Paying more to save the environment

By 
  • January 28, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - There’s more to the modern practice of capitalism than squeezing costs to watch the bottom line grow, according to the company that sells some of the most expensive electricity in Canada.

Toronto-based Bullfrog Power has hundreds of business customers in Ontario and Alberta willing to spend three cents per kilowatt hour more for electricity than average rates. That’s a 25- to 30-per-cent increase in their electricity bill.

“Among the customers that we deal with every day we meet people at the top of these organizations that care about what their company is leaving behind — what impact it’s having on the community and the environment,” said Bullfrog vice president of marketing Josephine Coombe.

Bullfrog’s electricity comes off the grid, just like everybody else’s power. But an energy bill paid to Bullfrog goes exclusively to wind farms and smaller power dams, and to build new wind farms and low-impact hydro. None of it goes to buy power from nuclear stations, coal-fired generators or the big dams that have flooded huge swathes of natural habitat.

Otherwise level-headed capitalists pay more to plug in their computers and turn on the lights in part because consumers are willing to reward companies they believe share their concern over climate change and the environment, said Coombe.

“Every organization has its own means of measuring and assessing the degree to which they are managing their reputation and the impact that’s having on their end customers,” Coombe said.

“But one of the things we do at Bullfrog is we work with our commercial customers to help them build the story around their environmental action.”

An Environics poll going into the Christmas season found 52 per cent of Canadian consumers said they would shift their brand allegiance to companies they see as environmentally friendly, even if it meant paying more.

But Coombes doesn’t think the decision to pay extra for green power is simply a matter of winning the hearts of consumers.

“I don’t think it’s all about PR. Our customers genuinely want to make a difference,” she said.

For socially responsible investment firm Acuity Investment Management Inc., opting for the higher electricity bill had almost nothing to do with winning brownie points from environmentally conscious consumers, said Acuity senior vice president Stephen Crawford.

“We’re committed to it. It’s something that fits in with our values,” Crawford said.

Acuity already has socially and environmentally motivated investors. A press release saying it has opted for Bullfrog Power was unlikely to goose those numbers.

“We’ve been a pioneer in sustainable investing over the years, since our founding in 1991. We believe in this. Not only do we invest according to our values but we run our company that way,” said Crawford.

The mutual fund company has about 100 employees spread over a floor and a half of the Scotia Plaza tower in Toronto. Crawford wouldn’t talk about just how much more Acuity is paying for green power.

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