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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Love Cakelove!

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents customer spotlight is on CakeLove in Washington, DC.  Warren Brown (owner) answered our questions below:

1.  Why did you think it was important to support clean, renewable wind energy?

I’ve followed issues of climate change for years, but was moved to tears when I watched Inconvenient Truth. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere scare me and I wanted to begin working to change my habits to reduce what I’m responsible for. Wind energy makes sense to me. In the bakery we have a lot of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but we have to have refrigeration, so clean energy helps me live up to my responsibility to the planet and my community.

2.  Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Climate change threatens the existence of the human race, much more than it threatens the existence of the Earth. The planet will survive, but we won’t–certainly not as we know it with more unchecked and uncontrolled global, carbon based, industrialized growth. Caring about global warming is as much about saving ourselves as it is about saving other species. And our goal shouldn’t be just to survive or barely get by with acceptable levels of pollution. A neutral impact ought to be our standard.

3.  Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Gary Skulnik – he made a compelling case for Clean Currents years ago and helped make the switch easy. Clean Currents represents the heart and soul of the Green Revolution. Thoughtful community activism focused on a clear need with a very reasonable solution.

4.  What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

We recycle at work/home. We unplug unused fixtures often – at work and home. I changed to a 35mpg car instead of a 15 mpg pick-up truck. We switched bulbs at home and some at work. I use mass transit when I can (although it never seems to work as well as its touted to).

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Spotlight on Zia’s Cafe

Posted on April 14, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents commercial customer spotlight is on Zia’s Cafe of Towson Maryland:

CC: Why did you think it was important to support clean renewable wind energy?

Zia’s: As a cafe & caterer of wholesome, cleanly produced foods, our passion and dedication is offering health-conscious foods that are also earth-conscious, minimizing our impact whenever possible.  So, for us, green power is kind of a no-brainer.  Clean Currents has helped us come full circle in our dedication to the planet by providing clean, green energy!

CC: Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Zia’s: It’s so easy to ignore or push aside these kinds of problems because it’s not a sexy, sensationalized kind of story, which seems to be what gets the attention of the everyday American.  The human race destroys our environment a little bit each day and it’s difficult to see this quantitatively, particularly one person or one business’s impact.  But it is a international tragedy that knows not race, ethnicity, economic or social status, creed or religion, whose effects will begin to rear their ugly head more and more as the majority continues to live in ignorance and/or apathy.  However, we’ve all heard it before (hopefully), all YOU can do is YOUR part and support/encourage others to do the same.  That’s what we plan to do.

CC: Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Zia’s: Clean Currents offers competitive rates while understanding the importance of marketing and promoting our company’s choice to go 100% wind powered.  CC’s attention to detail, support and customer service have been extremely impressive, professional and pleasurable, making us proud to be affiliated with them and what they are doing.

CC: What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

Zia’s:  We use 100% recycled paper when we print documents.  We obsessively monitor our use of energy and our whole staff is dedicated to making sure we don’t waste energy.  We offer zero waste catering as well as compostable paper products.  We obviously do all the other little things like recycling and using green cleaning products, etc.

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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:  https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/423/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=66884. 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:
http://ase.org
www.1sky.org
www.chesapeakeclimate.org

Clean Currents is also supporting grassroots initiatives via our Green Neighborhood Challenge. Contact Kristin Schulz at kschulz@cleancurrents.com 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: www.cleancurrents.com.

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A Green Start to the New Year

Posted on January 4, 2011. Filed under: Questions, Recommendations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Its that time of the year again…time to make a resolution and stick with it (at least this week!!) You’ve probably already made your personal resolution, but this year, why not also make an environmental resolution too? Keep it simple and small or think big!

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Support wind power at home. If you live in Maryland, DC, DE or PA, you can choose to support wind power by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) at home through your electricity bill. Sign up for Clean Currents and choose 50% or 100% wind power. Signing up takes 5 minutes, and our rates are competitive with utility rates, so it’s a pretty painless resolution. Learn more about wind power for home here.
  2. Get a water bottle.  Toting a BPA-free water bottle  is a great way to stay hydrated and reduce your use of plastic water bottles and disposable cups.
  3. Cut out disposable coffee cups. Use of those gift cards to get a reusable mug you like and carry it around with you when you think you’ll need to stop for coffee (so definitely Monday morning).
  4. Commit to reusable shopping bags. The fold-away ones are really portable and fit in your pocket or purse. If you’re driving keep them in your car for unexpected grocery runs. Also, even when you forget your bag, just ask yourself if you really need one. It seems like most cashiers just toss your items in a bag, no matter how small it may be. Just say “no thanks” if you’re going to throw the bag away in 45 seconds anyway.
  5. Embrace the CFL! If you havent already done so, switch out your old incandescents and commit to buy CFL bulbs instead. These use 75% less electricity (which saves you $). Done that already? Here are lots of easy ways you can save money by cutting back on usage.
  6. Research a solar install at your home. By installing a solar system at your home, you can generate your own power and cut your electricity use, as well as your carbon footprint. This option is definitely not for everyone, as the up front costs of solar are still significant. However, if you are in the position to make an investment, the payback might be better than you think. With government incentives and financing options, solar is becoming a more affordable option. Ready to go? Start with a free solar evaluation.

What are your environmental resolutions for 2011?

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Clean Currents and CCAN carbon-offset Virginia Governor’s mansion

Posted on December 16, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Watch the vid here:

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Support Small Wind in Baltimore County- Help Pass Bill 62-10!

Posted on July 26, 2010. Filed under: News, Recommendations | Tags: , , , , , , , |

**UPDATE** June 30, 2010: County Councilman Moxley is supporting Bill 62-10. Here’s his note to Gary:

Dear Mr. Skulnik,

Thanks for the email.  I am supporting the bill.

Sincerely,

Sam Moxley

Baltimore County residents- support a new bill introduced by Councilman Gardina to promote small wind turbine installations in Baltimore County via a five year pilot program.

Get informed with the fact sheet and talking points below from Baltimore County Climate Coalition (BCAN’s Baltimore County Offshoot)

BALTIMORE COUNTY WIND TURBINE BILL – The Facts

  • Currently wind turbines cannot be erected as a matter of right in Baltimore County.
  • Without a specific zoning law, turbines will continue to be subject to legal challenges and lengthy, costly and uncertain zoning processes.
  • Bill 62-10, “Zoning Regulations – Small Wind Energy System PILOT Program”, introduced by Councilman Vince Gardina on July 6, would set up a 5-year pilot program for small turbines.
  • Wind turbines could be installed as accessory to commercial agricultural and institutional uses in the RC zone (outside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, or “URDL”), and in manufacturing zoned parcels that are not next to residential properties.
  • Residential wind turbines are excluded from the pilot program.
  • “Wind farms” are not permitted.  Turbines must be for the property owner’s own energy needs, although excess energy can be sold back to the grid.
  • Once approved and erected, a turbine can stay up after the pilot program ends unless it is unsafe or out of operation for a year.
  • Applicants must apply for a building permit that includes a site plan demonstrating that the turbine meets limitations on height, setbacks, noise levels and other safety and aesthetic performance standards.
  • Ground-mounted turbines can’t be taller than 80 feet on lots of one acre or less.
  • For larger lots, ground-mounted turbines are limited in height by the property’s setback requirements and Federal Aviation Administration standards.
  • Ground-mounted turbines can’t be closer than 1.1 times their height from the nearest property line nor closer than 1.5 times their height from a neighbor’s house.
  • Roof-mounted turbines must meet the building’s height and setback restrictions.
  • Turbines can’t exceed 55 decibels as measured at the neighbor’s property line.
  • Meteorological towers (METs) can be erected to gather wind data for the site for a period of one year.  METs are NOT a prerequisite for erecting a turbine and can be erected after the 5-year pilot program sunsets.

BALTIMORE COUNTY WIND TURBINE BILL- Talking Points

  • Currently wind turbines cannot be erected as a matter of right in Baltimore County.
  • Without a specific zoning law, turbines will continue to be subject to legal challenges and lengthy, costly and uncertain zoning processes.  This bill came about because of a neighbor vs. neighbor lawsuit over a proposed turbine.
  • Bill 62-10, “Zoning Regulations – Small Wind Energy System PILOT Program”, is limited in scope and duration, informed by best practices around the state, and responsive to concerns raised at the Council hearing on the Planning Board recommendations.
  • Councilman Gardina worked closely with the Maryland Energy Administration on technical requirements and the County’s Planning Department on safety and aesthetic issues.
  • Limits:
    • The pilot program will sunset in 5 years.
    • Residential turbines and wind farms are excluded.
    • Turbines are permitted only as accessory to commercial agricultural and institutional uses outside the URDL and in manufacturing zoned parcels not adjacent to residential properties.
    • Height limitations, setbacks, noise levels and other performance standards are prescribed in the bill and vetted through the building permit process.
  • Seventeen other counties in Maryland and several municipalities have wind turbine ordinances on the books or in process, including our neighbors Howard, Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties.
  • Wind turbines, or wind mills, have been used for hundreds of years in Baltimore County, particularly on farms.  The pilot program will protect the traditional, historical land use practice of harvesting benign, renewable energy to power operations on one’s own property.
  • Baltimore County has many properties with microclimates suitable for wind turbines.
  • The pilot program will improve the economic competitiveness and viability of Baltimore County’s agricultural, manufacturing and institutional communities by reducing energy costs.
  • The pilot program will support Baltimore County’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the County by 10% by 2012.
  • The pilot program will continue Baltimore County’s leadership tradition in environmental stewardship.
  • The pilot program will support the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 25% by 2020 – a legal requirement of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 – and the renewable energy initiatives in the state’s Climate Action Plan.

IMPORTANT DATES:

July 27 Work Session, 2 PM. County Council will take public testimony on the bill.

August 2 Legislative Session, 6 PM. County Council will vote on the bill.

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