Consumer Choice: Using your personal “power” to shape a clean energy future
Consumer choice, political action, and joining the conversation may seem small, but can make big strides toward a more sustainable world.
At a time when concerning forecasts about climate change and environmental degradation have become commonplace, it can feel like society’s challenges are insurmountable, especially for one person.
Governments, corporations, and individuals alike have the power and the responsibility to address climate change and make choices for a more sustainable future. And that sense of inevitability can be overcome by collective action.
Within our communities — and even our own homes — there are opportunities to take steps to transition toward clean energy and away from the reliance on fossil fuels that has led us to this point, said Divya Desai, Executive Director of local, nonprofit renewable energy supplier The Energy Co-op.
“When we try to see an end goal that’s so big, we don’t recognize that the only way to get there is through all the little steps in between,” Desai said.
There are three different types of actions individuals can take to make a difference in the transition to clean energy and a healthier environment, even if they might seem small at first. But these actions are cyclical in nature, feeding into and amplifying one another.
1. Join the conversation
People often feel incapable of making a difference because they’re so often told that individual actions pale in comparison to those taken by more powerful entities, including government agencies and corporations.
“If we’re not talking about things, folks are less likely to make changes or make informed voting decisions, and we’re less likely to get involved in community activities and action,” Desai said.
People can engage their community in how to push those powerful entities to make decisions that are better for the environment simply by talking, according to Colin Teague, Desai’s colleague and Marketing Manager at The Energy Co-op.
By joining conversations with other community members, individuals can find opportunities to learn from and educate others about how to live in a way that supports a better energy future.
In many ways, education is the biggest obstacle to progress. As Teague has spoken with residents across Pennsylvania, he has realized that the most significant impediment to individual action is a lack of understanding about the options. Only open conversation will help change that.
2. Make sustainable consumer choices
Do you know where your energy comes from?
Many Philadelphians are unsure about where their energy is coming from and unaware that the utility isn’t their only choice for energy supply, Teague said. In many cases, residents believe it must come directly from the utility, but the reality is that consumers have the ability to choose the supplier whose energy actually powers their homes without sacrificing energy reliability or billing ease.
Consumers interested in shopping for a supplier can visit the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s official shopping website – PA Power Switch – and select an energy supplier that aligns with their values., By simply switching to renewable suppliers, consumers make the Individual transition to clean electricity and fuel the collective progress towards a clean energy future..
One supplier, The Energy Co-op, offers residents of Eastern Pennsylvania a 100% local renewable electricity product. As a nonprofit cooperative energy supplirt, The Energy Co-op has spent more than four decades pooling the power of its members to offer Pennsylvanians access to truly renewable energy they can trust.
Transitioning to renewable energy — wherever it comes from — allows consumers to shift the paradigm in their own communities through their individual choices and push back against the stigma that an individual can’t have a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change.
“If every single person thinks like that, of course, nothing’s going to change,” Teague said. “It only works if people collectively make the right decisions together.”
Energy choice is one way to exercise consumer power. Individuals can choose to be patrons of sustainable businesses and support organizations that are environmental stewards[DJD1] . They can also install solar panels on their own roofs, install a heat pump to improve energy efficiency, or source biofuel rather than fossil fuel. Even seemingly small steps like seeking out locally grown produce can minimize our carbon footprint.
“As a consumer, it’s critical to know what your values are on the sustainability front and try to seek out opportunities to reflect those values in your consumption choices,” Desai said. “There are lots of ways to impact climate change through big and small consumer choices.”
3. Take political action
Voting and political action are the third key component of an individual’s role in the energy transition and a more sustainable future.
More specifically, supporting politicians who are invested in fighting climate change matters. Desai pointed to Senate Bill 300, which was introduced in the 2021 legislative session (reintroduced as Senate Bill 230 in the current legislative session) and would increase Pennsylvania’s minimum requirement for Tier 1 alternative energy from 8 percent to 30 percent while also directing the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to study the benefits of a renewable energy storage program. Electing candidates who support the bill would be a major step toward improving Pennsylvania’s standing as one of the worst states for renewable energy.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 550, introduced in the current legislative session, would lift the state’s ban on community solar, and Senate Bill 872 would transition the state to entirely renewable energy by 2050.
Collective action at the local level can also lead to meaningful results. Philadelphia passed a resolution in 2019, committing to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and more than 40 municipalities in Southeastern Pennsylvania have committed to a push toward clean energy.
“Currently, market dynamics allow natural gas to set the price of even renewable electricity in Pennsylvania. The reality is if we could accelerate Pennsylvania’s adoption of renewable energy, consumer costs for renewable energy should go down because renewable energy is already less expensive to generate than fossil fuels.” Desai said.
Local elections are the place to create that change, she said. Too many people pass up their power at the polls by not voting, but elections are perhaps the best way to wield individual power into collective action.
Political change can happen when spearheaded by a few individuals, too. Community members in Delaware County banded together a few years ago to thwart developers’ plan to turn hundreds of acres of Beaver Valley near the Pennsylvania-Delaware border into high-end homes. Now, the land is going to become part of First State National Historic Park.
“Things like that really matter,” Teague said. “Each instance around the country seems pretty small, but if you look at it from a broader perspective, it really does tip the scale. Any time there’s a win when a community opposes a massive project that’s bad for the environment, it gets the ball rolling.”
If it sometimes feels like one person lacks the power to push back against climate change, The Energy Co-op wants to shake everyone loose of that feeling. From how we spend our money to how we vote and even the conversations we have about clean energy, there are plenty of ways to fight for a brighter future.
“Regardless of the fact that government entities and corporations have to do their part, you as an individual have the ability to make a difference,” Desai said.
Cover photo by American Public Power Association