They will run your errands by bicycle, recommend a spa that gives vegan manicures or buy organic clothes for you and your dog. They will even book you a dream vacation and buy the appropriate carbon offsets.
Green living is just so much easier when you have your own personal environmental concierge.
"The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making," said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners.
Memberships range from $175 a month to $3,500 a year, depending on the level of service. Or you can opt for a la carte service at $25 to $50 an hour.
It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down.
St. Louis Maid service
"There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change," said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb'n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. "These are busy professionals who don't have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services." White charges $39 for the first hour and $29 an hour subsequently; she was considering introducing monthly subscriptions.
Personal concierge services originated in hotels but made the leap to people's homes in the last decade or so, said Katharine C. Giovanni, who runs an industry trade group, the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association.
"The green idea, that's really taking off," Giovanni said. And in a bad economy, she said, a concierge service is an "excellent home-based business to start up for people who have been liberated from their companies."
Clients generally come to eco-concierges for a specific reason, say, to help rid their apartment of clutter or set up a pristine nursery for a new baby, and then gradually get excited about other possibilities.
The concierge companies say they vet the vendors they work with, sending out questionnaires, checking on eco-certification status and meeting with them directly. Amy Mayfield, who runs Eco-Modern Concierge in Houston, said she was "pretty hard core" about minimizing her own carbon footprint and was constantly researching the best ways to go about it.
She runs her clients' light errands on a Vespa scooter, takes cloth grocery bags to do their shopping and takes their leftover food to homeless shelters. When she is hired for pet care, the treats are vegan and homemade and the toys are made from recycled materials.
Do such small steps add up to a larger difference? Some climate experts say not really, explaining that only nations and industries have the collective might to dial back global warming.
"The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action," Gernot Wagner, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed article.
Eco-concierges see it their way — that every contribution counts. "We want to take baby steps with our clients, so it's not, 'Oh, I have to change everything in the house,' 'said Leeann Brzozowski, the owner of QiLiving in New York.
There are no guilt trips. Brzozowski recommends buying carbon offsets, using low-emission cars, and drinking organic coffee in reusable mugs — but clients are free to do as they please.