What does "Green" really mean for the average consumer?

Last week, Cifford Klaus and Jad Mouawad of the New York Times reported that we have reason to rejoice when it comes to driving during the holidays: "This holiday season, consumers can expect a gift that should ease their burdens a bit: modestly lower gasoline prices."  At the same time that I let out a little smile upon learning that driving my car won't break the bank, I grew a little unsettled as I read on.  Clifford and Jad quote a consumer about why she's grateful for the lower prices: “I can drive from place to place looking for bargains and it costs me less. Before, I was just shopping around my house.” So what she's saying is, now that gas prices are lower, she's going to drive more.  I thought the point of a low-carbon, cost-efficient economy was to drive less. 
 
I nearly choked on my coffee after reading this consumer's words, thinking, "so for all this talk of going green, consumer concerns about going green, and government funds for going green, does this mean that for the average consumer, it's only about money?  Do they even care a little about the environment?"  The quote demonstrates an important point: economics is the single-most important factor in establishing a successful green economy.  If eco-friendly habits don't save money, they won't fly with the average consumer.  Likewise, if entrepreneurs can't make money from their ventures, they won't waste their time. 
 
I started thinking that if gas prices continue to decline, consumers won't have a reason to want to buy fuel-efficient cars.  However, I paused to consider additional factors.  Legislation, for example: In May of 2009 the Obama administration announced the first-ever greenhouse-gas emissions limits for cars. Articles report that "the limits, a joint rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), will require cars to average 35.5 mpg by 2016, four years earlier than under previous fuel economy requirements."  If gas prices were to decline, but legislation did not step in to establish fuel efficiency standards, it's possible that consumer habits would override concern for the environment.  It's an important lesson in why regulations -- when set appropriately -- are critical to the advancement of the green economy.
 
If it's all about money for most consumers, they need a little incentive, or rule setting in this case.  What do you think? Is it all about money, or are drivers actually more eco-friendly these days?
 
Contributed by Susan Wise.  Follow her @swise