This week, Salesforce published “More than a Megawatt” with contributions from Groundswell, Ceres, Defenders of Wildlife, Green Electronics Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Alliance (REBA), and WattTime. This paper is a collaborative first step to address how a unit of power, the megawatt, goes beyond electricity.

Salesforce has become one of the largest tech companies in this country with one premise — focusing on the customer. In becoming the world’s largest customer relationship management platform, the company has brought hundreds of thinkers, innovators, and doers together. In its latest renewable energy journey, it has allowed us and others to think beyond the megawatt.

Salesforce’s white paper explores what it means to incorporate environmental and social aspects beyond carbon offsets in evaluating renewable energy projects. Groundswell is excited to lend its expertise to this critical work. The massive tech industry is like a sister sector to the renewable energy industry. This paper acknowledges that renewable energy can deliver solutions on a wide range of issues, such as community engagement. In the paper, Salesforce says: “For us, purchasing renewable energy is about much more than adding new megawatts of renewable energy to the grid. It’s about improving the state of the world.”

Certainly, seven NGOs and one company do not have all the answers. However, we believe that this pivot to a holistic evaluation of renewable energy projects is a critical step for the industry. The goal of the white paper is to begin asking questions about impacts beyond CO2 emissions, and the chapter on “Community Engagement” pushes us to ask, “If we could ask one or two things from a megawatt to help the community, what would we ask for?”

We don’t have all the answers, but when a company capable of groundbreaking change asked us what they should consider when evaluating community support and engagement, we knew it was time to take that first step. 

“More than ever, buyers need to integrate the social impacts of the PPA to consider issues involving race, equity, and environmental justice,” said Lily Donge, Groundswell Program Director of Corporate Innovation for Communities. 

When companies like Salesforce, Google, or Apple source from renewable energy, the impacts are not just local. They pave the way for Corporate America to follow. Now, we ask that you join us in seeking a clearer solution during a critical period of historic change for the community.  

In the “Community Engagement” chapter of the white paper, we propose that projects be scored on a scale of one to five, evaluating community perception with a benefit-sharing model. The truth is that no one corporate renewable project has reached all measures of a “5.” But then again, most projects do not even question who is ultimately responsible for the community engagement — the developer or the buyer? Who answers these questions becomes just as important as who asks the question.

We could even imagine a “6” — community projects driven, built, owned, and operated by the community itself. There is no perfect measure of community engagement and no one way to measure how community members perceive a project. So, we must take a bold first step to frame the conversation. 

Groundswell and REBA have partnered to take this discussion forward with corporate and community leaders. We will look for “Request for Proposal” language that the industry can use, create tools to prepare corporate decision-makers, and test the boundaries of what companies and communities can reasonably expect as we transition to a new renewable future.

Please let us know if you would like to join other leaders in this vital conversation by reaching out to lily.donge@groundswell.org.