Energy books tend to be either jargon-filled tomes or hand-wringing, end-of-the-world, please-just-shoot-me-now reprimands. So it was a relief to see that Brian Keane avoids both of these worn-out roads in his new book, “Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit from Clean Energy.”
Keane expertly tells the clean energy story with humor and anecdotes likely to capture readers who want to learn more about energy efficiency and renewables, but have found few credible, consumer-friendly vehicles that teach them. I’ve never before seen solar power compared to Tony Bennett: not a rock star, like say, micro-hydropower, but “older, more reliable and almost certain to give a top notch performance every time.”
For those who know Keane, this engaging writing comes as little surprise. As president of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing firm, he’s the guy at energy conferences who can hold people’s attention – even during the low-blood sugar late-afternoon sessions – with his insight into how we think and behave as energy consumers.
Keane’s been in the thick of it for several years, working to sell the idea of green to sometimes skeptical politicians and an often snoring public. He takes us inside some of his intrepid efforts. The book provides an account, for example, of how he convinced two very different Connecticut mayors (think blue blood versus blue collar) to engage in a competition to see which city could get the most people to sign up for renewable energy. The mayors agreed to participate in the duel even under the terms that the loser would wear a t-shirt saying, “I wish I were the mayor of [name of losing city.]”
We get a clear picture of where we are today as energy consumers versus where we were 40 years ago in Keane’s comparison of his drafty 12-member childhood home in Massachusetts to his present energy efficient six-member Virginia house. You would think the smaller family, alone, would mean less energy use (“fewer bodies mean fewer eyeballs staring into the open refrigerator”). But no. Even with better insulation and Energy Star appliances, our homes now consume a lot more juice. Or here is another factoid from the book that puts our electricity appetite in perspective: College dorm rooms have more plug-in potential than the entire White House during Woodrow Wilson’s World War I presidency.
The book does not preach environmental religion; quite the contrary. Keane focuses on the relationship between green energy and capitalism. He advocates bringing “basic marketing principles to what often seems a holy cause.” In fact, Keane says “true believers” actually deter acceptance of clean energy by perpetuating the notion that going green requires adopting an alternative lifestyle (“wear hemp, eat only organic…”).
The title plays to the infamous line “Greed is Good” made by Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character in the movie Wall Street. Keane portrays green as the flip side of Gekko’s destructive manipulation of capitalism; he takes us to a place where economic advantage and public good align. Rather than destroying the planet, here is where energy improves the environment using the good old-fashion profit motive. “Green is Good” offers an economic message that even Gekko might buy.
Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.