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The top U.S. companies that purchase renewable energy

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By Lisa Iscrupe July 23rd, 2021
For business

 

  • The top five corporate users of renewable energy are Amazon, Google, Verizon, McDonald’s, and Facebook. 

 

  • What does this mean for you? These corporations are harnessing their purchasing power to buy green energy, but they are also using environmentally-friendly tactics as a form of marketing.

 

  • Our hot take: Using renewable energy to attract conscious consumers is not necessarily a bad thing; however, don’t fall for baseless greenwashing efforts. Invest in companies that are proactive, not reactive, to lowering carbon emissions.

What are the top U.S. companies that use renewable energy?

According to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), these are the top 10 U.S. companies that use renewable energy: 

  1. Amazon 
  2. Google 
  3. Verizon
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Facebook 
  6. General Motors
  7. Nucor Corp 
  8. Evraz North America 
  9. Nestle
  10. Lowe’s

REBA defines these large energy buyers as corporations that “meet one of the following procurement mechanisms: power purchase agreement (PPA), green tariff, direct project ownership, bilateral utility deal, energy buyer tax equity investment, green power purchase.” (And, by the way, if you’ve never heard of Nucor Corp or Evraz, these companies are both major steel producers.)

Why do companies buy renewable energy?

Companies seek to counterbalance their energy consumption by purchasing renewable energy. According to ADEC Innovations, renewable energy also benefits companies in multiple ways such as:

  • Safeguarding against fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.
  • Earning government incentives, such as tax credits or subsidies.
  • Appealing to stakeholders and customers who are interested in sustainability.

Check out the full REBA list of corporate renewable energy purchasers over the past five years below:

Credit: Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA)

Are these companies making a difference?

You can look at this contribution through the lens of a half-glass full or half-empty. Putting aside the vast overall carbon footprint these major corporations have, the fact remains that these companies are incorporating green energy into their ecosphere. They are taking measures to use renewable energy, which is a step in the right direction. 

However, these major corporations are also the cause of enormous amounts of energy usage. Plus, due to the manufacturing, products, and waste of these companies, their business models are far from sustainable. 

Let’s take a closer look at how these companies are investing in renewable energy. 

Corporations are “going green” by purchasing RECs

Amazon is the top corporate purchaser of renewable energy credits (RECs). When a company or energy provider purchases RECs, it isn’t directly using renewable energy to power its operations. The business is buying a certificate that represents an amount of renewable energy. Think of it like this: purchasing a REC is like if you cut down a tree, but then paid another person to plant a new tree elsewhere. 

According to S&P global, “a huge chunk of the wind, solar or hydro power that companies purchase isn’t actual physical electricity, but tradable instruments called “unbundled” certificates. Under this system, a solar farm is allowed to sell its power to the grid and separately sell credits against that power to corporations and other buyers.”

Is this greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company misleads its customers with false claims in regards to being environmentally friendly. Greenwashing lets companies maintain a good brand image by creating the perception that they are helping the environment or supporting sustainability in some way. 

As to whether major corporations such as Amazon and Facebook are greenwashing by purchasing renewable energy, the answer is no.  

According to health and wellness blog Hale and Hearty, “While RECs are not necessarily greenwashing, there are much better options to ensure that your facility is not contributing to climate change by using fossil fuels for energy production.”

What’s wrong with RECs?

While there is nothing inherently wrong with RECs, the issue is that these certificates on the renewable energy market are not strictly regulated. 

“To explain how this works in real life, RECs are typically bought after the renewable project was already financed and put together (again, the “project” may be a development such as a solar or wind farm). So, if these RECs were not purchased, this project would exist regardless of the entity contributing financially.”

Plus, once a certificate is used, it’s supposed to be retired. However, there have been incidents of an energy credit being used more than once. This circumstance essentially eliminates the RECs purpose.

In short, there’s not a lot of checks and balances in the renewable energy reseller market space. For example, nothing is stopping a company from claiming they offset 50 or 100% of their energy with a solar farm. Plus, many companies don’t disclose the exact locations they purchase their green energy from.

This system allows companies to claim that they are 100% renewable, when in fact, they are not contributing to lowering fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. Going back to the tree analogy, the companies are still leveling forests, but paying another entity to replant trees―trees that would have been planted regardless. 

How to purchase RECs

At the end of the day, buying RECs is providing financial support for green energy creators, such as solar or wind energy farms. And buying RECs isn’t limited to corporations. Individuals can purchase RECs as well. 

If you’re interested in purchasing renewable energy credits, check out these sites:

 

Energy Expert

Lisa Iscrupe is a writer with over 15 years of experience working in the energy and telecom space. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts focused in English Language and Literature from UNC Charlotte.

 

[Ashley Cooper]/Getty Images]