Energy and a Healthy Outdoors
As a co-op that knows that a life outdoors is a life well lived, we have long recognized the connection between energy use, climate change and the health of the outdoor places we love. Healthier outdoor places and a healthier planet can be a global outcome if there’s enough of a shift soon to renewable energy.
We started more than a decade ago on energy, sourcing 20 percent of REI’s power from renewable energy in 2006. Renewable energy was just becoming available—in fits and starts—and we pioneered with early green power offerings from utilities. We also aggressively focused on energy efficiency, as an unneeded kilowatt-hour of electricity is not only the greenest electricity but also the cheapest. Our continual efforts to make our stores and buildings more efficient has had great success: While our co-op has grown revenue 78 percent since 2008, our energy use (in this case, electricity for power and natural gas for heating) has been nearly flat, growing only 4.5 percent. Our buildings use about 25 percent less energy per square foot than they did in 2006.
Then, in fall 2007, our renovated Boulder store reopened to LEED certification and featured an innovative atrium skylight that used solar panels instead of glass. This was the first installation of a building-integrated solar system in a retail store. From 2008 forward we made significant investments in owning and installing large-scale solar electricity systems on our retail stores. The first 11 stores “went solar” that year, and we added 14 more in 2011 and 2012, leading other retailers in the number of states in which we had implemented solar. We’re proud to build some of the greenest retail stores in the country. Most recently, in 2016, we opened our 400,000-square-foot distribution center in Goodyear, Arizona. Designed to produce as much energy as it uses each year, this huge building in the desert is the largest net-zero energy and LEED Platinum building in the country.
Our energy strategy is straightforward: use as little electricity as possible, generate as much renewable energy as we can through our own systems, and then obtain the rest of the electricity we need from other new and innovative renewable sources. With this work, our electricity has been 100 percent renewable since 2013 and we are committed to continuing to source 100 percent renewable energy in the future.
Our approach has paid off—for the environment and for our bottom line. In 2014, we were recognized as an EPA Green Power Leader, and electricity—once our largest contributor to our carbon footprint—has now been zeroed out. Each year, our work on energy is the environmental equivalent of taking more than 7,000 cars off the road. Over the past decade, our energy savings have contributed more than $20 million in savings to our co-op, allowing us to do more for our members and to support our investments in the trails and parks we enjoy.
Even with a decade of work, we’re not finished. More energy opportunities have opened up, new technologies have become available, and there are lots of opportunities for continued collaboration. We are actively pursuing new green power opportunities, such as Puget Sound Energy’s Green Direct wind power tariff we recently committed to in our home state of Washington, the result of years of conversations with our local utility. We’re also continuing to increase the efficiency of our buildings.
The Hidden Secret of Renewable Energy
It’s clear how renewable energy benefits the environment, but less clear why it can be so financially beneficial. Energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar is fundamentally different than energy from fossil fuel sources. Simply stated, a coal or natural gas power plant requires a steady input of costly fossil fuels to burn over its lifetime. A wind farm’s costs are almost all up-front—after it’s up and running, a wind farm doesn’t require money spent on fuel. This opens the opportunity for a massive benefit: Renewable energy can be sold at a stable, fixed price over 10, 15 or 20 or more years without much risk that it will be unprofitable in the future. This is a rare opportunity for financial certainty and is a fundamental advantage over electricity from fossil fuels. Secondly, and no less important, solar panels and other renewable technologies have benefited massively from dropping prices. Our cost of solar has dropped about 75 percent since we installed those first arrays in 2008. There is money to be saved by sourcing renewable energy.
The Power of Us
Our work isn’t done for another important reason. No matter how much progress we continue to make on our own footprint, REI’s footprint is actually quite small. Our entire electricity use across our approximately 6.5 million square feet of real estate is the annual equivalent of just under 8,500 average U.S. households. Our work alone won’t protect the health of the outdoor places we and our members love. Even our partners in the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Alliance—some of the largest companies in the world—won’t be able to turn the tide of climate change through our collective efforts.
We can do more together with you. As a member of REI, you are one of 16 million who have joined the co-op, with 6.5 million actively shopping with us last year. Are you interested in joining the effort? Have you already? If just one percent of our active members switched to renewable energy, the environmental benefit would be almost ten times the impact of what REI has been able to do on its own.
What Could You Do?
- First, focus on the energy efficiency of your home. Efficiency is also the easiest way to save money. Program your thermostat. Check in with your own utility and see if they offer rebates on LED lightbulbs, efficient appliances, upgraded insulation or other cost-effective upgrades like efficient water fixtures. Ask your utility if they offer a home energy audit.
- If you own a house, installing solar might make financial sense for you. A third-party resource is EnergySage, who can help you get apples-to-apples quotes from solar installers on what it might cost you. In some cases, you can install solar with no upfront cost while lowering your energy bill each month. In a few areas, you can buy into a community solar array that isn’t even on your property.
- If solar doesn’t work for your house or you live in an apartment or condo, ask your utility if they offer a residential green power program. Many do with simple, reasonable terms.
Our community of co-op members shares a love for the wild places we explore and dream about and the local parks and trails we frequent. We also have a powerful opportunity to take action together. Renewable energy is one option we can join forces on.