Thursday, March 6, 2008

Burt's Bees backs offsets: Company is subsidizing renewable energy certificates that its workers buy

Mar 2, 2008
The News & Observer
By John Murawski

Some companies blow hot air about saving the environment. Burt's Bees is paying its employees to embrace wind energy.

The Morrisville producer of eco-friendly creams and cleansers is encouraging its workers to support a green lifestyle by becoming "carbon neutral." Toward that end, Burt's Bees is among the first companies in the nation to subsidize its employees' purchases of renewable energy certificates, also known as carbon offsets.

The employee subsidy is akin to a company offering matching contributions to a charity that an employee chooses. In this case, the money supports for-profit wind energy producers in the U.S.

Once an exotic commodity designed to help industry meet emissions goals, renewable energy certificates are entering the mainstream.

A San Francisco seller of carbon offsets, 3Degrees, for more than a year has been promoting corporate programs to let businesses defray their employees' carbon offset costs. The Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL announced in spring 2007 that it would reimburse workers who support wind energy.

Burt's Bees plans to pay half of each employee's cost of achieving carbon neutrality in the worker's household. The company will contribute as much as $100 to offset one year of household carbon emissions. About 30 Burt's Bees workers are participating and receiving a company match to support wind energy projects nationwide, said John Replogle, Burt's Bees' CEO.

Julie Col-n, a brand design manager at Burt's Bees who lives in Raleigh, spent $60 in December to offset her household carbon footprint for one year. She received $30 from Burt's Bees. It's her first purchase of a renewable energy certificate.

"When the company's going to reimburse you for half the cost, it's an incentive," she said. "I'll do anything that I can to help the environment."

Burt's Bees, whose facilities rely on electricity from Progress Energy and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK PRA) (NYSE:DUK) , has said it hopes to eventually use only renewable energy, or "get off the grid." Until technology improves and more renewable energy sources are available, the company, for now, has committed about $25,000 a year to subsidize wind energy production and offset its annual energy usage.

"It's a cultural thing here," Replogle said. "Our business model is quite simply to impact the triple bottom line: people, planet, profits."

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