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05/05/2008 01:51 PM     print story email story      

Sustainability as a Status Symbol

Wind farms, solar plants and who knows what else could benefit from the great American branding machine, bringing advertising dollars to project developers and revenue to communities. We might even see the day when people care more about having their name associated with the environment than a stadium.

Companies pay a lot of money to attach their names to prominent places. The future home of the New York Mets will be called Citi Field, after Citigroup, and the Academy Awards takes place in Kodak Theater.  It's not a stretch to conceive of company-branded wind farms.

If a company buys the output of a wind farm, why not pay some more and have your name attached to it? That's what Steelcase is doing with its Wege Wind Energy Farm in Texas. Although marketing experts think Steelcase made a mistake by naming it after Peter Wege, the son of Steelcase's founder, instead of after the more recognizable company name, you get the picture. Steelcase, a furniture manufacturer, prides itself on being environmentally proactive - its goal is to reduce its carbon footprint 25% by 2012.  The company plans to include it in all its promotional materials.

It's unusual for a company to buy all the credits of a wind farm, but that could well become commonplace. With demand for wind power and for RECs greater than supply, companies may end up competing to lock in credits.

John Deere, which is building the Wege Wind Farm, says that premium prices for naming rights would make it possible to build smaller, less economically attractive projects. Apparently, several companies have expressed interest in providing upfront financing for small wind farms in exchange for naming rights.

This new business model could be attractive to any company that wants to link its brand with sustainability. We can envision IBM wind farms and GM biofuel plants right around the corner.

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