The Rise of Solar Gardens

At this point, it’s impossible for even the most ardent old school energy guys to hide from the bright sunny truth that solar energy is blazing a new path in the U.S.  It’s easy to choose from a multitude of statistics that support this point. For example, as of the third quarter of last year, solar had made up more than 1/3rd of all new generating capacity built in the country. That would have been unimaginable just a few short years back. Here’s another – 6,500 MW of solar was expected online for 2014, a 36% growth over the previous year.  And one more – the industry is 3x as big as it was just three years ago and growth is only expected to accelerate.

Solar’s growth has been fueled by on-site installations on commercial, government and residential properties as well as utility scale projects. These two drivers will continue to fuel growth, but there’s a third driver that could open up the market to an even broader consumer base. I’m talking about something that’s typically referred to as “Community Solar” or “Solar Gardens.” Simply, a Solar Garden is a solar project that feeds its energy to the grid and is sold to a group of subscribers. In the residential space, a homeowner may take a 5 KW subscription, which would be the size of an average home installation. The beauty of a Solar Garden is that it opens solar to people who live in apartments, don’t have a good roof for solar (ie. too much shade), and maybe don’t have a high enough credit score for a 20 year lease on their own roof. It also opens solar for businesses, faith institutions, and other organizations that don’t directly pay their electricity bills, or are in a lease situation.

It’s a really exciting new development and it doesn’t take new technology to make it happen. It’s just a matter of changing a state’s law to allow virtual net metering, which is a cousin of net metering, one of the key regulations that allows solar to flourish. That’s the process whereby you are able to get credit for excess solar production at your site, meaning that you are figuratively spinning your meter backwards. Virtual net metering works the same except that the solar you are getting is off site. When you use less power than your subscription, you would be credited for the excess power.

If you don’t think this could be a big deal, just think of all those apartment dwellers in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco and other cities. Combined with the non-residential space, this would millions of new potential consumers to the solar market. And it’s not just wishful thinking. Colorado, Massachusetts, and Minnesota already have Solar Gardens or Community Solar laws, and the market is hot, as one recent headline noted, “In Minnesota, community solar market starting to take off.” Maryland has a chance to adopt an authorizing bill for Community Solar this year.  Other states are also considering action.

The momentum for Solar Gardens is going to build over the next couple of years. It just makes too much sense from a policy and consumer perspective. A simple change of net metering to include virtual net metering is all it takes in a state that already is favorable to solar. The bright sunny truth of a rapidly growing solar market is about to get even brighter and sunnier as Community Solar opens the door to millions of new solar consumers.


Authentic Marketing Through Community Engagement Part Three

 This is part three of a three part series. Please visit to access the first two parts. 

There are many example of great CLM campaigns.

One personal example is the Green Neighborhood Challenge (GNEC) I created and directed at Clean Currents.  GNEC was fairly simple early on, evolving over time as we learned how to perfect this particular form of CLM. We found the deep green, environmentally focused activist and worked with them to sign up their community to GNEC. The fact that the pitch for the campaign came from a community volunteer was huge. The premise of the campaign was that for every clean energy enrollment we got, we would donate money to a green project the group was working on. In the campaign execution, we would provide material and speakers to talk about the threat of climate change. We also would send out an eNewsletter highlighting positive actions of GNECs and providing additional educational information. The GNEC leaders had open access to our staff and were brought into the office on a few occasions for food and drinks. If they ever had any problems, I would personally get involved. We created unique presentations for GNECs to use, such as a fun wind power “demonstration” for elementary school students. In one of our later iterations, we had a summer picnic where the entire company came and we recognized the efforts of the best GNEC leaders, with everybody in the company personally thanking them. GNEC cemented Clean Currents firmly in the communities where we operated it. The credibility of the campaign rested on the brand’s credibility as a company that was environmentally and socially conscious, plus we didn’t pay the GNEC leaders anything. The donations never financially benefited the volunteer leaders, but rather went directly to the community project.

Another campaign that looks like CLM is the SweetGreen Passport program. In this initiative, SweetGreen (a restaurant chain focusing on healthy and local salads) partners with health and fitness providers that are local to their restaurants. These partners provide free classes (yoga, dance, etc.) that are exclusive to SweetGreen Passport participants. When the classes happen, participants often share the experience via social media. In addition, and perhaps the part that really makes this “community,” is the connections people make with each other at these events based on their shared interest in health and wellness (or anything else!).

CLM is a leading edge marketing strategy that is still evolving, but fits a powerful need in our society – the need to belong to something. By creating a community where likeminded people can come together and feel “at home,” CLM is addressing this need directly. At the end of the day, you will not only have new customers, brand ambassadors, and high morale among your staff, but you’ll be using your organization to make society a little bit of a better place.

How Intelligent Naivety Can Help the Climate Movement Part 2

A continuing series on Challenger Brand Credos and the Climate Movement

Sometimes, or I should say, for some audiences, emotion can be more powerful than facts. What intelligent naivety brings to the table is an ability to inject new emotion into a tired, or stale category. The climate movement definitely matches this description and could use a little more intelligent naivety.

In the book, Eating the Big Fish, they bring many examples of brands that brought new emotions into a category and did very well. Examples include Bratz putting an “urban sassiness” into the Barbie doll category, and Altoids putting “pain” into the breath mint category. The idea of putting new emotion into the category isn’t just about making something fun or different. As Eating the Big Fish notes, it’s about dramatically simplifying choices for consumers by creating new criteria for choice and thus giving them a new way of thinking and feeling about the category.

In the climate movement, we present consumers with far too many choices, from the fact-based scientific choices to the policy heavy legislative choices, and everything in between. Yes, we sometimes use emotion as in the times we try to use polar bear families as a way to illustrate the dramatic loss of sea ice from climate change. On the other hand, if you look at the broader “climate” category, there really seem to only be four choices at the moment – it’s happening , man is causing it and man can solve it; it’s not happening; I don’t know if it’s happening or not; or it’s happening but part of a natural cycle and we can’t do anything to stop it. In the climate movement, we of course made the first choice. What emotions does that choice evoke? I say fear is front and foremost. When we throw in the part about solutions, we put hope into the equation.

What emotions cause people to fall into one of these “choices?” Is it possible to get people to move from one choice to another (kind of like getting them to switch breath mints)? What would a marketing campaign, using intelligent naivety, look like if we were trying to eliminate some of these choices or get consumers to switch? What if we started with the premise that our campaign will not involve either trying to prove to people that climate change is happening? That would be an interesting way to restart the climate movement.


New E.D. @Greenpeace and the Chance to Build a Broader Green Community

Annie Leonard has been named the new Executive Director of Greenpeace, and to my ears, it sounds like she’s talking the right talk. Leonard, the creator of “The Story of Stuff,” says “corporations can apply their ingenuity to environmental progress, not destruction.” This is the heart of what Deeper Green is all about. We are working with corporations and other groups to focus creativity and hard work towards a deeper green ethos, to earn the trust and respect of people like Ms. Leonard.  But as it turns out, this is a two way street. Ms. Leonard wants to earn the support of the rest of the green minded community beyond Greenpeace, including the business world.

An article in Grist has a headline that asks, “Can Annie Leonard help Greenpeace reach beyond diehard greenies?” While I may differ with their word choice (I prefer the term “deep green” consumers to “diehard greenies”), I am pleased to see the direction Ms. Leonard appears to want to go. In the Grist interview, she says her first priority is to get Greenpeace members to move from being “isolated and concerned” to being “together and active.” Her next priority is to be more skillful and experimental in how Greenpeace communicates beyond the core.

So, here we have an inflection point in our green world. The new leader of the most iconic and hard charging national environmental group (disclosure – I used to work there) is planning on expanding the green movement to include more partners that are not in the deep green heart of things. In the business world, that’s great news. It means that businesses that go beyond greenwashing and actually take action to move the environmental needle have an opening to reach the deep green consumers. But with this opening comes a huge responsibility to actually mean what you say. No greenwashers will be able to fool this crowd, thankfully. Credible, real green brands, however, like many of the companies that are certified B-Corps, will get their foot in the door. And let’s not forget the ultimate goal here. It’s not to get in with this crowd and just sell them more stuff. It’s to  empower communities to create a living, breathing movement of people, businesses, faith groups, and many others working together to make our world cleaner and greener.