We’ve watched with both amazement and a certain amount of there-but-for-the-grace-of-god relief as the tempest over Whole Foods’ wind power cards blows across the blogosphere.
The controversy in a nutshell: Whole Foods recently began test-marketing “wind power cards,” which are basically renewable energy credits (RECs) in the form of a handy little plastic card available near the checkout line. The RECs themselves are provided by Renewable Choice Energy (RCE), a broker responsible for some other high-profile green power programs, including a partnership with the Vail ski resort.
The Whole Foods program caught the notice of blogger Steve Johnson, who roundly denounced it as a scam. His denouncement was then picked up and amplified a millionfold by Boing Boing, the most popular blog in the galaxy. From there, the debate ping-ponged back and forth across the internet, with all manner of green blogs weighing in on RECs in general and on the question in particular of whether selling RECs that look like stored-value cards is a deceptive marketing practice.
We have a particular fascination with this controversy for a perhaps obvious reason. Had Whole Foods approached TerraPass with the idea of developing a carbon offset card for distribution in their stores, the sound of high fives and popping champagne corks would have echoed across the bay. Without the benefit of hindsight, this idea seems like a great deal all around. Great for consumers, who benefit from the convenience; great for the environment, which benefits from both the emissions reductions and the heightened awareness of renewables; and great for the renewable energy vendor, who gains distribution to the dreamiest demographic imaginable.
It’s worth noting, although largely beside the point, that the criticisms leveled at the Whole Foods program are almost all entirely wrong on their face. The program is not, in actual fact, a scam. Of course, these debates aren’t won on their merits, and in an almost postmodern sense the customer truly is always right. If everyone agrees the product is a bad idea, then the product really is a bad idea, no matter how unfair the accusations.
What went wrong?