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Corporate Social Responsibility

Bye-bye grid

What happens when energy utilities listen to their customers and start doing what citizens expect from them? They help them to become independent from the grid. The company Green Mountain Power in Vermont, US, shows how it works.

For more than a century, the energy world followed the logic of system efficiency. What counted was what engineers deemed to be the best generation system: For good reasons that were pretty big plants based on fuels that were as much as possible domestically available. For the luckier countries that was hydropower, for others coal and gas, and for those that disposed of few or none of these resources it was nuclear power. Today, solar energy, batteries, electric cars and smart home technology revolutionise this logic.

Green Mountain Power helps its customers, and especially the low-income households, to become more and more independent from the grid. That’s what they want, and that is also what more and more traditional utilities in Europe are trying out. But few do it with such enthusiasm as the utility in New England. According to Green Mountain Power it’s simply their way to “keep its regulators, investors and customers all happy at the same time”. For the customer it’s greener, cheaper and more secure. The less electricity is drawn from the regional grid, the lower the fees. Regulators like that blackouts are less likely, while investors appreciate the commercial success of the schemes.

But even for a company that brands itself as “Green” cultural change was required before the approach to generation and the actual offer could be changed. Since 2014 the company has committed itself to be a so-called “B Corporation”. That implied for CEO Mary Powell and all managers that they had to take into account how decisions would influence society as a whole, not only their impact on profits and stakeholders. The goal: to escape from the death spiral that traditional energy utilities are facing.

Source: New York Times, Diane Cardwell. For the complete article click here.

One way to better understand the expectations of citizens and customers and to find out, which business models are “society-proof” in the future, is “Community Scouting” developed by Communication Works. It does not only allow to better understand trends but also to take into account local particularities.

Text: Sabine Froning