10 Companies Pioneering Green Energy Usage

There aren't many people who will suggest that Kohl's Department Stores (NYSE: KSS  ) is a subversive threat to our existence as we know it. Lucky for you, dear reader, I am one of them. As our elected officials and fossil fuel lobbyists engage in never-ending battles to ensure we maintain our energy status quo, many corporations are quietly making big investments to brighten our energy future. Today I'm looking at the top 10 finishers on the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership list. The agency ranks 50 entities, and you can see the whole list here.

The leaders
The EPA's rankings are based on three factors: renewable energy certificates, on-site generation, and utility green power products. The top 10 organizations on the EPA's list are as follows:

Rank

Company

Green Power

1

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  )

100%

2

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  )

80%

3

Kohl's Department Stores

105%

4

Whole Foods

107%

5

Wal-Mart

4%

6

U.S. DOE

14%

7

Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS  )

101%

8

Starbucks*

70%

9

Lockheed Martin

30%

10

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )

85%

Source: EPA. *Company-owned stores only.

The ranking criteria explain why a company like Wal-Mart can rank fifth, despite generating only 4% of its electricity usage from green power. The company ranks first in the nation for on-site green power generation, producing more than 174 million kilowatt hours on-site.

Greenest of the green
According to the EPA, Intel's green power usage has the environmental equivalent of taking 455,000 cars off the road every year. The company generates on-site solar power at several facilities, but it purchases 3.1 billion kilowatt hours a year of renewable energy certificates.

Now would be an excellent time to remind ourselves what renewable energy certificates are. From the EPA:

"A REC ... represents the property rights to the environmental, social, and other nonpower qualities of renewable electricity generation. A REC, and its associated attributes and benefits, can be sold separately from the underlying physical electricity associated with a renewable-based generation source."

Essentially, when producers generate renewable energy, they create one REC for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity that hits the grid. The RECs can either be sold with the electricity, or separately. If sold separately, the electricity is no longer considered "green."
The system allows for the tracking of renewable generation, and for customers to buy "green" electricity when there isn't any available locally. You can read more about RECs here.

Runners-up
Microsoft has reduced its carbon emissions by at least 30% compared with its baseline 2007 emissions. The company is now committed to achieving carbon-neutrality, an ambitious goal if there ever was one, especially for a tech company.

Kohl's is a bit of a teacher's pet when it comes to the EPA. It has been listed as the Green Partner of the Year three times since 2009. The company uses on-site solar panels to generate 2% of its electricity, and purchases the rest of its green power.

Whole Foods has solar systems at 16 locations, with 20 more on the way. The company also has four locations with a fuel cell. Perhaps more importantly, Whole Foods has initiated energy efficiency upgrades to its facilities that save upwards of 20 million kilowatt hours every year. You can read about the minimum efficiency standards it uses in new construction here, and the extreme importance of energy efficiency here.

Staples is one of those big-box stores that make people nervous, but it's making all the right moves from an energy perspective. The company has 36 on-site solar installations and has made incredibly impressive efforts to cut energy use, including a 11.3% companywide reduction in energy intensity, and a 66% reduction in carbon emissions from its 2001 baseline.

Starbucks' company-owned stores are focused on efficiency and supporting the green power market. The company's goal is to purchase RECs to cover 100% of its stores' electricity use by 2015. It is currently at the 70% mark.

Lockheed Martin is quickly making its name as a player in the energy space. It's on the EPA's list because it's constructing energy-efficient buildings and constructing on-site renewable projects. It's on my list because in an effort to diversify its business mix outside of government contracts, it's stepping up its energy innovation projects in a big way.

Apple generates 16% of its energy use on-site. It also purchases energy via RECs and through partnerships with utilities. It is perhaps the most proactive when it comes to pushing for green energy development, pursuing projects that need Apple's involvement to be developed and brought to market in the first place. The company recently announced that 75% of its corporate facilities and data centers are powered by renewables.

Foolish takeaway
These companies aren't going green to do us a favor, Fools. There are powerful business forces at work here. As investors, knowing which companies are making efforts to cut down energy costs and improve efficiency gives us a head start in our research to find innovative, forward-thinking investment opportunities. This is just the first wave; expect more and more companies to focus on greener, cleaner energy going forward.

There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded, with more than 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 11:29 AM, H8neocons wrote:

    Do all of the articles here have to be generated from the "right" point of view?

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 11:44 AM, amysname wrote:

    I believe that Green Energy is good for our country, however it is not the answer to EVERYTHING! Slowly it should be implemented but the rush to have everything Green has shown that money can be wasted! Most people cannot afford cars that run on batteries and the alternative fuel has turned out to just line the pockets of some . Solar is good but also expensive and the Chinese are the ones that have benefited by their solar panels. We need a transition period, if there was a better economy it would make more sense!

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 1:29 PM, marxwj wrote:

    With any big change in the way we do things there will be some missteps. It is the cost of doing business. Doing nothing can just as easily lead to failure as doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Many Green energy projects have high startup costs, but you save later on, because you don't have to keep feeding the system fuel that is more expensive every day. The Chinese are one of the leaders in Solar because they started investing in it before we did. We can either correct that, or let them become one of the energy leaders of the future unopposed.

    Some of these stores should also look into skylights, because they save energy in lighting and studies have shown that people like shopping in natural light more than in artificial lighting.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 2:06 PM, JePonce wrote:

    How about a list of the dozens of companies Obama funded with billions of taxpayer dollars that have filed bankruptcy, such as Solyndra?

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 4:43 PM, franknev wrote:

    Hey JePonce, Bright Boy, how about a list of the trillions of dollars in tax payer money wasted on the oil industry? Oil spills, wars, refinery explosions, burn care, law suits, artificial limbs, life insurance.....the list goes on....

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2013, at 10:52 AM, cindylm009 wrote:

    Limnia (http://www.limnia.com) has some of the best non-toxic, long-range, clean, sustainable energy systems in the world.

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