Ted Torre-Bueno, President of Empowered Energy Solutions, was standing in a boardroom at a Boys & Girls Club in San Diego watching a third-grade basketball game through the window and smiling to himself. His company had just turned the facility where the kids were playing into an energy neutral building, and "it felt really good." The project, which combined solar energy with high efficiency building controls, had been operational for just 21 days and had already created the carbon sinking equivalent of planting 205 trees. Even though the children were playing in a more sustainable environment, that wasn't the primary reason this green energy project became a reality. As with most renewable energy and sustainability projects these days, the driving-force for implementing this project could be summed up with two words: saving money.
For the Boys & Girls Club it was pretty simple math. The organization uses charitable donations to create services and programs for local children. Less money spent on utilities immediately translates into more services and programs for the kids. Up close, the numbers were staggering. "This small club paid more than $36,000 a year for electricity, and was facing a 25-year energy cost of $1.9 million," Torre-Bueno explains. "The energy efficient solar project to eliminate this expense was only $184,000. As a financial instrument, the project had a return on investment of 34 percent and is projected to save the club more than $1.8 million dollars. Almost $2 million dollars in savings can now be rerouted towards the organization's core mission of providing resources and programs to community youth. The choice to 'go green' was not only obvious, but also money-wise."
Going green is becoming an important differentiating factor for many companies. Organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council are quick to highlight impressive statistics that illustrate the value of sustainability across the U.S.:
· Lease rates 20 percent above market averages for a green building space;
· 10.9 percent increase in building value;
· 16 percent higher employee productivity combined with higher employee retention and fewer sick days.
"It doesn't take a deep dive into these numbers to realize there's a profound competitive advantage that non-green companies will eventually have to opt in to or be shut down by leaner, greener competitors," Torre-Bueno notes. "Today, implementing sustainable practices is something companies brag about on social media, but in the next five to ten years, nobody is going to ask if a corporation is eco-friendly; it's just going to be assumed. The rate of solar installation is increasing exponentially, fueled by the massive influx of capital and financial innovations that make it possible for businesses and institutions to eliminate or greatly reduce electric bills for no cash out-of-pocket. A typical building owner taking advantage of new financial paradigms, such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, leases, or power purchase agreements (PPA), can literally cut their monthly energy bill in half for no cash outlay. In addition, they can pay significantly lower costs for clean energy at a fixed price, as they would for dirty energy at regularly rising prices."
As of 2013, the green industry had grown four times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, swelling to $196 billion. By 2014, the U.S. green industry was employing more than three million people -- more than all fossil fuel industries combined. These trends are bad news for the fossil fuel industry and local utility companies, which long ago established that regulatory agencies could be "influenced" by lobbying and other financial incentives. As they contract, the green industry grows to fill in the space that they leave behind, flexing growing lobbying power that an earlier, ideologically-driven green movement could only imagine.
"Today, utility companies are in full-scale retreat, fighting desperately to hold on to market share by any means necessary and watching their business models disintegrate from the assault by the green industry," Torre-Bueno observes. Though young, the green industry benefits from a decades-long history of the green movement, and has learned from that movement's strengths and weaknesses. "In the final analysis, the green industry is ascendant, and stands poised to eliminate its competitors, with tools of their own creation," Torre-Bueno concludes. His company, and many others like it, are helping make this transition a reality.