Gary’s Blog

Green Consumers Need to Do their Homework

Posted on June 9, 2011. Filed under: Gary's Blog | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

We’ve won the initial battle of the market revolution to bring “green” to the mainstream consumer. But the campaign to dramatically change corporate culture and the American business paradigm has just begun. Far from resting on their laurels, green consumers need to do additional work now to ensure the initial gains are not lost in a flood of green washing. 

Green products are everywhere you look. It’s hard to find a major corporation that does not either sell a green product or at least have a sustainability statement. Organic products are sold at corporate super markets, green power is sold by the biggest utilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Exxon-Mobil rolled out a green product. As a green consumer, you now have a myriad of choices at prices that are competitive with non-green products. But before you go to McDonald’s to buy that organic hamburger, think about the real reason you are shopping for green products.

There are generally a few prime motivators in green purchasing. Primarily, these motivators range around the desire of the consumer to reduce his/her direct environmental impact. It is the primary motivation for the widest range of green consumers. If this is your primary motivating factor, the company you buy the product from matters less than the product itself. However, as green consumer sophistication increases, the company who makes or delivers the product plays a larger role in the decision process.

The sophisticated green consumer understands that voluntary purchases on their own will not make enough of a difference to solve the environmental problems we face, especially climate change. Buying a green product from Exxon, for example, may help to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but it could actually be argued that it harms the overall effort to reduce carbon.

When you give your business to non-green companies for a green product, they take the earnings and they invest it into all the activities they do, including lobbying to kill any progressive environmental or consumer protection bill at the state or national level. This is important because we know that in order to solve climate change and other major environmental issues, we need to change the laws of our states and our nation, and to have a strong international agreement. Individual actions alone, while extremely important, cannot solve the problem.

Green consumers who bought green energy from Clean Currents know that their dollars went to reduce their personal carbon footprint, and that the impact of their dollars was magnified by our company’s actions on behalf of the planet. These actions include being the only energy company in Maryland to advocate for Governor O’Malley’s offshore wind bill, and for a consumer protection bill. They include reducing our company’s environmental impact through our sustainability policies. And the actions include the example we are setting for a new business paradigm, the Benefit Company. Clean Currents is the only energy company in the area that is certified by B-Corp for our sustainable operations, and that has our commitment to sustainability and the “public good” actually baked into our legal corporate DNA. Finally, green consumers know that any investment we make in the company with their money is for more green products. We are exclusively green. It’s all we do.

Unfortunately, if consumers purchased from some of the other companies that sell green energy in our region, they perhaps inadvertently gave their money to kill offshore wind, to kill more aggressive solar standards, to kill consumer protection, and to operate a business in the old paradigm. Some of their money may have gone to support development of more polluting sources of energy.

Thus, it’s more important than ever for green consumers to do their homework. Reducing your personal carbon footprint is important, and I am a strong advocate for that. It shows leadership in your community, it makes a difference, and it’s the right thing to do. But now we need to take it to the next level. Before buying from a company, see what their stance is on legislation vital to the environment. See if they mainly sell polluting energy and only do a little green. See if they have an independent third party verification of their sustainability practices. And please do not simply take the company’s word for it! “We’re sustainable, trust us!” is not good enough. Trust but verify, as a former President once said. Take the extra few minutes required to get a good idea of what the company actually does, not what it says.  We can discredit green washing if consumers learn to make well-informed choices.


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The State of Wind in the U.S.

Posted on May 25, 2011. Filed under: Gary's Blog | Tags: , , , , , |

The State of Wind in the U.S.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is having its annual conference this week and the group put out its annual report on the state of wind. It provides some useful tidbits about how things are going in our effort to decarbonize our electricity grid.

Key Facts:

– Wind added more than 35 percent of all new generating capacity in America over the
past four years, more than coal and nuclear combined.

– The U.S. installed 5,116 MW of wind power capacity in 2010, posting 15% growth for the year.

– The entire U.S. wind fleet for utility-scale wind totals 40,181 MW of capacity, or 21% of the world’s installed wind power capacity.

– The entire U.S. wind fleet produced 2.3% of the nation’s electricity generation in 2010, enough to power 9 million homes and the equivalent electricity produced in the entire state of Louisiana, Kentucky, or Missouri.

– In 2010, there are now 38 states across the U.S. with utility-scale wind turbines, and there are wind industry jobs across all 50 states.

– There are over 400 manufacturing facilities across the U.S. supplying some of the 8,000 components in a wind turbine.

– The installed wind fleet will avoid nearly 24 billion gallons of water consumption annually.

– Over the past 10 years, wind energy has increased 16 times over in the U.S.

The news is not all good. According to the Report, 2010 was a difficult year for the wind industry. There was a 50% decline in wind installations between 2009 and 2010, which perpetuates the unsteady year-to-year wind energy trends attributed to the lack of long-term predictable federal policies. The uncertainty of national policies has resulted in the continuation of state targets driving wind installations in many parts of the country. Despite the down year, during 2010 the national wind industry did post double-digit growth and was responsible for 25% of the country’s new installed energy capacity. It benefited from strong support from the financial sector, with $11.1 billion in project debt and tax equity deals closed during the year. The2011 outlook for wind is better following a one-year extension of the 1603 investment tax credit program for renewable energy and because the industry entered 2011 with over 5,600 MW of electric power currently under construction, much more than the 2,750 MW under construction entering 2010.

The Report cites that the major impediment to significant wind industry growth is the inadequacy of the national electric grid, as many proposed wind projects cannot be deployed because there is insufficient transmission capacity to transmit their output. As wind power expands nationally, several factors will determine which regions will experience wind activity, including proximity to power demand, access to transmission, power prices, strength of wind resource, and policy.
As we know, wind is only one of the legs upon which a clean energy future will stand. We need more energy efficiency, solar, and other clean sources to continue their growth as well. Putting a price on carbon is the most sure-fire way to get things accelerated.

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Remember that thing called “Climate Change?”

Posted on May 5, 2011. Filed under: Gary's Blog | Tags: , , , , , |

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Speaking at Climate Gala in DC

Climate change has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth in the public arena as of late. Climate deniers seem to be on the rise, and the media/political world is more interested in talking about deficits, jobs, foreign affairs, and of course, birth certificates (long form or otherwise). But despite our best effort at sticking our head in the sand and hoping it goes away, the ugly facts of the science behind climate change keep coming back to remind us that we have no time to lose in finding a solution.

A new study by a team of scientists for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) says arctic sea ice melt is much worse than previously thought and significant rising sea levels are coming in our children’s lifetime.  They conclude we could see as much as a 5.2 foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century, more than double the previous estimate of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Think of what that would do to Maryland’s beaches, coastline, and the islands in the Bay (ie. Smith Island).

The report notes that the increase in annual average temperature in the Arctic since 1980 has been twice as high as the rest of the world. In fact, it points out that the past six years have been the hottest ever recorded in the Arctic.

A separate report led by an American scientist from NASA corroborates these findings. It projects sea level rise of 13 inches in the near term.

While Congress may be in denial, not everyone inside the Beltway is so clueless.  I had the pleasure of attending the Climate Gala this week in DC, sponsored by Earth Day Network, the Carbon War Room, and ACORE. Prominent speakers from different walks of life all echoed the message that we need to act immediately to dramatically cut carbon emissions and spark a clean energy revolution. Perhaps most impressive was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He listed all the significant achievements the City of Angeles has reached under his watch, including a major turn towards renewable energy. But he also made a strong case for the economic and business reasons for reducing carbon emissions. Likewise, José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica, discussed how he positioned his small nation to be a world leader in eco tourism not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes economic sense. In fact, he said that Cost Rica’s extremely high use of renewable energy (he said it was more than 90%) has put the country in a great position now with respect to the rise in costs of fossil fuels.

So goes another week in the carbon war. The science is screaming loud and clear. Dynamic leaders are proving what can be done. And still Congress and the mainstream media dither.

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