When we think of community energy projects, we often look to the developing world, where local social innovation schemes bring energy by the people, for the people, and where these initiatives bring jobs in construction, operation and maintenance. Yet, these energy co-operatives are becoming increasingly popular in the West, too. They are a global network of independent, local businesses owned by those they serve. They share a common set of business principles and values like self-help and democracy, and, crucially, co-ops exist to meet the needs of its members.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association more than 29,200 cooperatives nationally now employ two million Americans. One in every four Americans is a co-op member, but the scope of the cooperative network doesn’t stop in the U.S. More than one billion co-op members exist worldwide, and co-ops generate 100 million jobs globally. They strive for sustainable development of communities through member-driven social innovation policies, with co-op leaders elected by members.
In the U.S., one good example is the Energy Co-op in Philadelphia. It is a not-for-profit, member-owned organisation that gives residents in the region clean energy options. It has also recently joined the growing network of renewable energy providers that offer products certified by Green-e Energy, North America’s leading certification and verification program for renewable energy. Green-e Energy provides independent, third-party certification to ensure that certified renewable energy meets strict environmental and consumer-protection standards.
The Energy Co-op is active: in 2011 it helped launch ChoosePAWind, a social innovation initiative, which encourages electricity consumers in the state to power their businesses and homes with energy from local wind farms. The growth of this program will aid in the development of new renewable resources in the area. It has also signed up to EcoChoice100, where locals can support other local renewable energy projects and that is available to members in southeastern Pennsylvania. It sources from 99% Pennsylvania wind power and 1% Pennsylvania solar power, which includes energy generated on the rooftops of its own members.
The social innovation practices of co-ops provide consumer-focused solutions that can adapt quickly to change. Unlike competitive, profit-driven businesses, they work with each other to create programs that improve service. In the U.S. food co-ops introduced food nutrition labels long before they were federally required in 1994. Credit unions fought the predatory practices of payday lenders by introducing salary advance loans that double as savings accounts. Alex Fuller-Young, Electricity Program Manager for The Energy Co-op, reinforces this ethos when he says, “As a member-owned cooperative, we pay careful attention to ensuring that our members receive exactly what they believe they’re purchasing! This is one reason why we became Green-e certified: not only to provide further assurance to our members, but to support an initiative that is improving overall transparency in the marketplace.”
Article Published Under INDIACSR-3BL Media Partnership
Sangeeta Haindl: I love being a staff writer for 3BL Media/Justmeans on topics – Social Innovation, Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs. When I am not writing for 3BL Media/Justmeans, I wear my other hat as owner of Serendipity PR. Over the years I have worked with high-profile, big, powerful brands and organisations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from my industry. I believe in the power of serendipity for business. Do e-mail me if you would like to know more and what this means. I also am a Twitter lover and believe that social media lets people into our lives. I would also describe myself as a Spiritual Entrepreneur, Conscious Explorer and Futurist. I enjoy helping others, paying it forward and being a mum.