By Frank Byrt
Helping save the planet while filing your taxes sounds like a bit of a stretch, but EcoTaxFile.com says it has a good way to start. The company combines tax preparation services with an energy audit to identify a taxpayer's carbon footprint and then suggests ways to cut costs and greenhouse gases.
The Vancouver, British Columbia–based company, which offers US and Canadian citizens and small businesses online, real-time, tax preparation services from professional accountants, launched its service on March 11.
Some may think combining taxes and environmental awareness is an unlikely pairing, but Brad Cran, the company's founder, told AccountingWEB people should review their energy habits on an annual basis, much as they do their financial status when their tax return is prepared. "You're looking at a twelve-month snapshot [of your financial activity], so we're saying that at the same time, you can take a snapshot of your environmental impact."
EcoTaxFile.com has a free online Carbon Footprint Calculator that individuals and small businesses can use to calculate their energy consumption, from auto mileage to water habits, and compare it to that of similarly-sized households or businesses. Specific recommendations are given in an Eco Report for cutting consumption, along with ways to participate in less carbon-intensive activities.
EcoTaxFile.com works with Climate Smart Businesses Inc., which provides the science and emission factors behind EcoTaxFile.com's Carbon Footprint Calculator and Eco Reports. The company has also teamed up with Offsetters, an organization that aims to provide greenhouse gas management solutions.
"Along with the tax return, we'll walk you through an Eco Report, which will tell you where you can save money and ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and live greener", Cran said.
Just as corporations develop sustainability tools to help them save money, so can individuals, he said. "If we can mobilize the accounting industry on these issues, that's all for the good."
The website also provides eco-friendly consumer tips and links to discounts and incentives to help clients make choices that will reduce their environmental impact over the long term, so they know they're doing their part to slow climate change.
Among the US accountants working with EcoTaxFile.com is Jody Padar, a CPA with New Vision CPA Group in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Padar is also director of operations for EcoTaxFile.com.
When it comes to coupling a tax return with an environmental audit, Padar said to AccountingWEB",Why not? Most of the data is already there, so why not use it for another purpose as well?"
As for the costs of services, she said",We're not trying to be the cheapest. We want to focus on people who think it's important to be eco-friendly and conscious of the environment."
Padar says that given the technology available today, the EcoTaxFile.com approach saves trips to the accountant's office while still providing direct access to a tax professional. "What's really cool is the ease of use for [taxpayers]. They can take a picture and upload copies of their receipts [and tax forms], and then we can interview them by Skype or e-mail. And that makes it a time-saver for the accountants as well."