In our previous articles in this series, we covered renewable energy certificates (REC) basics, how to get RECs, the benefits of using a virtual power purchase agreement to get RECs, and how to use RECs in sustainability reports. In this article, we'll cover the marketing claims that you can make after you've secured - and retired - RECs.
Corporations vary greatly when it comes to promoting their investment in renewable energy. Some companies prefer to keep their procurement quiet, letting the results speak for themselves in their sustainability reports, while others have made it the subject of their Super Bowl commercial.
No matter how big you decide to go with promoting your renewable energy investment, there are some guidelines to follow to ensure you are making accurate claims and not (unintentionally) deceiving customers. The EPA,FTC, RE100 and NREL all provide great resources for additional information; we'll cover the highlights here.
Marketing Best Practices for Green Power Purchases
1. DO Be Precise in Your Percentages
You can only claim that a product is "made with renewable energy" if you've acquired enough RECs to cover every megawatt hour of purchased electricity required to manufacture that product. If part of the manufacturing involved electricity not covered by RECs, you should clearly state the percentage of renewable energy involved. For example, it would be deceptive to claim that a product is "made with renewable energy" if you've only purchased enough RECs to cover 60% of the electricity required. A more accurate statement would be "we purchase wind energy to cover 60% of our manufacturing facilities."
The same goes for a building, like a company headquarters or manufacturing facility, that is getting half of its power from renewable sources: "powered by renewable energy" is deceptive; "powered by 50% solar energy" is accurate. If one part of your product was powered by renewable energy, you can claim as much as is accurate and not deceptive. For example, "Bottle was produced with 60% wind energy."
2. DO Include the Source of Renewable Energy
You should specify the source of renewable energy that your RECs came from, like wind or solar, in your claim. For example, "100% solar-powered" or "powered by 50% wind energy." If you've purchased RECs from a mix of wind, solar and other sources, then you should make it clear that the product is made from "a mix of renewable energy sources," and specify which source makes up the greatest percentage. The greatest percentage can be calculated annually. For example, "Manufactured with a mix of renewable energy sources, primarily wind."
3. DO Be Transparent About the Source of RECs
In addition to naming the type of renewable energy you invested in, your sustainability reports should include the source of the RECs (i.e. power purchase agreement, REC purchase, green power program, etc). Your stakeholders want to know that you're making a difference, not just checking a box, so you should be transparent about what you're investing in. A major reason why corporations choose to enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a project under development is because more clean energy will come onto the grid as a direct result of their investment. This concept is known as "additionality" - and while it's not required, it is desired, because the impact is clear. If you've entered into a PPA, you can share details about the specific project that was made possible thanks to your efforts.
4. DO Retire RECs BEFORE Making Claims
Whether you purchase RECs or generate your own via on-site renewable energy, you must retire those RECs in order to make claims against them (or make sure your REC supplier is retiring them on your behalf). When you retire a REC through the associated tracking system, it cannot be sold again, which means no one else can lay claim to that unit of renewable generation.
5. DO Require That Your RECs are Certified
Purchase RECs that can be verified by independent entities in order to substantiate your claims. For example, you may look for RECs that are "Green-e Certified." Using a third-party certification can ensure that there is no "double counting" of RECs. The last thing you'd want after purchasing a REC is to not be able to use it in your reporting because someone else has already laid claim to those environmental attributes.
6. DON'T Confuse "RECs" and "Offsets"
RECs and offsets aren't the same, so don't use them interchangeably. RECs can be used to reduce your Scope 2 emissions by replacing an emissions-causing megawatt hour with a zero-emissions megawatt hour before calculating Scope 2 GHG emissions. An offset, on the other hand, represents a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent that has been reduced. Offsets can be used to lower Scope 1 and 3 emissions. The EPA advises organizations buying green power to limit their claims to "reducing their carbon footprint," and not to claim to be reducing their total emissions to the atmosphere. Don't claim to be "offsetting emissions" with your RECs.
7. DON'T Make Claims on Non-Voluntary REC Purchases
If legislation requires your business to use a certain amount of renewable energy, you can't make renewable energy claims about these improvements. In addition, make sure that your REC supplier is not also applying the underlying attributes and environmental benefits to a mandate (e.g., a state renewable energy portfolio standard, or RPS). Such a situation would constitute a double claim between you and your supplier.
8. DON'T use RECs for Purchased Electricity in Other Countries
Your green power should come from the same market where you use electricity. The United States is considered a single electricity market; thus, green power applied to U.S. operations should be sourced from U.S. interconnected projects. You cannot apply RECs from a project in the U.S. toward emissions or energy usage in another country.
Ultimately, the guidelines for making credible renewable energy claims are about being accurate, verifiable, and specific. Following these guidelines will ensure that your stakeholders have a clear understanding of your investment.
To learn more about renewable energy certificates, check out our other articles in this series: