For Scott Nash, opting for wind power and paying the premium was a no-brainer.
"I don't know why everyone isn't doing it," says Nash. "There are a million benefits. The obvious, the environment. All the others will go away if we commit ecocide."
Nash is the president and founder of My Organic Market, three stores in the Washington, D.C., area that in March 2005 went completely to wind power. The three stores—Nash plans to open a fourth in Frederick, Md., later this year—are about 10,000 square feet each. The average supermarket size in the United States is more than quadruple that, at 48,058 square feet, according to the Food Marketing Institute.
The wind power came at a cost—an extra $10,000 per year initially to purchase renewable energy credits, on top of an annual electric bill of $130,000 for three stores. But Nash says the premium has already dropped to an added $3,000 per year. That's just 2 percent more for choosing renewable power. FMI statistics put the cost of grocers' utilities, including gas, electric and water, at 1.2 percent of sales. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that domestic energy demand will rise 1.4 percent per year in 2006 and 2007, putting upward pressure on prices.
A renewable energy credit represents one megawatt hour of renewable energy that is physically metered and verified. That's one megawatt hour that isn't produced by nuclear energy, coal, oil or natural gas. Renewable energy advocates stress that there's no way to tell where or how an electron is produced or how to dedicate transmission. That's why the credits are used.
Each REC serves as a tracking and auditing mechanism and is used by state governments to ensure compliance with federal Renewable Portfolio Standards. Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and low-impact hydroelectric power are considered clean energy sources.
Nash, who is Clean Energy Partnership's vice president and a member of a green chamber of commerce, helped negotiate a deal for retailers and consumers in the D.C. area. If customers sign up through Washington Gas and Electric, they will get half of their power by wind without paying a dime extra.
"So now, it's not painful anymore," says Nash.
While the cost was dropping, other statistics and attitudes were shifting for Nash and MOMs.
"It helps the bottom line," Nash explains. "It increases exposure, raises employee morale, helps recruit employees, helps retain employees. People look at you differently. They know we care. It increases customer loyalty. There's endless good."
Larger retailers know it too. Earlier this year, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market announced it would switch completely to renewable energy, powering 173 stores in the United States and Canada.
"Whole Foods is effectively replacing all their energy with wind energy," says Quayle Hodek, chief executive of Renewable Choice Energy of Boulder, Colo., the company that worked with Whole Foods to complete the deal. "Every megawatt hour of wind energy that goes in represents fewer emissions. In Whole Foods' case, that's 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to about 60,000 cars taken off the road for a year."
Hodek, whose RCE is solely focused on wind power, says the trend of buying wind credits is moving toward the mainstream and that it's a perfect fit for natural products companies. He says that most wind being harnessed for power blows in California, Texas, Minnesota and Iowa, but other areas show promise.
"From North Dakota to Texas is the Saudi Arabia of wind," Hodek says. "We're in a huge wind corridor."
Renewable energy has many supporters in the naturals community, but relatively few independent naturals stores have made the switch to wind power, according to Billy Connelly, director of marketing at NativeEnergy of Charlotte, Vt. Economies of scale are one reason— a store chain the size of Whole Foods buys power in such volume that it can negotiate a much better price. Beyond that, Connelly says, "It's a voluntary market. There's no one mandating it. A large corporation has a system in place to communicate that message to get a return on their investment, like brand loyalty. A smaller company doesn't. It's more difficult to communicate and get the return."
Nash didn't stop at wind power. A year ago, MOMs launched its Environmental Restoration Initiative, with the idea that environmental damage must be reversed and the ecosystem restored.
The initiative tackled battery recycling, then composting. Its offices use only 100 percent recycled paper. MOMs gave every employee five free compact fluorescent bulbs to encourage their use. If workers buy a hybrid car, they get a $3,000 bonus. And under its latest program, Think Outside the Bag, MOMs issued reusable bags to customers and saved 10,000 bags the first month.
All this is from a guy who started a home delivery grocery business out of his mom's garage 19 years ago.
"We just want to show other people it's good for business," says Nash. "It's win-win. You help the future. It's a small expense."
Lori Ozzello is a writer and editor in Greeley, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 9/p. 22, 24