It is no longer enough to just conserve energy. More and more corporations, government agencies and entire cities are making large, long-term commitments to ensure that the power they do use comes from renewable sources. To recognize these trendsetters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes a quarterly list of the top American users of green power: organizations that generate their own renewable energy, buy it from suppliers, or purchase offset credits to compensate for their traditional energy use. To put things in perspective, the average U.S. home consumes about 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year. That means number 25 on the list buys enough green energy to power more than 14,000 homes.
The most direct method to make energy consumption more sustainable is for a user to generate its own power by, for example, installing solar panels or by burning waste gas. A major do-it-yourself project, however, might not fall within the expertise of, say, a clothing retailer, so some entities hire outside operators to do it for them.
A second path is to purchase power directly from alternative energy producers, such as a nearby wind farm. The third and most common route is buying credits to offset the amount of conventional energy an organization is using. The bulk of these trades is orchestrated by brokers such as 3Degrees and Sterling Planet, which make a commission. For example, buyers can request 300 million kWh of wind power from Texas. Once energy enters the grid, it cannot be isolated, so even the biggest buyers aren’t literally powering their air conditioners with breeze-buffeted turbines. But offsets are like certified environmental karma: what comes around in the end is cleaner power production.
Santa Clara, CA | Information Technology
1,301 million green kWh, 46% of total power used
Buying the most renewable energy in the country is actually an honor Intel could do without, according to Will Swope, vice president of Intel’s corporate sustainability group. The company’s massive purchase is not just to stay ahead of the curve, he says, but “to give confidence to people who are creating sustainable energy.” Meaning that with increased green power supply, costs will go down for everyone—Intel included. The computer chipmaker buys the eco-sound electricity through offset credits, which pay for greener energy to enter the grid even though Intel can’t isolate it for use directly. The credits can be expensive, but Swope notes that shareholders have been behind the program. “Economics have shown,” he says, “that companies that maintain a more sustainable footprint have done better—even in economic meltdown—than those that don’t.”
Purchase, NY | Food & Beverage
1,145 million green kWh, 100% of total power used
The conglomerate, which is separate from the Pepsi bottling groups, made a splash when its headquarters went all green with its power buys in early 2007. PepsiCo drinks in $39 billion in net revenues through brands from Aquafina to Quaker Oats; it has turned to renewable power brokers to purchase offset credits.
3. Kohl’s Department Stores
Menomonee Falls, WI | Retail
601 million green kWh, 50% of total power used
This chain is already the biggest solar electricity host in the U.S. To soak up rays on 60 (and counting) store and corporate rooftops, the retailer has partnered with Sun-
Edison, which owns and maintains the solar panels and sells the electricity to Kohl’s. The largest setup is the roof of a distribution center in San Bernardino, Calif., where 6,208 panels can crank out a full megawatt of power.
Round Rock, TX | Information Technology
554 million green kWh, 158% of total power used
In August 2008 managers declared Dell’s headquarters “carbon-neutral” after buying energy credits, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions. As a result, the company reported saving $3 million, disproving skeptical claims that running on green technology is bad for staying in the black. To compensate for overseas operations, Dell buys more U.S. offset credits than it needs at home; hence the 158 percent figure.