Carbon Neutral to its Core: Green Mountain Energy Cleans Up Power
BY MELISSA MASSELLO // PHOTOS BY MATT RAINWATER
When Green Mountain Energy’s longest-tenured employee showed up in a suit for his initial job interview, it was in the middle of a Vermont apple orchard. Not the kind of thing you’d expect from an energy retailer. But nothing Green Mountain does is ordinary when it comes to their employees—or the way they’re empowering consumers to “vote with their dollars” for more sustainable options.
Green Mountain’s mission isn’t just written on the wall, it’s IN the walls (made from upcycled pallet wood).
Since those “granola beginnings” back in 1997, Green Mountain has been on a mission to change the way power is made and to give their customers access to 100% renewable energy from wind, solar, and other pollution-free sources. The carbon-neutral company practices what it preaches, starting with its uber-hip LEED Platinum-certified headquarters overlooking downtown Austin. It’s decorated with 100% upcycled furniture, including walls paneled in pallet wood and conference room credenzas made from old doors left behind by a previous law office tenant.
We sat down with Green Mountain's Public Relations Manager Katie Ryan in one of those super-cool offices to find out more about their innovative approach to energy and how they use games to push the boundaries of sustainable pioneering.
Zipcar: We hear you're actually the longest-running renewable energy retailer in the country. What's your story?
Katie: When the electricity markets started deregulating, our founders had this idea that if people got to choose their energy provider, they would also care where their energy came from. So they decided to provide only 100% renewable energy, and hit the streets to sign up customers. Those customers now include the Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange, Lollapalooza, and SXSW.
Your mission is "to change the way power is made." How does that work?
When people choose Green Mountain products, they’re supporting renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Go to our website, type in your address, and compare our plans by renewable resource like wind or solar, price per kilowatt hour and special offers—like a Nest Learning Thermostat™—to make your energy usage more efficient and affordable.
When you work here, 100% renewable energy sources are pretty easy to visualize.
How does Zipcar help your team stay sustainable? Is it just about being green, or more than that?
The biggest contributing factor to our carbon footprint is our employees’ commute. We use Zipcar to get between meetings, events and other outings, because the flexibility and affordability of Zipcars is often the best option for short trips and has eliminated the need to purchase company vehicles. It’s great to be able to track our exact usage and emissions through Zipcar to calculate accurate carbon offsets.
Green Mountain is also leading initiatives to literally empower various charitable organizations through your Sun Club program. How does that help?
Some creative uses recently have been solar-powered amber lights for Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island and solar to power refrigeration for The BLK ProjeK, a bus in the Bronx that brings fresh fruits and vegetables to urban “food deserts.”
Electricity bills come every month, so solar panels can make more of an impact than one-time charitable donations.
You recently provided carbon offsets for the 3,500+ panelists at the SXSWi festival, held basically in your backyard. So cool.
SXSW is continually doing more green things, like adding SXSW Eco in 2011. We’re tallying each of the panelists’ individual carbon footprints for flights and hotel rooms, based on where each panelist traveled from and how long they stayed.
Sustainable Me is a way for our team to track and calculate all of our individual green commuting and sustainability efforts and compete for monthly giveaways. Texas Humane Heroes, one of our Sun Club beneficiaries, brought adoptable animals to the office to celebrate! It was amazing to hear that the money they now save on electricity helps provide care for 500 cats and dogs they otherwise couldn’t rescue.
Words of wisdom keep everyone in Green Mountain’s carbon-neutral, LEED Platinum-certified headquarters energized.
We hear you also play green games to motivate your team, true or false?
True! Over the summer, we hosted a Green Olympics and split the office into teams every Friday for a month, and they competed in “surprise challenges” with sustainability themes, like speed trash sorting, which is identifying whether an item should be composted, recycled, or sent to the landfill.