Renewable energy proponents claim the solution to global warming lies in cleaner forms of energy like wind power and biofuels. While the technologies currently supply a relatively small part of America's energy demand, proponents often will go to great lengths to demonstrate their efficacy.
Increasingly, businesses, industries and even Al Gore himself are purchasing green electricity and carbon offsets to lesson their contributions to the "inconvenient truth" of global warming.
Despite critics who claim the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is virtually impossible to verify, the concept of carbon offsets enjoys broad support in the U.S. And as David Miller discovered in Colorado last winter, world-class ski resorts and upscale grocery stores are finding, "it's easy to be green."
At first glance, it's hard to find any direct link between a world renowned Colorado ski resort and an internationally recognized natural foods grocery store. But closer examination reveals an unexpected tie between Vail Resorts and Whole Foods Market. The connection can be found at the power pole where enough wind energy has been purchased to offset 100% of the mostly carbon-based electricity consumed by both companies.
For these two corporate entities, the idea of purchasing green energy began with work done by rank and file employees. Once the plan was accepted by management, both companies started a relationship with Boulder, Colorado-based Renewable Choice Energy.
Ted Rose is the Director of Business Development for the six year-old firm.
Ted Rose, Director of Business Development, Renewable Choice Energy: "...in the first few years of the company I think it was probably more of how do you find customers, it was a harder thing. But there's really been a change in the last couple of years and I think that Whole Foods Market has a great deal to do with it. I think it's a lot more customers beating down the doors these days."
Whole Foods purchased 500,000 megawatt hours of green power, which the Environmental Protection Agency says is the equivalent of planting 90,000 acres of trees.
Colleen Rauscher is a spokesperson for Whole Foods.
Colleen Rauscher, Whole Foods: "...this is really part of stepping into what we believe is our larger mission as a company and that is to be a leader in environmental stewardship. You can be a for profit company and still be respectful and conscious of your environment and not to mention the better care that we take of it the longer we'll be able to be in business."
The corporate offices for Whole Foods are in Austin, Texas, but because the company's structure allows for innovations at the local level, the first wind energy purchases from Renewable Choice were made in Colorado. It didn't take much to convince corporate directors that they should buy enough wind power to cover all of the company's power demands at its 180 stores and support facilities. To date, the natural foods grocer is the only Fortune 500 Company that can make this claim.
For Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail Resorts, the purchase covers activities at all 5 mountain facilities that serve 1.6 million customers a year and employ up to 14,000 people at the peak of the skiing season.
Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO, knew from the start buying wind power was the right idea.
Rob Katz, CEO Vail Resorts: "...it's critical for our company to remember that the great experiences that we provide all of our guests are in the environment, they are in nature and so we really see protecting the environment as the right thing to do and the right thing to do for our guests. ...Obviously the issues of renewable energy target a lot of different parts of the environment and we felt like that was another good way for us to kind of stay true to our ideals on it."
Vail Resorts purchased 152,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy, which has roughly the same carbon reducing power as planting 27,000 acres of trees. In keeping with their environmental policy, Katz specified that the money from its purchase had to be used to build more wind farms.
Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts: "...I think also it's, again, how you affect real change. As big as we are we're not that big and so therefore the things that we do really need to lead by example. We're not going to, you know, ourselves affect change like many people feel out there and so if we bring our guests, if we bring our other industry players then all of a sudden we may actually do something."
Renewable Choice sells each megawatt hour for about $20 but high volume customers like Vail Resorts and Whole Foods allowed for huge discounts. As part of an agreement with Renewable Choice Energy, neither corporation is allowed to disclose how much was paid for their renewable power purchases.
Ted Rose, Director of Business Development: "...there are a lot of consumers out there that really want to support renewable energy and when the company started six years ago that was really a connection that wasn't made and the great thing about Renewable Choice is that's exactly what we do, we connect those producers with the consumers, with businesses like Whole Foods Market and Vail Resorts and give them an opportunity to support renewable energy."
To find the hundreds of thousands of megawatt hours needed to handle the demands of its customers Renewable Choice searches for wind power providers with excess energy to sell. Most of the companies are located in the open plains of the Midwest.
Vail Resorts and Whole Foods aren't the only customers of the innovative company but they are two of the largest. Renewable Choice has several clients all over the United States including Sloan Valve Company in Illinois, Kettle Foods in Oregon, and the outdoor outfitter Gander Mountain in Minnesota. So far, Renewable Choice has sold more than 2,000,000 megawatt hours of wind generated electricity.
While Vail Resorts plans to buy the same amount of green energy offsets next year, Rauscher says Whole Foods will increase the number of megawatt hours they purchase as the grocery chain expands.
For its part, Renewable Choice will continue to search for more sources of green energy. In the future, the company plans to use hydro-electric, geothermal, and solar energy to offset the carbon based power used by its customers.
Ted Rose, Director of Business Development, Renewable Choice Energy: "Well, I don't see a point where Renewable Choice is not going to be necessary, I think quite the opposite. I think that we're going to become more and more valuable because our mission is to bring solutions to market that helps fight climate change and I think that as the years progress there's just going to be more and more solutions to bring to customers."
For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.