Grocer Whole Foods going "all green." Um, actually it's buying wind power credits.

From yesterday’s news, we learn that environmentally attuned Whole Foods, Inc.–a US purveyor of sustainable, organic food products–is now trumpeting itself as the nation’s ultimate “green” grocer. Admirable goal, but actually Whole Foods is purchasing wind credits from other concerns, not making any operational changes itself.

While I clearly see how this purchase benefits the environment, just how admirable is getting someone else to do the heavy lifting and sacrificing for you, especially for a corporation that emphasizes deeds, not rhetoric and/or symbolism? Or is today’s environmentalism largely on of symbolic measures and not a little hot air?
News Story:

Whole Foods switching to all wind power in U.S.
Deal for wind power credits makes Whole Foods the biggest corporate user of wind power in the country.

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Whole Foods Market Inc. is going all green on electricity.

The company is buying enough wind power credits to cover energy use at all of its U.S. stores, bakeries, distribution centers, regional offices and its Austin headquarters. … The deal makes Whole Foods the biggest corporate user of wind power in the country
http://www.statesman.com/business/content/business/stories/other/01/11wholefoods.html

Seems OK to me; this is an operational change, not just a symbolic one. Also, if you don’t think this is adequate, what alternative would you suggest?

I don’t think it’s fair to expect Whole Foods to become an energy company. They don’t know jack about creating electricity, so the only way they can get clean energy is to buy it from someone who makes clean energy.

Whole Foods operating costs will most likely go up to support buying from clean energy concerns, that is no small change.

I don’t understand. That is how you “buy” wind power. Electricity just gets fed into one huge grid and there are costs associated with how it was produced even though it is impossible to say these particular electrons vibrate because of a wind farm in North Dakota.

They really are “buying” more expensive wind energy and this creates a larger market for it. I fail to see the issue.

Did you expect them to put windmills in all of their parking lots?

No, but Whole Foods’ portraying itself as greener than thou smacks of hypocrisy. Look at the context. It’s not just that they are paying others to be green, while themselves remaining largely undifferentiated from other main. No, what raises my eyebrow is the tendency among environmentalists–of which many Whole Foods shoppers consider themselves–to emphasize real deeds, not symbolic gestures. They attack public utilities for paying distant utlities to be green while still spewing mercury or other pollutants. These same people apparently see nothing inconsistent with Whole Foods paying others to be green. And remember: the very cornerstone of Whole Foods is the environment.

My objection, then, is one of internal consistency. Choose your standards and stick to them.

"No, but Whole Foods’ portraying itself as greener than thou smacks of hypocrisy. Look at the context. It’s not just that they are paying others to be green, while themselves remaining largely undifferentiated from THE main.

No, what raises my eyebrow is the tendency among environmentalists–of which many Whole Foods shoppers consider themselves–to emphasize real deeds, not symbolic gestures. They attack public utility A for paying distant public utlity B to be green while Utlity A continues to spew mercury and other pollutants. These same people apparently see nothing inconsistent with Whole Foods paying others to be green. And remember: the very cornerstone of Whole Foods is the environment. My objection, then, is one of internal consistency. Choose your standards and stick to them."

So the question is–is this situation a poorly worded way of indicating that Whole Foods means “We’re buying wind energy credits” to mean “we’re paying the extra dosh to ensure that all our corporate power use comes from windpower sources”. I think it almost has to be–there’s a difference between an energy consumer buying “credits” (which almost makes no sense according to the standard definition of energy/pollution credits) and an energy producer buying credits–as has been said, it’s not as though Whole Foods runs its own generators, and therefore has no control over its electricity other than who it chooses to buy it from–Whole Foods as an entity isn’t polluting via power generation, since it doesn’t generate power, so it can’t be fobbing off its nonexistent pollution on someone else.

Seems more like a case of unclear wording in the press release than anything else–I interpret it as "“Whole Foods is buying all their power from green energy providers”. Hell, if Whole Foods, as a non-polluting entity, is buying actual pollution credits, that’s even better, since the whole system of polluting entities has fewer pollution credits in aggregate, and so must pollute less.

I still don’t understand why the OP calls this a “symbolic measure”. In theory, the energy that they use will come off the demand placed to the traditional power companies and be swithed to demand and payment to wind energy. Being a retailer, there is only a limited amount of control they have over their power use. They can however, control how their energy gets generated to some degree. It seems pretty concrete and starightforward to me.

Carnac - I think that there’s a misunderstanding here. Imagine that the food company built a bunch of windmills(exactly as many as were needed to supply all of their power needs) someplace where they are effective at generating power but nowhere near any of their stores. Then imagine that they gave all of that wind-generated electricity to a utility near the generation site, and in exchange, they received free electricity from the various utilities near their stores. Do you see how this would replace a bunch of fuel-generated power with wind-generated power in the overall system, as a direct result of the food company’s action? That’s exactly what is happening here. Every kilowatt that the company buys through the green partnership is a kilowatt that won’t be generated using fuel. The kilowatts are completely fungible.

I think I understand your agrument now, and I think it is absurd. Whole Foods has three choices. First, it can do what it has done, buying wind credits for its energy use. Second it can do nothing. Third, it can build windmills at each of its stores. What would you prefer that it do?
The first increases the amount of “green” energy used in this country, and reduces the amount of dirty energy used by an equal amount. That, my friend, is a “real deed”.
The second does nothing for the environment.
The third simply cannot be done. Ignoring the cost to Whole Foods - which, as has been mentioned, is not an energy company - you cannot build windmills willy nilly. First, you have pretty major zoning issues; I really doubt that the town fathers of Boca Raton (where my Whole Foods is) would approve the building of a massive and pretty damn ugly windmill in the middle of their upscale town. Next, most places in the country aren’t good for wind power, with light and/or intermittent winds.
So, Whole Foods has done the only thing that it can to reduce the production of dirty energy, and I salute them for it.

Sua

Ditto. Carnac, judging from your posts, I think you have a significant misunderstanding of what wind power credits are. It isn’t shifting the pollution of energy production, it’s reducing/eliminating it.

I need to read up on energy credits, it seems, but reserve my right to wax indignant in the future.

Can anyone sell me foot-out-of-mouth credits? :wink:

I tried to talk about how the pollution credits work but didn’t get much response.

Carnac, the demand for FOOM credits is far greater than the supply, and we are all hoarding ours for when our turns come. :slight_smile:

Here is the EPA site for the Green Power Partnership. I haven’t explored all of it, but the EPA runs the program, and I think you’ll find some useful info there.