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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

MeterHero Sponsored Series

The ROI of Sustainability

EPA Helps Companies Make the Business Case for Green Power


This article is part of a series on “The ROI of Sustainability,” written with the support of MeterHero. MeterHero helps companies and organizations offset their water and energy footprints through consumer engagement. To follow along with the rest of the series, click here.

Sometimes what gets lost in the discussion of green power is how complicated it can be for businesses to become adopters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency operates a program, the Green Power Partnership (GPP), that helps businesses become green power users.

The GPP is a “free, voluntary program” that encourages organizations to use green power, the EPA told TriplePundit in an interview. The federal agency does so by providing organizations with “ongoing recognition opportunities, including top lists, press releases, award ceremonies and more.” The GPP currently has more than 1,300 partner organizations using billions of kilowatt-hours of green power each year. The partners include Fortune 500 companies, small- and medium-sized businesses, government agencies, and colleges and universities.

There is a potential return on investment for using green power and for being part of the GPP. But what exactly are the financial incentives for joining the partnership? That’s the question we asked the EPA, and what I received back was a long list. One thing that stands out is the power that comes through collaboration. For example, the EPA listed community choice aggregation as an incentive for joining the GPP. In other words, by joining the partnership, organizations can purchase green power at a lower cost than if they purchased it alone.

Other financial incentives for joining the partnership include:

  • Savings: There are purchasing mechanisms that can lead to savings over the long term.

  • Credibility: Joining gives credibility to a green power purchase because it shows that an organization’s green power use meets nationally accepted standards supported by the EPA.

  • Publicity and recognition: Being part of the GPP can differentiate an organization and brand from the competition.

  • Networking: Being a partner means that an organization is affiliating with other green power leaders, including Fortune 500 companies.

  • Information and guidance: The GPP provides technical assistance ranging from helping identify different procurement options to properly messaging actions after a purchase is made.

The Green Power Partnership and carbon neutrality

Leading members not only meet all of their electricity needs through green power, but also represent the largest green power users within the partnership. They make up the National Top 100 list and have a combined green power usage of over 23 billion kilowatt-hours a year, representing almost 83 percent of the green power commitments made by all partners.

Microsoft is ranked No. 2 on the National Top 100 list, with an annual green power usage of over 2.4 billion kWh that meets all of its electricity needs. Based in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is one of the world’s largest technology and software companies, ranking second on both the Fortune 500 list and the Top 30 Tech and Telecom list. Microsoft has a goal to achieve carbon neutrality, and purchasing green power is helping the company work toward that goal.

What does Microsoft appreciate about the partnership? We talked to Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft, to find out. As she put it, “Procuring renewable energy can be complex.” The technical assistance and networking partners the GPP provides to procure green power are a big help. Being part of the partnership also provides Microsoft with credibility when procuring green power, and membership signals that the company aligns with nationally-recognized standards -- two aspects they also appreciate.

"Joining the Green Power Partnership provides a company with credibility to a diversified portfolio of green power purchases because it signifies that the company’s green power use meets nationally accepted standards supported by the EPA," DiCaprio told us. "In addition, the partnership provides technical assistance for its stakeholders who are interested in using green power, and networking with other renewable energy leaders."

Microsoft has another dollop of special sauce that helps pay for its green power purchases. The secret ingredient is an internal price on carbon. In July 2012, the company made a commitment to carbon neutrality and established an internal carbon fee model. The carbon fee "charges the business groups a tax on emissions associated with the energy consumed from datacenters, offices, software development labs, manufacturing plants and business air travel," DiCaprio explained. With the funds collected from the carbon fee, Microsoft has purchased over 10 billion kWh of green power.

The carbon fee allows Microsoft to associate a dollar amount "with the value of sustainability initiatives and the procurement of green power to be evaluated with additional financial metrics," DiCaprio said. The carbon fee also allows accelerated green power investments "by reducing the payback period for the project managers."

In DiCaprio's words, the internal carbon price “makes all the difference in the world.” And so does switching to green power through the GPP -- a move that cuts the company's footprint today and just may help it stay resilient in the future.

Image credit: Flickr/Warrenski

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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