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Best Buy Q&A: Ecotricity

We caught up with Kathryn Adams at Ecotricity, an ethical Best Buy company in our guide to Energy Suppliers and operator of Ecotalk, featured in our guide to Mobile Phone Networks.

How long has Ecotricity been running and how did it start?

Founded in 1996, Ecotricity was the first company in the world to offer a new kind of electricity – the green kind, kick-starting the now global green energy movement.  We did this because at the time energy was the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Britain and therefore the single biggest thing we could change.  Our mission was, and remains to this day, to change the way energy is made and used in Britain to fight climate change.

Back in the '90s, our founder environmentalist, Dale Vince, with no desire to lead an ‘ordinary’ life, was living in an ex-military vehicle on a hill just outside Stroud, Gloucestershire.  Using a small windmill for his power, he was inspired to make a bigger difference in the world.

His focus? The electricity industry; to promote the use of large-scale wind energy, to reduce carbon emissions, and fight climate change.

What are Ecotricity's values?

Ecotricity’s purpose in life is the environment, and we exist to promote sustainable living in all its forms. We do this through our major activity, changing the way energy is made and used in Britain. But building a sustainable future isn’t just about changing the way energy is made and used: it’s also about what we eat and the transport we choose – which combined make up around 80% of our personal carbon footprint. So we focus our activities on these three biggest contributing sectors: Energy, Transport and Food, finding solutions and alternatives and promoting more sustainable ways to live through our communications.

We’re currently working to become carbon neutral by 2025. But we’ve always sought to achieve maximum environmental gain for minimal environmental impact, and always put the environment first, taking into account ethical and social issues, biodiversity and sustainability in all our decision making. It’s just what we do, it’s in our DNA!

What makes you different from other companies in your field of work?

Our model is unique. We use our customers’ energy bills to fund the building of new sources of green energy. We refer to this as turning ‘Bills into Mills’ – turning energy bills into wind, sun and gasmills.

We’re also the only energy supplier in the UK that’s registered with The Vegan Society and Viva! for our green electricity and green gas. We’ve verified all of the energy sources that go into making our electricity and gas, to ensure we aren’t inadvertently using animals in our energy production.

We’re a not-for-dividend company, so our profits go into our mission to change the way energy is made and used in Britain.

We’re the only energy company in the world that reports the carbon emissions of our entire operation. It means we know the carbon emissions of everything that goes into supplying green energy to our customers, and we have the lowest carbon cost per customer in the UK.

Our aim is to eventually make all of our own energy, so that all the electricity and gas we supply to our customers comes from our own wind, sun and green gasmills. And the more people who join us, the more we can do.

What is your take on greenwashing?

We believe that everyone has the right to know where their energy comes from, how green energy really works and how green their energy supplier is – so people can choose a supplier that fits with their principles.

The contest between ‘building versus trading, and trading certificates versus trading energy’ has been going on since the beginning of the green energy market in Britain. 

Greenwashing has become a big issue lately, so much so that even OFGEM are talking about clamping down on it. We hope they do.

REGO trading is where companies buy REGO certificates in order to claim to be green, rather than trading actual energy and building actual new sources of it.

Energy trading is better, but not in every case. Here’s the flaw as we see it: when a company buys existing green energy (to supply to their customers), they do so at the expense of other customers, people that used to have that same energy - even if those other customers only had their share of it through the national mix.  Because these companies ring fence the green that they do have, just for their ‘green’ customers to have 100%, their other customers have 0% - not just way below the national average, actually lower than it was 25 years ago, when we all had 3% through the grid…!  Today Britain has about 33% renewable electricity in the national mix. We need to build more to get to 100%, and we can’t trade our way there.  

Building new sources of green energy is the only thing that makes an actual difference, which is what we do at Ecotricity!

Has the current pandemic affected Ecotricity, and as an ethical company how have you responded to it?

In response to the lockdown we've made significant changes to how we operate for the safety of our people, but with continued customer support very much our goal.

We moved almost our entire 700-strong team to working from their homes in a period of just ten days. Thousands of our customers have taken to our digital services for the first time, paying bills, or sending a meter readings through our website.  This has helped us keep our phone lines more available for those who need us the most: people with supply emergencies, or concerns about paying their bill. 

We’ve also been working hard to re-launch our app with lots of fantastic new features like submitting meter readings, getting real-time balances and making payments via Apple Pay and GPay. We’re hoping this will go a long way to help our customers access their accounts quickly and simply.

We’ve also worked hard to help our local community, offering Midwives from our local maternity unit at Stroud Hospital a much needed place to stay during the crisis. With at-risk family members at home, they were using local hotels - until they were closed. Within 24 hours, we turned a building used as accommodation for young footballers from Forest Green Rovers Academy into a fully-fledged place for frontline NHS and care workers to stay.  All rooms are fully occupied now for the duration of the crisis, free of charge. 

Devil’s Kitchen - our plant-based school dinners made its first delivery to London’s NHS Nightingale hospital - supplying 75k of our spicy vegan balls.  All proceeds from NHS deliveries during this crisis will be donated back to NHS charities. 

Any parting advice for ethical consumers? What would you say to those that find themselves confused at how to adapt to this time?

These are uncertain and difficult times for us all, as individuals and as a society, but the effect the global restrictions have had on the climate is remarkable. In the space of just a few short weeks, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in air and water quality across the world.

The coronavirus crisis has more than ever shown us what we’re truly capable of when we adapt and work together. It’s given us the chance to look at the world from a different perspective, to see we can live more sustainably.

We’ve been able to see that there is another way to live and another way to do things, that together we can make a difference. Our climate is also in crisis, and together we’ve got to fill the gulf between words and action to fight climate change. We hope that humanity can emerge from the current Covid-19 crisis having learned a lesson about our power to tackle the climate crisis.

We hope that we all can carry this can-do mentality into the fight against climate change, and build great lives for ourselves and each other in harmony with our world.

We would like to thank Kathryn for taking the time to talk to Ethical Consumer. For more information about Ecotricity, visit their website, and don't forget to make the switch.

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