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UMW: a messaging path to a clean-energy future?

June 29th, 2011 · 7 Comments

When it comes to discussing the value and power of a clean-energy future, in a way that touches core values and life-experiences of a good share of Americans, perhaps it is time to think and speak UMW.  No … not the United Mine Workers.  Instead,  when we think UMW and energy, we should turn to three “institutions” that have a particular role in America (and Americans’ lives):

Not only are UMW central to Americans aspirations, values, and consumer habits, UMW also stands for institutions that, in their own ways and for their own reasons, are leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy (EE/RE) toward a sustainable and resilient future.

Across the nation, universities are tackling energy efficiency and sustainability for a range of reasons from pure fiscal (energy savings (pdf)) to needing to meet youth expectations (note Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges available in pdf here) to a fundamental respect for science with an understanding of climate change and the need for universities to take a leadership role in climate mitigation efforts.

Energized by service members wounded and killed protecting oil convoys in Iraq (and Afghanistan) and stunned by 2008 oil price spike, the military had already started to address energy challenges seriously when the Obama Administration began to take steps to accelerate these actions.  Real-world events, a growing military realization of threats and opportunities, and an Administration intent on fostering American leadership in the clean-energy sector have coalesced to foster real change across the military services when it comes to the energy domain.   Again, the military focus derives from a C2 focus: costs (in blood, treasure, and risks) and capability (reduced risks and improved capabilities).  Increasingly, America’s military is realizing that Energy Smart practices are a path toward increased capabilities at lowered cost and lower risks.

When it comes to being focused ‘on the bottom line’, there are few companies out there that match Wal-Mart in public imagination or business reality. Renowned for low wage strategies that leave employees seeking public assistance for basic needs and avoiding buying pens for its Corporate staff, Wal-Mart isn’t exactly a poster child of doing good for the sake of the general good.  Wal-Mart has discovered that a dedicated focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy options will lower costs to “fulfill our mission to save people money”.   Installing cool roofs (when doing a new roof or a reroofing) has such a good pay back (weeks) that, according to a Wal-Mart executive, “the numbers are so good that we’ve mandated it on all projects. In fact, the numbers are so good that if we ever build a store at the North Pole, we’d white roof it even though, in that case, it might not payoff.” Installing skylights has a direct payback of something like 14 months in energy savings but also leads to boosted sales during sunny weather.  Putting doors on refrigerated units and using LED light drives down energy use by well over 70 percent while reducing losses due to spoilage.  And, Wal-Mart is driving energy efficiency into its supply chain and clearly expects to see reduced costs return. Wal-Mart is also sharing best practices and lessons with other American companies with the planning that (a) increased demand for energy efficient products will drive down costs to use them and (b) reduced energy costs will mean more money in Americans’ pockets (e.g., Wal-Mart customers will have more money to spend at Wal-Mart).  Roughly one percent of America’s energy use, Wal-Mart estimates that its suppliers equal about ten times that and similar companies about the same.  If Wal-Mart achieves a 25 percent reduction in its energy use and manages to drive that into suppliers and competitors, this is the equivalent to reducing total U.S. energy usage by five percent … all done while providing a path for increased Wal-Mart profitability.


Each of these have a particular role in America’s life (especially, in my opinion, among many who might cringe with the term “green” and (mistakenly) think that “environment” is at odds with “economy”) and each is a leader in establishing paths for a prosperous, secure, climate-friendly future. 

Universities. Military. Wal-Mart. Each of these have determined that Energy Smart practices are, simply, smart and help achieve their objectives (improved educational performance (universities), securing the nation (military), making a profit (Wal-Mart)).   Consider the power of speaking to and highlighting how the Energy Smart choices of the institution where Americans want their children to go, the institution which Americans most trust, and the store Americans most often shop.


NOTES: Here are some useful sources / items related to understanding how UMW are leading when it comes to energy issues.

On university-level sustainability programs, for example:



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Tags: business practice · Energy · energy efficiency · political symbols

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BruceMcF // Jun 30, 2011 at 10:34 am

    My primary concern with this messaging is not the framing and the content, but with who will carry it?

    Some of our most indefatiguable advocates will balk at the W. Others will balk at an perceived swipe at the actual UMW, which seems to have been as useful in the fight for clean energy as its possible for a mine workers union to be.

    MC-BB would be Military / College / Big Box, and also overlay on Emcee BB as in silver BB’s.

    Not brilliant, I realize, but I’m starting slow this morning.

  • 2 Hopeful Skeptic // Jul 1, 2011 at 12:48 am

    This is an interesting approach, Adam.

    I’m pretty opposed to all things walmart… but they are huge power. And if they actually are doing something good with that power, I’m willing to support them – well at least those good parts of their behavior.

    I heard a story on NPR the other day ( ) that walmart has instituted a huge program to get their unsellable food to the needy via foodbanks, rather than the much easier choice of just tossing it out. Sure they may be doing it mostly for the PR… but does that really matter to the people who get the food? To them, the food is just as real, no matter what the underlying reason is. I feel the same way with a lot of the “green washing”… if the actions are genuinely good for the environment, who really cares if the company is just doing it be able to “say they are doing it”?

    This is somewhat off topic, but some guy at a Honda dealership told me that Toyota started making hybrids just to be able “say they were doing it”. Well that led them to being the global leader in hybrid car sales. So does it matter what their initial motivation was? The point is they actually DID IT. This whole conversation happened when I asked when Honda was going to make an electric vehicle, and the guy said that it was a money loser (just as the Prius was in the beginning) and Chevy and Nissan were just doing it as a novelty to say they can. But I pointed out that that doesn’t matter … because they are DOING IT… in a few years, they will be the leaders, just as Toyota is now for hybrids.

    Now, universities are an area where I can speak with a bit more authority. It’s easy for private universities like Stanford and Harvard – with their huge endowments and no need to answer to state governments – to make significant investments in greening their campuses. On the other hand, public universities, such as the UC where I am, have a huge amount of bureaucratic inertia and very little expendable cash (and getting less every year). So even with the most motivated, progressive student bodies pushing them, it’s difficult to make big changes at any pace faster than what would be called “glacial”. That being said, it is vitally important to focus on the educational aspects of greening at universities, because that will only help things down the road when those kids go out into the world.

    Ultimately, it think UMW approach could be used effectively – especially to combat against the conservative pet-position that environmentalism is bad for business. It’s also nice as evidence against the idea that environmentalists want humans to go back to living in caves with no electricity. On the other hand, I have a feeling that people who believe that won’t be convinced by any amount of evidence. So, that leads me to ask, who is your intended audience with this message?

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