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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Inside Scoop on This Congress and The Climate

Posted on March 15, 2011. Filed under: Events, News, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Today, Clean Currents hosted another free, educational webinar. Check out the PowerPoint presentation and feel free to comment:  Inside Scoop on This Congress and Climate Change.

Three fabulous speakers joined us to lend their insights on what to expect from the 112th congress on legislation and policy related to climate issues.

Nancy Gonzalez of the Alliance to Save Energy outlined the political climate in the House and the Senate including the new members of committees with the power to influence energy legislation. Despite the bleak outlook for progress on energy issues with the current congressional makeup, Nancy noted the effectiveness of momentum on the grassroots level and encouraged expansion of local initiatives. 

Jason Kowalski of 1Sky provided a number of powerful images demonstrating how the US’s politics and the coal industry are intimately intertwined. Jason reinforced the concept of effective grassroots activism by discussing a few strong examples, while also mentioning their limitations in competing with well-financed attack campaigns.  

Ted Glick from The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) gave us an update on both regional and federal environmental legislation. In Maryland, the focus is on passing the Offshore Wind bill. In fact, you are invited to attend the rally in Annapolis on March 21st to support the bill: Despite a short legislative session, Virginia could be making headway on both solar and offshore wind. In DC, CCAN is working to get the Cap & Dividend approach passed on the federal level. 

At first glance, one may not expect much in the way of climate legislation from the current Congress, but these groups highlighted that groups and individuals can still make a difference in pushing through environmentally friendly policies – especially on the local level. To learn more about these organizations and how to get involved in their grassroots initiatives, visit:

Clean Currents is also supporting grassroots initiatives via our Green Neighborhood Challenge. Contact Kristin Schulz at to learn how to get your group involved!

 To sign up for Clean Currents’ wind powered electricity option and to learn more about our Green Neighborhood Challenge, visit:

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Reconciling Clean Energy and Climate Denialism

Posted on October 19, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

A story in yesterday’s New York Times reported on how a group of towns in central Kansas are embracing clean energy, despite the fact that its residents do not feel much affinity for the whole “campaign to fight global warming”.  I found the story fascinating, because it touched upon the very root of what is preventing the environmental lobby from achieving mass-success (in getting positive legislation passed, in garnering majority public support, and in swaying long-term private and policy planning).

The sobering reality is that in spite of hundreds of documented and substantiated scientific studies showing that human action (specifically the increase in carbon-trapping emissions) has had a measurable effect on global climate, there is a very large portion of the population that either does not believe or care to act.  But like all big-ticket issues, the real skill is in packaging and tailoring the topic to your specific audience.  For the already convinced, images of melting glaciers, vast droughts, and flash floods have done the trick.  But for swaths of America (as well as other places) where the war on climate change is not of preeminent concern, simply extricating energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics achieved the same effect.

By focusing on issues of thrift (ability to save money with renewable energy), patriotism (decrease reliance on imported energy), spiritual conviction (good stewards of the land) and economic prosperity (green jobs), Kansas based Climate and Energy Project found that it could rally residents of otherwise conservative Kansas to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.

There’s nothing like sensible pragmatism to achieve grander goals.

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Bingaman and Brownback to Introduce Stand Alone RES Bill

Posted on September 21, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

**Update 9/22** Bingaman, Brownback and supporters introduced the RES bill yesterday afternoon. View The Hill’s coverage here.

Senator Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Senator Brownback (R-KS) will introduce legislation for a 15% Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) with a group of non-partisan senators including Sue Collins (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

According to Bingaman’s staffers, the bill is similar in structure to the one introduced by the Senator last year in that it requires states to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen by 2021. Up to a quarter of this can be met through energy efficiency measures.

In July, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled renewable energy targets from his energy bill out of concern that it would not gain the 60 votes necessary to pass the senate. However, Bingaman has indicated that he is confident that this new legislation will be able to pass saying,

“I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard…I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward.”

Yesterday, Senator Bingaman penned an op-ed for Politico in which he expressed the dire need for progress on clean technology and energy in the US. In this piece, Bingaman called for a Clean Energy Development Administration (CEDA) to provide sustainable financial support to developing renewable technologies. Part of this is a “patient capital” approach to funding, which would stimulate the development and scaling up of new technologies, allowing the US clean tech industry to compete on the global level with emerging powerhouses like China. Senator Bingaman sums up the urgency of moving forward despite the political difficulties:

“A broad comprehensive energy bill may not be possible in this Congress. But action on common-sense bipartisan proposals like CEDA should not be put off. If we want to realize the energy security, environmental security and economic benefits of the clean energy revolution, then the investments we need in clean energy technology deployment cannot wait…The investment choices we make now will dramatically shape the world in which our children and grandchildren live. The longer we wait to address our clean energy challenges, the higher the hill they will have to climb.”

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Barrels of Oil vs. Kilowatt-Hours: Comparing Offshore Wind and Oil

Posted on June 7, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

For the amount of money BP was going to spend over 25 years on the Deepwater Horizon, 7 million electric cars could be powered with offshore wind turbines. Well not quite, but the author brings up an interesting point. He produces some questionable calculations, and despite overlooking some obvious shortfalls inherent with offshore wind power at this time, his point still stands: for the roughly $12 billion BP was going to spend (now possibly over triple that amount after counting cleanup costs and everything else), billions of kilowatt-hours of power could be produced by offshore wind.

A recently completed German offshore wind project, Alpha Ventus, is a 12-turbine, 60 megawatt (1mW=1000kW) site, that cost $282 million. The author assumed maximum capacity/energy yield, and mislabeled calculations, so to avoid confusion: maximum yearly output of the plant is 525.6 million kilowatt-hours.

Using this as a comparison, and assuming prices stabilize around $200 million (that’s what the project was estimated to cost), 60 of these wind farms could be had for BP’s $12 billion investment. That’s about 31.5 billion kilowatt-hours, which is a lot of power!

Of course nowhere near that figure would make it to the end consumer, but the idea is certainly worth considering. Check out the full article over on

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Sun + Wind= Renewables Working Around the Clock

Posted on December 29, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

Green Inc reports on a new project planned by Southwest Solar Technology that incorporates both solar and wind technology to overcome the difficulty of storing electricity. As Matthew Wald, the reporter from Green Inc, puts it:

“Electricity from renewable sources can be like a perfect luncheon served at 4 a.m., a nice thing but far more appreciated at a different hour. Electricity is hard to store, though, which is why nearly all of it is consumed at the instant it is generated, and energy storage is still in its infancy.”

Already, a potential method of storage is compressed air technology. Excess energy is taken from the grid at any time and used to push air into an underground cave. When electricity is needed, the air is released to push a turbine and generate electricity. In the southeast, the Alabama Electrical Cooperative has been using the technology since 2000. In its plant, the air is heated with natural gas to better drive the turbines.

 Southwest Solar Tech is working on working off of the existing compressed air technology to heat the air with solar power and intergrate wind farms into the mix. A solar dish will be used to heat a container of liquid to up to 1700 degrees fahrenheit. This will heat the air that is pushed into a cave by wind turbines at night, when the wind farm is generating surplus electricity that is not accepted by the grid.

This project is currently only in the planning stage, but as contintue renewables play a bigger role in US energy supply, the issue of storage will grow in importance.

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845 MW Wind Project Deal Signed in Oregon

Posted on December 14, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Green Inc. reported last week on a $1.4billion wind deal signed last week.  The Oregon project will feature 338 GE turbines that have the capacity to produce 845 MW of power, making it the largest wind turbine committment of the year, according to GE.  The announcement paid close attention to the issue of green job creation after the drama over a West Texas project that featured Chinese turbines. The GE turbines will be assembled in Florida and more than half of the parts will be made in the United States. Addionally, 400 temporary jobs will be created during the construction of the project, set to take place in 2011-12.

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Climate Change Special Issue in Yesterday’s WaPo Outlook

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Washington Post isn’t always equated with progressive commentary on climate change.  At least one regular columnist has been known to mis-interpret and mis-report the science of climate change. Nevertheless, yesterday’s Outlook special issue on climate change featured some decent coverage on the issue.

The contributors included Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, Ralph Izzo, CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group, and Bill McKibben, one of the founders of, as well as Washington Post writers that contributed columns on the topic.

Izzo’s article, “Let’s go with Cap and Innovate” talked about the efforts his energy company, PSEG, is taking to stay ahead of the curve on carbon cutting initiatives inlcuding energy efficiency program and solar and wind technologies. Izzo advocates a national carbon tax as envisioned in the house and senate climate legislation as a way to move forward on an international agreement and encourage domestic innovation and technological adaptation.

McKibben’s piece urged President Obama to “feel the heat” of climate change and to respond to it with the same vigor he expressed during his campaign. Although he acknowledged that Obama has done more to advance the US response to climate change than his predeccesors, but

“But doing more than George W. Bush on global warming is like doing more than George Wallace on racial healing. It gives you political cover, but the melting arctic ice is unimpressed.”

McKibben contrasts Obama with President Nasheed of the Maldives, another young, well-spoken and “change” oriented politician. Nasheed’s response to climate change has been inventive and vigorous, at least partly due to his small country’s precarious position in the middle of the ocean, highly vulnerable to any rise in the sea-level. McKibben applauds Nasheed’s enthusiasm inlcuding a recent underwater cabinet summit committing pledging to make the country carbon neutral by 2020. In his opinion, Obama could take a lesson from Nasheed and use rhetorical and presentation skills to get some fire back into the climate change policy.

He states:

“They both may go to the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Copenhagen next month, but Nasheed will be there to say: Seize the moment. And if Obama makes it, he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.”

Brown’s article warned about the consequences of climate change on global food supply which could lead to global instability.

Another interesting article looked at Germany’s climate change legislation and how it effected a blue-collar family in a small former coal town. The family was benefitting from green jobs, but had a hard time keeping up with high energy costs associated with being on the grid because they were unable to invest in solar or geothermal due to high up-front costs.

The section also featured a section look at ads that have been designed by various groups to try to convince diverse audiences to take action on climate change.

Here is one from the WWF:

You can view the rest of the ads here.

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More US Jobs from Proposed Texas Wind Farm?

Posted on November 19, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

In a follow up to the recent controversy around the proposed Texas wind farm. The issue was that a Chinese company (A-Power Generation Service)would manufacture the turbines in China, creating thousands of clean jobs in that country. That in itself was not an issue, but what did prove to be controversial was the fact that stimulus funds would go to fund the project and the number of jobs created in the US was not nearly at the same level (300 for construction and only about 20 permanent).

Green Inc. reports that US Renewable Energy Group and A-Power announced on Tuesday that the plan had been revised to inlcude

“A new production and assembly plant in the United States that will supply highly advanced wind energy turbines to renewable energy projects throughout North and South America.”

This announcement came after Senator Schumer (D-NY) said he would oppose stimulus funding of the project if the wind turbines were produced in China.

Still, as the Green Inc. post points out, there are a lot of uncertainties about the details of the plan, the big one being whether this new proposed plant will be used to supply to the turbines for this specific project or if it will be a separate effort.

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MD, DE and VA Governors Sign Offshore Wind Agreement

Posted on November 12, 2009. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Back in September, Maryland announced that it was considering plans for offshore wind development. Now, it seems like the initiative is moving forward in cooperation with its neighbors. Tuesday, the Governors of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a partnership for offshore wind development off their coasts.

The Governor’s discussed the benefits of offshore wind from the environmental and economic points of view. Governor O’Malley commented,

“Our states share many common resources and opportunities.  This collaboration will allow us to take full advantage of these opportunities and pool our collective abilities for not only a Smart, Green and Growing Maryland, but a cleaner and more sustainable region as well.”

Governor Kaine of Virginia and Governor Markell emphasized the necesssity to create jobs in these tough economic times and highlighted the potential of offshore wind development to create these opportunities.

The MOU is a step towards harnessing offshore wind power to create sustainable energy supply and green jobs for the three states. The key priorities of the agreement are:

  • Identify common transmission options for offshore wind
  • Develop strategies to encourage market demand for offshore wind power
  • Seek federal resources to develop offshore wind by working together.

Other points of the agreement:

  • Coordinate regional supply chain facilities to secure supply, deployment, and operations and maintenance functions to support offshore wind energy facilities,
  • Work with academic institutions in all three states to build capacity for wind related jobs.
And on a related note (sort of)… here is Governor O’Malley with Clean Currents Solar Business Development Associate, Katherine. The picture is from CCAN’s Climate Leaders Award Ceremony where the Governor recieved the Climate Leadership Award for his support of the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, which passed earlier this year.
Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

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