2011 Bethesda Magazine Green Awards in partnership with Bethesda Green
Category: Businesses that have created an innovative green product, are selling an innovative green service and/or are promoting a green lifestyle
An environmentalist and a real estate executive might seem unlikely partners, but Gary Skulnik and Charles Segerman have shared a common goal ever since they first met in 2005. Both wanted to figure out how to switch from mostly coal-fired power to electricity produced at renewable wind and solar farms.
A former lobbyist with the Sierra Club, Skulnik was working for Greenpeace at the time. Segerman, meanwhile, was trying to purchase green power for The Tower Companies, the “eco-progressive” real estate firm he worked for in Rockville. A year earlier, Maryland had passed a renewable energy law that was expected to encourage a clean energy market. But the two men were finding that easier said than done.
“It took a lot of research and effort to set things up with the utilities,” Segerman says.
After doing so, the men co-founded Clean Currents, a renewable energy company in Rockville, with Segerman as CEO, and Skulnik as president. They were betting that people would pay a little more for renewables. When the region’s old-guard utility companies raised their rates in late 2009, though, Clean Currents found itself in a more competitive position.
Today, “people just go: ‘Wow, I can get wind power for the same rates I’m paying now? Sign me up!’ ” Skulnik says.
Clean Currents, which claims more than 7,000 residential and 500 commercial customers, recently was named the fastest growing retail energy company in the nation by Inc. magazine.
SolarCity, a large national firm, became an investor last January and purchased Clean Currents’ solar installation operation. Skulnik says that deal has taken his company “to the next level” of growth.
Clean Currents is certified as a Montgomery County “green” business and a “Benefit Corporation,” a relatively new business model that incorporates environmental and social commitments into the bottom line. It also has signed up dozens of community groups, including Girl Scout troops and religious institutions, for its Green Neighborhood Challenge, which rewards groups with a $10 to $15 contribution for every residential wind power customer they sign up.
“They are an outstanding company,” says Jack Lebowitz, a member of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, one of the challenge participants. “They are for-profit, so they have a profit motive, but they are a B-Corporation, so they believe in strong environmental protection.”
Christine MacDonald is the author of Green, Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad (Lyons Press, 2008). She lives in Washington, D.C., and has written for The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Nation.