxes and cable modems, some of us lease cars. So it seems to make sense that this is a viable business model.

Cons: SunRun operates only in eight states right now – Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania – and many folks in other states just don’t get enough sun to make this worthwhile.

4. SodaStream
If you buy cans and plastic bottles of soda, you might think you’re being environmentally conscious by recycling them. But what if you could get rid of them entirely? SodaStream sells a sleek home soda maker, 100 syrups, and “carbonators” so you can make soda at home.

Pros: If you drink lots of soda, you’ll save money and the hassle of lugging cans and bottles home from the store. And you get to make soda the way you like it.

Cons: You need to drink a lot of soda to recoup your investment of $80 to $200 for the soda makers and $60 for the carbonators. (The syrups cost only $5 to $10 and purportedly make 33 cans of beverage.)

5. YouRenew
Instead of throwing away old electronics, this website pays you for them – then resells them to others. So the logical question is: How is YouRenew different from eBay or Craiglist? Answer: Not much in the price department, depending on the item.
But you do get a reputable company mentioned in The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which is a lot less creepy than Craigslist. And the company has a complex system of donating everything from tree plantings to a “a one metric ton carbon offset,” depending on the device you send in.

Pros: While it’s profitable to sell an old iPhone on eBay, that’s not always true for some of the products YouRenew seeks – like MP3 players and even calculators.

Cons: YouRenew doesn’t accept everything, and you have to check their list before embarking on a complex process that involves mailing labels (although shipping is free), personal information (which they swear not to share), and PayPal (the way you get your money).

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