In the race to show greater leadership in corporate sustainability practices, one company has consistently raised the bar. Shortly after Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced its ambitious plans for all of its facilities to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy by the year 2020, another corporate giant came out with a proposal that generated its own buzz.


Internet powerhouse Google recently published a white paper on the company website calling for utilities to offer renewable-energy tariffs to large power consumers. This change in the way power is sold, Google argues, would create a much-needed incentive for companies to embrace renewable power.


Already a leader among companies in the use of renewable energy, Google asserts that existing options aren’t enough for large businesses that are eager to show customers how green they are.


In its white paper, “Expanding Renewable Energy Options for Companies Through Utility-Offered Renewable Energy Tariffs,” Google references on-site generation, renewable-energy certificates and power purchase agreements as three of the ways large users typically try to engage renewables. Of the three, Google has made use of on-site generation and power purchase agreements, but it argues that none of the three is adequate to meet the needs of today’s commercial and industrial power consumers. In particular, it argues that they don’t do enough to encourage investment in the development of more renewable generation, otherwise known as “additionality.”


To address this need, Google wants utilities to create a unique class of service just for people who want to choose renewable power. This group would differ from the ordinary customer classes, such as industrial, commercial and residential, which utilities typically offer.


Companies that choose the renewable option would also pay a different rate for their power. The so-called “renewable energy tariff” would be voluntary and would protect other customers from the additional costs the utility incurs for procuring the renewable power. Most important, Google argues that offering companies the option of buying renewable power will lead to greater investment in local and regional renewable-energy projects.


Wasting no time at all, Google also announced that the local provider for its data center in Lenoir, N.C., Duke Energy, has pledged to develop a program for Google and other large companies to purchase renewable power for their operations.