THE BLOG
09/11/2014 04:27 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

Grocery Shopping for Renewable Energy

RenewableNow.biz continues to bring us "the business side of green".
And to that end, I continue to be fascinated by how so many real-world events seem to have parallels in the clean energy world.

Take the recent skirmishes in New England over the grocery store chain Market Basket, for example. Who would have thought a fight over a CEO would be a good lesson in protecting renewable energy. Sure, we all understand the analogy to the organic food movement and the boom of Whole Foods. But Market Basket? Renewable energy?

Well, if you missed RenewableNow.biz it's not too late to learn these valuable lessons. Take a look...

For some time now, people have made a comparison between solar energy and Whole Foods. The thinking has been that we need the solar energy community to grow along the same lines as the maturing of the organic food industry. At one time, organic food was more of a "cause" celebrated by a small "quirky" segment of society with the money and resources to spend more on groceries. But then a marketplace developed, and soon after, a grocery store, and then an entire chain of grocery stores, all selling good quality, organic food. Whole Foods stores started showing up everywhere and today the organic food business is about as mainstream as McDonald's.

But perhaps, the analogy of solar to grocery stores should be less about Whole Foods and more about Boston-based supermarket chain Market Basket.

A little back story first: two cousins, both named Arthur DeMoulis (one T and the other S) have been fighting for control of their family's supermarket chain -- Market Basket. As Arthur S took control of the boardroom, he fired his cousin Arthur T, who had been running the stores for years. Arthur T was much beloved by employees, many of whom had been there for 30 plus years. They fear that Arthur S will be dismantling many of the employee benefits and lucrative salaries when he is firmly in control.

What happened next is almost unheard of in business today. Thousands and thousands of Market Basket employees protested the firing of their beloved CEO. Many of them put their jobs on the line and have since been fired. As the battle continued, customers supported employees and stayed away. No one was driving trucks or filling orders in the warehouses so the shelves at Market Baskets were empty even if there were customers to shop there. And as this story comes full circle, Arthur T has now just bought the entire company and has been reinstated as CEO. Truly, the power of the people has spoken louder than the power of the purse. Or more to the point, people coming together changed the playbook and fixed a wrong.

What has a family's supermarket chain squabble got to do with renewable energy? As I see it, there is a lot to learn from the power of these Market Basket employees and customers. They have joined together and are speaking with one voice and asking those around them to join in. And it is working.

We need this kind of shared " voice of the people" in the clean energy world. In renewable energy we are seeing pro solar policies under attack all around us. It's the well-financed Koch Brothers who are trying to undo decades of solar growth. Apparently all those customers signing up for solar are having an impact on oil and electric company profits. And they can't have that!!

The conventional wisdom seems to be that if you want to take on the Koch Brothers, you need to match them dollar for dollar. And quite frankly, that's a tall order.

But we at SmartPower have a different take. We have long known the power of community and the strength that comes from people coming together to right a wrong. Indeed, our "Solarize" program is based on engaging the community in going solar, by tapping into volunteers, solar customers and activists and getting the word out throughout the community about the benefits of investing in solar on one's home. And it is working. In almost all our towns, the community has been able to more than double the amount of solar contracted in just 20 weeks than over the previous 7 years.

Like Market Basket, we've seen the power of community in growing the residential solar marketplace.

We are now working to use that same passion, that same dedication and that same community spirit to take on the Koch Brothers and their anti-solar policies.

Our goal is to tap into that sense of "community" and engage regular solar customers to speak up on behalf of pro solar policies and clean energy. By speaking with one voice we will have an effective way to reach lawmakers who care about what voters think. The oil companies may not care, but elected officials do.

We're reaching out to other Solarize programs across the country to join in and help us "speak with one voice" as we form a Solarize Exchange. If we can tap this strong, passionate group of consumers who care about solar we can put up a strong fight.

I never thought I'd learn about political campaigns from a supermarket. But thank you, Market Basket.

Brian Keane is the president of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.