Choosing Renewable Power with Green Mountain Energy’s Tony Napolillo

December 25, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us Tony Napolillo. He’s the Sun Club Program Manager for Green Mountain Energy. Welcome to Green is Good, Tony. TONY NAPOLILLO: Hello. It’s great to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Tony, before we get into talking about your great brand, Green Mountain Energy, talk a little bit about Tony and your journey leading up to becoming the Sun Club Program Manager. How did this happen? TONY NAPOLILLO: Sure. I have 20 years in the marketing and communications field. I have dealt with every industry out there. I started in advertising, worked in nonprofit for facility management, and got into high tech. I was part of the dotcom boom and bust and it’s been ten years this month, I was unemployed for about a year and I took a trip by myself. I got in the car and I was like, ‘I gotta get out of here,’ and I drove to Alaska by myself. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I had never camped before. I went camping for the first time at the age of 31 and I’m on top of this mountain in Denali National Park and I see the expanse of wonder and creation and I was like alright, this is it. This is what I was looking for. It’s time to go back and it’s time to find something that’s going to make a difference and so I got in my car and spent a few weeks coming back and as serendipity works, my brand new roommate when I got back said, ‘I know this great company. My friend’s boss works there and they need a marketing guy.’ Two weeks later I had a job and it’s fantastic and it’s a company that actually personifies my values and it’s the first time that I’ve found company that I was passionate about and I was passionate about promoting it and I feel like if I do my job right, I can help save the world and I didn’t have that with high tech. High tech and the others was really about making money and this was a company with a mission and if they could pay me for it, which is even better. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s perfect, and I want you to speak a little bit about Green Mountain’s mission, but before that, I just want to say I’m on your website right now and for our listeners out there who want to follow along while we have this wonderful chat with Tony, it’s GreenMountainEnergySunClub.com. Tony, what’s Green Mountain’s mission and how do you help them carry out this mission? TONY NAPOLILLO: Green Mountain’s a unique company. It was founded in 1997 with the mission to change the way power is made. We’re 100% dedicated to cleaner energy and providing renewable electricity to businesses throughout the country. We’re primarily in Texas and the Northeast right now, so where folks do have a choice in their electricity provider, they can choose us and they can choose 100% renewable energy for their home electricity service When you want to talk about a way someone can easily make a difference, just pay your electric bill every month with Green Mountain as your provider and that’s as easy as it can get. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome; so in 16 years, talk about the impact that your brand has made in the past 16 years. TONY NAPOLILLO: I love talking about the impact because it really is incredible. Thanks to our customers and the power of consumer choice, our customers have collectively helped avoid more than 24.5 billion pounds of CO2. That is a billion with a B. In context, how much is that relative to an individual? That’s like 1.8 million cars off the road or 9.7 million households turning off their lights for the year. The impact is really astounding on what can happen when a group of like-minded individuals come together and say, ‘We want to do things differently.’ JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, you are the Sun Club Program Manager. What is the Sun Club and how does that help promote the mission of Green Mountain? TONY NAPOLILLO: Ten years ago, we had this great idea that our customers wanted to do more for the environment and what else could we give them? What other options could we give them to help the environment? So, we started the Sun Club Program where those who wanted to be a part of it could pay a little bit more on their electricity bill every month from Green Mountain. We pull those funds together and then we donate them back out into the communities we serve, specifically to nonprofit organizations to build solar energy systems or solar education as well. We’ve been expanding into solar installations and education to get the word out about the importance of solar energy and more importantly, help these really great nonprofits better meet their missions by reducing their energy costs and putting that back into how they’re serving the communities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and so I’m on your website now and I’m on the Sun Club section now. How do people become members and what’s required of them? TONY NAPOLILLO: The Sun Club was started just for Green Mountain customers at first and as we expand into other states, we expand the Sun Club as well so we started in Texas and a few years ago, we expanded into New York and now we’re expanding into Pennsylvania so there are certain products that you can choose to be part of if you’re a Green Mountain customer that contribute to the Sun Club or in Texas, you can actually become a member where you’re paying that extra month every month but what I’m really excited about is we’re going to expand it now so anybody anywhere can contribute to the Sun Club and what they’re doing with the nonprofits so I’m working on a web portal right now that should be up very shortly where anybody can come on and make a contribution to the Sun Club and we’ll take those funds and we’ll give them to nonprofits. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners that just joined us, we’ve got Tony Napolillo with us today. He’s the Sun Club Program Manager and if you want to follow along while we’re chatting here, it’s GreenMountainEnergySunClub.com. Talk a little bit about what states, because this show is both national and international, what states are you exactly in right now so they know if they can participate with Green Mountain Energy and use them as their provider. TONY NAPOLILLO: Yes, so Texas is one of the only states in the country where most people have a choice, where you actually get billed from Green Mountain. In New York and Pennsylvania, there’s certain areas where you have a choice and you’re billed through your normal utility but there is charges from the electricity retail provider on there as well so in New York, for example, if you’re given a bill from ConEd, you can choose who your retail electricity provider is and you’re actually getting your service charges from that company. You’re buying electricity from that company so you’d be buying renewable energy from Green Mountain and it’d be on your ConEd bill and then we’re also in Maryland and Illinois and we’re expanding in other states in the northeast as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, in other words, coming to a state near you or coming to a state where you’re at soon? You guys are just going to grow on? TONY NAPOLILLO: Exactly. Anywhere where consumers have choice, we want to be there. We want to give them a choice of renewable energy. It’s interesting. When we started in this field in 1997, nobody had a choice, right? If your utility decided to offer a green product, then you had a choice but most didn’t and it’s really amazing. In that time since we started, the demand for wind energy and renewable energy wasn’t that great and the utilities really had no reason to invest in them but since that time, the wind energy generation is now 20 times the output that it was in 1997 and we like to take some credit for that because we’re giving consumers the power of choice. They’re putting their money where they want that generation source to come from. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, right, right. How did you become the Program Manager of Sun Club? TONY NAPOLILLO: About six or seven years ago, the program wasn’t managed by anyone in particular and we would do these products periodically and I saw this program and I saw how it had this really great message. It had this great potential and it had a lot of support already without much being put behind the promotion of it and so I told my boss at the time, ‘This is a really great program. I would like to just take it on as part of my responsibilities and see where we can go with it,’ so at the time when I took the program over, I started working on our tenth donation so that was 10 donations from 2002 to 2006 and then since 2006, I’ve dedicated 41 more projects in that time so we’ve really expanded the program since then and it’s from our customers and that’s the most wonderful thing about this is the more customers the more funds we can put into this program and the more funds we put out there and the more nonprofits we can help. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, how are you going to continue? You’ve had massive success with the Sun Club to date. What’s your vision for future growth? TONY NAPOLILLO: I want in every state. That’s the beauty of this online portal where everybody anywhere can contribute to it. I want everyone in the nation to help put funds towards these solar projects that help nonprofits so like I said, the more support we have for it, the more funds we can put out there and the more nonprofits we can help and the more solar we have out there. That’s the beauty of the program. We’re help these nonprofits but we’re also putting solar energy back out and we’re putting it where folks can see it. How many times have you seen solar out front unless you’ve gone to solar farm maybe but most folks don’t know what it is. I had a friend ask me what’s a solar ray and I’ve been working on this for ten years and he still doesn’t know what a solar ray is and that’s why this program’s so important and why we want a big part of it to be education so people understand solar energy is viable. It’s getting a lot less expensive so it’s available to folks that maybe couldn’t have had access to it before and it has to be part of our energy independence process to get to that point. That’s a term that’s thrown around a lot. We don’t want to be reliant on fossil fuels forever and how are we going to get off that reliance on it? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is the Sun Club so successful that other solar companies have followed your paradigm and created their own version of the Sun Club? TONY NAPOLILLO: It’s unique as far as I can tell. There are some other electricity companies that do one-off donations to like, schools but this is the only program that I know of where an individual can actually contribute to a program to have solar installed for nonprofits. I don’t know of any others and I’ve looked to see if there’s any other programs like this out there. If there are, good. I want this to expand. I want more people to help get more solar in the ground. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last two minutes or so, unfortunately, Tony, but with regards to mission and all the great work you’re doing with Sun Club and Green Mountain’s ultimate mission, how has it worked with the employees? Are all the employees totally bought in to the DNA and culture and how do they mirror your company mission and vice versa? TONY NAPOLILLO: Well, one reason I’ve worked here for so long is because it isn’t just a marketing message. Green Mountain Energy Company is committed to sustainability through all our practice, from what we’re selling in the field to how we operate our business. In fact, we just received this past week LEED Platinum certification on our office building here in Austin, Texas and for anyone who knows about the LEED program, it is not easy to become LEED certified and to get LEED Platinum really shows how much effort and love the company put into this office space to make it as sustainable as possible. Everywhere you walk in this office building, you see little things here and there, big things here and there, that show what the company has done to make this as light of a footprint as possible on the environment. We also have robust programs for employees for rewarding them for green commuting. The recycling efforts throughout the office are as pervasive as you could possibly get. Every single thing that could be recyclable is, even things that we bring from our own house. On top of that, the efforts out in the field and the community projects that the employees support throughout the company, it really is pervasive. This is in our DNA. This is what makes Green Mountain unique and the folks that work here are here because we have a calling for something greater than ourselves, I feel. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome; so sustainability is really part of your DNA and culture at Green Mountain. TONY NAPOLILLO: It is, and that’s why this Sun Club Program works so well and why we’re so excited to help nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and World Hunger Relief and schools and museum and give our customers one more way to make a bigger difference and now expanding it out to anybody anywhere and that’s the amazing thing and why I love this program so much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, Tony, we love having you on our show today and highlighting all the great work of Green Mountain Energy. For our listeners out there, please go to www.greenmountainenergysunclub.com and if you are in a state that has choice, choose Green Mountain Energy. Tony Napolillo, you are a shining solar ambassador and truly living proof that green is good.