Eco-Advantage Blog

November 14, 2006 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (0) | Post A Comment

No Good Deed...: Whole Foods and Wind Credits

If you follow green business, you might have heard about the uproar over a new promotion Whole Foods has in its stores. Customers can buy cards, which look like store value or gift cards, that pay for $5 or $10 of wind energy. It’s purely a renewable energy credit (REC) and doesn’t buy you anything concrete — just the knowledge that you contributed renewable energy to the grid. It’s an offset.

A few sites have summarized the scuffle over this (see Terrapass and Gristmill), so i won’t rehash, but in short, some people feel it’s a scam that just gives money to the REC broker. I won’t delve into the exact description of a REC, or how this provider might differ from others, but in short, it does seem like the money basically goes to invest in renewable energy, like any other REC.

The issue from a green strategy perspective is how Whole Foods handled it. And my top level impression is just fine. The company is introducing a tough concept to consumers and attempting some customer education. That’s always going to be difficult, and is much harder when you’re one of the first, and when it’s a bit out of context. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Terrapass offers offsets for travel on the Expedia site — that’s a direct connection to what you’re buying at the moment, and what you’re buying clearly produces greenhouse gas emissions. Buying an offset in a vacuum is a tougher sell. Perhaps Whole Foods could have made the connection to offsetting some part of your life (your car travel for x months, or all your food for x months), but offsetting is tough to get no matter how direct a link you try to make.

One lesson: if it’s tough to sell environmental virtue on an existing product (a greener lightbulb, say), it’s even tougher to sell just the ether of environmental virtue on its own. But maybe somebody like Whole Foods, with a customer base that may listen, will break the ice and help usher in a more educated environmental consumer.


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