Hundreds of companies (and public entities, too) have started preaching "corporate social responsibility" in the last few years, and that's good: Investment should be a two-way street. In fact, it should be more like a roundabout. We know now that everything we do, every chemical we pump into the air and every plate we toss into the trash, affects the whole planet. Replacing Styrofoam with cardboard is simple enough. But finding new energy sources takes time, money, and often a power infrastructure more advanced than those cities have in place. It's not easy being green.
But it is getting easier. Renewable energy is fashionable in the corporate and public spheres the way recycling was ten years ago. The latter is second nature in much of the U.S. now. And if these ten powerhouses (see what I did there?) are any indication, a green transition may become more and more popular.
1. Intel. Intel has been the EPA’s top-rated Green Power Partner since 2008, and it's tried pretty much everything. The California company got 88 percent of its power from renewables in 2011. Plus, because it’s impossible to separate power produced by renewables from power produced by fossil fuels, Intel purchased enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)—financed the production of enough green power—to power 134,000 homes every year and make the company totally energy-neutral. It’s also starting construction on eight solar projects: seven on the rooftops of its offices, and one solar farm in Folsom, Calif.
2. Whole Foods, of course. This is the company that started recycling its used canola oil for electricity in 2012. And between its on-site solar generation and REC purchases, Whole Foods actually creates and purchases 107 percent of its power needs—all in renewables.
3. The District of Columbia. Through RECs, the nation’s capital went 100 percent green in 2012, too. The city uses more than a billion kilowatt-hours every year, so its savings is equivalent to taking about 140,000 cars off the road annually. And D.C. is hardly alone: Austin, Texas; Santa Monica, Calif.; Lacey, Wash.; and Ithaca, N.Y. are totally green-powered, too.
4. Staples. The office supply store has won accolades from Newsweek and EnergyStar for green energy initiatives. More than 90 percent of its emissions come from its supply chain rather than the stores themselves, so like most companies on this list, it's started buying RECs. Now, Staples offsets more than half of its energy usage and gets an additional 20 percent from renewables. The chain even boasted Maryland's largest solar farm for a few years.
5. The New Belgium Brewing Company. The Colorado brewery started purchasing 100 percent of its electricity from Fort Collins, Colo.’s wind program in 1999. Since then, it’s developed its own water treatment plant, which cleans wastewater from beer production and uses the methane produced by that process to generate electricity. It also has a rooftop solar installation and operates on its own smart grid. Cheers.
6. Pearson, Inc. The educational supplier and owner of Penguin publishing has been carbon-neutral since 2009. It buys enough RECs to offset its emissions not only in the U.S., but in South America and India, too. The company also installed solar panels at its New Jersey plant, which should offset 4,000 tons of CO2 during the farm's 25-year lifespan.
7. Walmart. No, really—Walmart purchased almost twice as much solar as its runner-up, Costco, did in 2012. It’s also the fifth-largest user of green power in the EPA’s national ranking. But the global superstore chain is so enormous that renewables comprise just 4 percent of the energy it uses every year.
8. Hilton International. The hotel chain is now 94 percent powered by renewables (primarily through RECs)—a 239 percent increase from 2010. It also instituted a consumption tracking system in 2009, which measures everything from food waste to indoor air quality. By the end of 2011, had reduced its waste output across the whole chain (with buildings in 91 countries) by 23 percent.
9. Kohl’s. The Wisconsin-based department store chain is now 100 percent renewable, again through a combination of RECs and self-generation. The retailer only builds LEED-certified buildings now to reduce electricity use. By the end of 2012, Kohl’s predicted its solar generation capacity would reach 74.2 million kWh—offsetting about 6,400 homes.
10. Chicago Public Schools. The nation’s third-largest school district gets 20 percent of its power from renewables. Plus, its Energy Shared Savings program offers small cash awards to every school that reduces consumption by 5 percent. 141 of the district's 675 schools participated in 2012, and even after passing out award money, the district saved $500,000 of public money. That's social responsibility that deserves an A+.
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy.