Renewable Energy Certificates: JD Capuano

Our last blog post was an interview with JD Capuano and his work with Closed Loop Advisors, a sustainability management consultancy focused on helping organizations with two things: environmental sustainability strategy, measurement, and analytics; and green building fit-outs and certifications. 

While we were chatting, we started talking about energy efficiency and RECs. I really appreciated his perspective and wanted to share it with the Holistic Spaces readers. So, read on!

AC: Let's talk about RECs, what are they exactly?

C: RECs are renewable energy certificates bought and sold in the U.S. Basically, RECs allow you to buy the bragging rights for renewable energy without actually buying the energy. One REC is created for every megawatt hour (mWh) of renewable electricity generated. They were first thought up as a way to incentivize energy developers to invest in renewable projects like wind farms or solar arrays.

There are two markets for RECs – the compliance market and the voluntary market. The compliance market is regulated and is comprised mostly of utilities purchasing these credits to help meet a state's renewable portfolio standard, or RPS. We focus on the voluntary market, where companies can buy RECs to claim they use "green power" for their operations or that their product is carbon neutral. Most of the time you hear such claims, it's not because companies are directly consuming 100% renewable energy.

What's the truth about RECS and your opinion on them?

Most RECs purchased on the voluntary market are considered "national RECs." National RECs mostly come from less populated regions where there's a lot of wind, like west Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma. My colleagues and I have been digging into this for a year, and our problem with RECs is that if you're in New York or Michigan or California and buy national RECs, it is physically impossible for that electricity to reach you. There's a myth out there that the U.S. electricity grid is like one big bathtub where you can turn up the green energy faucet and make the whole thing greener. In reality, there are 26 grids in the U.S., so 26 bathtubs. While there are connections between grids, there are also substantial transmission losses. There's no way an electron generated by a wind farm in west Texas is making it to New York. 

Unfortunately, national RECs are cheap and easy compared with other "green power" options. Our concern is that programs like the EPA's Green Power Partners and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (the gold standard on international guidance about emissions) give RECs the same weight as onsite renewable generation, power purchasing agreements, and utility green power schemes (that aren't REC based). This allows companies to make big green claims while not making financial decisions that add more renewable capacity to the grid. And why wouldn't they if the EPA and GHG Protocol tell them this cheap and easy option is equivalent to putting solar onsite? We believe this sends a weak market signal for the development of new capacity. We're actually talking with people at the EPA and Greenhouse Gas Protocol to try and influence change. We also have a paper coming out on the topic.

Your readers can also be unknowingly making the wrong choice. In states with deregulated utilities, like NY, you can pay extra to buy green energy. Some just use national RECs, while others use local RECs. Is it a good REC (local) or a bad REC (national)? You can usually find this if you check their website FAQ. If you can't find anything about local RECs, assume they're national. There are some good companies working in this space, like Ethical Electric and Community Energy.

Companies can also purchase local RECs, which we think are okay, so long as they have no options for onsite or utility green energy programs. 

So, rather than buying RECs, we recommend good old energy efficiency! What is a simple tip for our readers, so they can become more energy efficient?

Insulation is the best place to start. People can more quickly and easily impact their homes than their offices, no matter if they own or rent. I rent and have found noticeable savings with weatherstripping my doors and caulking cracks. This method is effective, so long as you're diligent, and inexpensive. So find those leaks and seal them up! Use your hand and feel for air. Around windows, window frames, interior room door frames, and where any molding meets the floor are good spots to check. Ditto for any pipes entering for heat or water. If you're unsure whether air is coming in, use a match as both the flame and smoke are telling when it comes to air leaks. If you're a city dweller, this is also helpful for keeping out any unwanted vermin.

by Anjie Cho

JD Capuano, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Closed Loop Advisors – JD Built his career using data to solve business problems. For nearly a decade he worked in various positions within the Business Analytics group at Schering-Plough. JD utilized technical skills such as big data analytics, deep-dive analysis, data modeling, and metric development, to advise decision-makers on strategies and tactics. JD also spend years as a volunteer working on environmental advocacy and pro-bono sustainability consulting for the city of Hoboken, NJ. Today JD helps clients with strategic planning, advanced analytics and helping them effectively tell their sustainability story. JD holds a B.A. in Business from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.S. in Sustainability Management from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Sustainable Building: Closed Loop Advisors

Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

JD Capuano is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Closed Loop Advisors, a sustainability management consultancy. He is super passionate about sustainability and helping businesses truly incorporate sustainable green practices. Holistic Spaces interviewed JD about his business, the Living Building Challenge, and sustainability.

Be sure to check in on the next blog post, to read JD speak about Renewable Energy Certificates

AC: Tell us about your mission at Closed Loop Advisors.

JC: Closed Loop Advisors is a sustainability management consultancy focused on helping organizations with two things: environmental sustainability strategy, measurement, and analytics; and green building fit-outs and certifications. Our mission is to change business as usual by integrating commerce and deep green environmental sustainability.

AC: What is the Living Building Challenge and how have you incorporated it into your consulting? 

JC: The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is the most inspiring and stringent green building standard in the world. It imagines that we design and construct buildings to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower. LBC has three certifications – the full challenge (7 PETALs, or areas of certification), PETAL Certification (3 PETALs, one of which has to be Energy, Water or Materials), and Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Our involvement with LBC started with my colleague, Eileen Quigley. Eileen was project-managing the Chicago office fit-out for our client, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and posed the idea of pursuing LBC PETAL Certification in their Chicago office. Once we realized there was a chance of doing it, they were all for it, and we were off and running.

Tell us more about PETAL certification and at zero-toxicity materials -- what does that mean and what can we learn from it?

We spend most of our time indoors, and we're surrounded by many human-made materials that are off-gassing toxics. You know the smell of new carpeting or fresh paint? When you smell that, you're inhaling the toxic gasses seeping out from those materials. The Materials PETAL places emphasis on all of the inputs to a building's structure and finishes with very specific requirements, such as a certain amount of material reuse for a renovation, forestry requirements and a definition of local for wood, and most important their Red List of materials and chemicals products cannot contain. By following this PETAL we learn to create an indoor environment where residents or employees can be healthier and more productive. 

Tell us about the Chicago Natural Resources Defense Council project, where you were able to create a notable innovation and really make a difference.

The Natural Resources Defense Council project was innovative because it was the first time anyone suggested that an office could go for the LBC certification. Every project before ours was residential or an entire building. We saw the chance to do something on a smaller scale while still having an impact. We didn't know about the PETAL Certification until we researched it. We got excited once we realized we didn't have to worry about net zero water or energy, which are really difficult to do for a project that is 1% of the building square footage. We pursued the materials PETAL. I think it has just as much if not more, of an impact than water or energy, because it's causing ripples in a huge industry of materials manufacturers and making them re-think their processes. It's also making us re-think what's healthy for people to be in the presence of, especially considering how much time people spend at work.

What are three tips that the readers can do to make their work spaces more sustainable?

It depends. Are you staying in the same space, or moving? Where are you geographically? What have you already done? Sorry, force of habit as a consultant to make sure I'm answering the right questions!

Assuming you're staying in the same space:

  1. Track and analyze your data over time to look for areas of improvement. You can get electricity, maybe heating and water. Start tracking your waste and see how you can reduce it.  
  2. Focus on reducing electricity use by changing set-points, upgrade lighting or de-lamp if your space is over-lit, install sensors (daylight and movement), maximize use of daylighting, make sure lights and equipment turn off when no one is around.  
  3. Look at what you're purchasing and consuming. What can you reduce? Are you purchasing eco-friendly, reusable or recyclable (preferring the former) and non-toxic products (from the little things to furniture)?

by Anjie Cho

Closed Loop Advisors is changing business as usual. We are passionate about integrating sustainability and business. From addressing specific environmental problems to organization-wide sustainability planning, we help our clients become more efficient, responsible and adaptive. Our work focuses on each client’s desired outcomes that we align with their unique combination of priorities, values and budget.

Our services fall into two categories. The first is Strategy, Measurement and Analytics, with projects ranging from environmental target setting to carbon foot-printing to GRI reporting. The second is Buildings and Certifications, where we manage office fit-outs and certify projects to LEED or Living Building Challenge standards. Founded in 2011, we are based in NYC and manage projects in Europe, China, and across the US. We are a Certified B Corporation

Third Semiannual EcoBizNYC Grant Awards Ceremony


The small business sustainability program that I run for the Lower East Side Ecology Center is awarding grants to 11 businesses on Thursday, April 26th at Lina Frey at 201 East Houston Street,  New York, NY.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lower East Side Ecology Center’s EcoBizNYC program will award grants to eleven Lower East Side businesses to help make their daily operations more sustainable. Businesses were chosen to receive the
grants based on specific goals of furthering their sustainable business practices and grants will be used toward awnings and window treatments, insulated storefront windows, a tree guard, energy efficient water heaters, LED lighting, an energy efficient air conditioner, and plants for indoor and outdoor spaces.

EcoBizNYC will award sustainability grants to Arena Salon, Brown Café, East Yoga, Gaia, Grey Era Vintage, Home Espresso Bar, Lina Frey, Participant Inc, The Source Unltd, Studio Mohair, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. In 2011, eighteen other businesses were awarded grants.

EcoBizNYC, a program of the Lower East Side Ecology Center, provides small businesses with lighting and water assessments, sustainability recommendations, and grants to improve energy efficiency, reduce
emissions, and lower operating costs. On average, businesses enrolled in the program have saved $1,170 on their energy bills. These improvements to small businesses not only save business owners money
but eliminate 231,000 pounds of CO2 annually (the equivalent of taking 20 cars off of the road).

"The EcoBizNYC program is making amazing strides with small businesses, whether those changes are small or large," said Program Manager Anjie Cho.  "Each shift creates awareness and a real connection between the environment and our day to day actions, bringing us closer to a sustainable NYC."

“It is inspiring to see the changes happening as more businesses join the program,” said Program Manager Rebecca Krauss. “Whether the changes are made to their energy, waste, water, or cleaning practices, these business owners are more conscious about their environmental impact.”

EcoBizNYC currently includes over 125 businesses and is free for businesses in Community Board 3, including the East Village and Lower East Side. To find out more about EcoBizNYC or to enroll your business, go to

Funding for the EcoBizNYC program is generously provided by Community Board 3, Con Edison, and HSBC Bank.

by Anjie Cho

Take the Shop Your Values Week Pledge!

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Support 200 local stores & restaurants offering discounts for ethical consumers!

We're excited to announce our participation in the city's first Shop Your Values Week! Join thousands of New Yorkers in pledging to shop locally, ethically and sustainably from May 3-10 in NYC in support of hundreds of businesses that are engaging their community, supporting employees and improving the environment. We've helped put together numerous free events and discounts across the city. By supporting these stores and restaurants you'll be contributing to a NYC we can all be proud of! 

Shop Your Values Week is a fun and easy way to shop and share your values. All 200+ stores and restaurants participating are offering discounts and incentives, including Green Table, Murray's Cheese, Jill Anderson, Egg, Brooklyn Boulders, Think Coffee and others! The full directory of businesses is here.

We've got numerous FREE events planned throughout the week, as well. From our "Dance Your Values" outdoor party on the East River this Friday to "Yoga Your Values" on Sunday. 

So take the pledge and join us at!