The Green Scene 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

All cooperatives, from credit unions to babysitting co-ops to the one that provides your electric service, are governed by seven principles. They are: Voluntary and open membership. Democratic member control. Economic participation by the members. Autonomy and independence as a member-owned business. Cooperation with other cooperatives. These first five principles show HOW cooperatives operate.

The next two show WHY cooperatives are truly different from other forms of business. One is: Keeping the members informed about their business. From this one you can see that it’s not just a smart business decision for an electric cooperative to keep its member-owners informed; it’s a necessary business decision.

And the seventh cooperative principle is concern for community. This one embodies the very heart of an electric cooperative, because a cooperative is, first and foremost, a truly local business. After all, the customers own the business. These customer-owners (we usually call them member-owners) live and work in the same community where the cooperative’s employees live and work. The cooperative’s board of directors is made up of folks who also live in the same community and are themselves members of the cooperative, elected by fellow members to this important post.

Thus, the cooperative principle “concern for community” is as natural to a cooperative as concern for home or

family because, in the end, they’re all part and parcel of caring about the place where you live and the neighbors who live beside you.

So, in an age when being “green” is as much a political statement as an environmental one, it seems almost too obvious to note that cooperatives have always been concerned about the health and well-being of the communities where their employees, board members and member-owners all live. And — perhaps at least in part because electric cooperatives were started by rural people, many of them farmers — being good stewards of the land has always been an integral part of who cooperatives are.

In the end, electric cooperatives have always tried to maintain a healthy balance between three critically important missions: To provide you with electric service that is as reliable as possible, at the lowest cost possible, and in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible.

Reliability comes in large measure from the fact that cooperative employees are local, living in the community and able and eager to keep the lights on as much as possible. Holding down costs comes from the fact that the cooperative is not-for-profit, providing service at cost to its member-owners. And environmental responsibility comes from the fact that a cooperative’s employees and board members and member-owners are all part of the fabric of the same community, and in looking out for your neighbor you end up looking out for yourself.

Electric cooperatives have a long history of involvement in demand-side management programs, in which water heaters, air conditioners or heat pumps are managed during times of peak electric demand. Home and business energy audits, along with regular articles in Cooperative Living magazine on conservation and energy efficiency, have also been long-time staples of Virginia ’s 13 local electric cooperatives.

But more needs to, and will, be done, as part of fulfilling our obligation to keep you, the members, informed about energy topics and how they impact your business and life. As part of an expanded effort to cover these topics in more depth, we began last month and will continue each issue to publish a feature story on a timely energy topic in the existing Co-op Currents section. Also in the January issue, we began a recurring column that you’ll see in every issue called The Green Scene, which will provide short tips on ways to better manage or reduce energy usage around your home, at work, or while traveling.

Please give us your feedback on these features and columns, and please give us suggestions as well for future topics to cover.

Because, after all, being part of The Green Scene is something that can and should benefit all members of our electric cooperative community, and communities, states and nations even farther from home.


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