June 30, 2014
Viridian Energy: Energized by Global Vision
by Barbara Seale
Headquarters: Stamford, Connecticut
Executives: Michael Fallquist, Founder and CEO; Meredith Berkich, President
Products: Environmentally responsible electricity, natural gas and solar power
It may not be easy being green, but Viridian Energy has turned greenness into a multimillion-dollar direct selling powerhouse with a global vision: to create a path to a more sustainable future.
Many companies, both within and outside of direct selling, have sustainability initiatives, but at Viridian, it’s the whole ballgame. Not only does every product—electricity, natural gas and solar energy systems—promote environmentalism and sustainability, but the company even extends its vision through philanthropic projects and incentive trips where top earners celebrate success and also help create green energy solutions at their destinations.
The company is the creation of Michael Fallquist, its founder and CEO. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, Fallquist had “green” in his DNA. His professional background was in the energy industry. When he decided to develop his own company, he knew it had to reflect his passion for environmentalism, sustainability and reducing the world’s carbon footprint. Green energy was his only acceptable choice.
But how do you market it? Retail energy is commonly sold directly to the consumer through advertising, telemarketing, direct marketing or door-to-door sales. But Fallquist knew he had to answer the consumer question, “Why use green energy?” He also knew that, as energy deregulation progressed, he wanted the consumer’s choice of product to be based on more than just price. Direct selling filled both of those needs. Viridian associates could explain deregulation as well as the benefits of exercising their personal energy choice to make a collective impact. In direct selling—as a result of associates’ personal relationships—customers tend to be more loyal, or stickier, than those of companies that compete solely on price.
So in 2009 Fallquist launched Viridian Energy, and the business immediately exploded. By its second full year in business, Viridian had broken into the Direct Selling News Global 100, and in 2013 it reached No. 45, with revenues of $267 million and 22,065 active Viridian associates in nine states. Last year alone the company’s green products reduced carbon emissions by more than 2 billion pounds. That number equates to recycling more than 7 billion soda cans, 15 billion two-liter plastic bottles or 164,000 Sunday editions of The New York Times. Those numbers have continued to grow. In the first quarter of 2014, Viridian enrolled more than 50,000 customers and 5,000 associates.
Last year alone, Viridian’s green products reduced carbon emissions by more than 2 billion pounds. That number equates to recycling more than 7 billion soda cans, 15 billion two-liter plastic bottles or 164,000 Sunday editions of The New York Times.
Sustainable Planet, Sustainable Business
Seven in Seven
Although it currently offers green energy in just nine states and the District of Columbia, Viridian plans for its sustainability efforts to reach around the globe through its 7 Continents in 7 Years program. Each year, Viridian will research and execute a sustainability project internationally that it believes will have a significant positive influence on the global community. The effort got underway almost as soon as the company did.
Each year since 2010, executives and top sales leaders along with their guests have traveled to points around the world to complete a sustainability project while they celebrated sales success. In Brazil they planted trees and worked on reforestation efforts. Then the sustainability initiative took them to Ghana, where they brought light, by way of solar panels, to villages that never before had electricity. Later they journeyed to Indonesia to reforest the previously cleared land and to bring fresh water and solar power to local communities. This year their destination was Fiji, where they completed solar installation and reforestation projects.
Mindful that sustainability starts at home, they also “act locally” through numerous projects in their northeastern U.S. markets. The company hosts at least one local event each month in its active states and markets and hosts as many as 30 during April each year for Earth Month.
On a number of occasions Viridian has partnered with NYC CoolRoofs, a group that brings together volunteers to paint New York City residential roofs with a white reflective coating that not only cuts cooling costs and energy use, but also prolongs the life of the roof itself.
A project at the nonprofit Silver Lake Nature Center in Pennsylvania included constructing an Earthship, an off-the-grid education center built from recycled materials, utilizing cutting-edge, sustainable designs such as solar thermal heating and cooling, onsite renewable energy generation and water-recycling systems.
Viridian also planted a monarch butterfly garden in New Jersey. Every year, monarch butterflies migrate as many as 3,000 miles to their “winter homes” in California or Mexico. The food they eat before and during their migration south must power them through the long journey and sustain them throughout the cold months. Viridian volunteers planted the special garden at the Manalapan Township Recreation Center in New Jersey, filled with the kinds of flowers monarchs crave. What was once lawn is now a beautiful butterfly habitat for visitors to learn from and enjoy.
A sustainability project in Southington, Connecticut, helped restock drinking water supplies in the Quinnipiac River Watershed. Fresh water is becoming increasingly limited due to pollution and overuse, but rain gardens help keep fresh, clean rainwater out of the sewer system, replenish groundwater and protect waterways from pollutants.
Viridian also responded when Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation on the East Coast in 2012. The company’s associates traveled from as far away as Illinois to New Jersey, Staten Island and the Rockaways with their work gloves and tools to help clean up the storm’s damage and deliver critical supplies to families.
Whether the project is in one of its energy markets or on another continent, it reflects Viridian’s commitment to the environment. Viridian President Meredith Berkich explains: “Our approach is holistic. Can we make a real and lasting impact on the world? We think we must. We believe that this change is so much about who we are that we provide ways for associates to take part in it.” She adds, “The very core of who we are is making a difference in the world. Through these projects, people experience something they would never have been able to experience otherwise.”
Electricity, natural gas and solar energy are three environmentally responsible products Viridian offers. The company’s electricity products—Everyday Green® and Pure Green™—are already both backed by a high percentage of green energy, through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Everyday Green supplies electricity that is 50 percent renewable, in addition to the renewable portfolio standards set by most deregulated markets, and Pure Green is sourced 100 percent from wind power. Viridian’s Simply Right™ natural gas products offer consumers and businesses a thoughtful and practical way to address the biggest concerns related to natural gas, and the company mitigates customers’ emissions through carbon offset purchases. Customers may choose from Simply Right natural gas, which is 25 percent offset, or Simply Right 100, which is 100 percent offset. Viridian also contributes to a research fund to support more responsible extraction of natural gas.
But today’s energy products, as green and sustainable as they are, are expected to pale in comparison to energy’s new kid on the block: solar. Not only does it offer consumers—even those outside the sunshine belt—a money-saving, sustainable energy choice, but it also offers a great long-term solution for Viridian’s goal of longevity. Viridian Energy President Meredith Berkich explains why.
“When we looked at the solar energy market and how fast it was growing, we knew we had to get in on that,” she says. “Solar is growing wildly, and it’s an important method for how fast we can impact the world. Back in 2008, one solar energy system was being installed every 80 minutes. In 2013, one was being installed every four minutes. By 2016, it will be one every 80 seconds. If we had ignored the trend, continuing to offer only electricity and natural gas, our business would have gradually begun to diminish over time as consumers became their own generators. When we talk about being part of local change, we must constantly evolve to be relevant and provide value.”
To be part of that change, last year Viridian Energy partnered with SolarCity—the country’s No. 1 full-service solar provider—to offer solar energy systems to its customers and another valuable product to its associates. When a Viridian associate sells a solar energy system, several important things happen. First, SolarCity takes care of everything from permits to panels. All the customer has to do is soak up the sun and enjoy locked-in lower rates. Second, Viridian Energy gains a long-term customer. Third, the cleanest, most sustainable energy currently available goes into use. And finally, the Viridian associate earns a 20-year residual income on the solar energy system.
“[Viridian’s business opportunity is] about three helps: You’re helping your wallet, helping your friends with their business and helping the environment.” —Meredith Berkich, President
That type of innovation is just one of the things that attract Viridian Energy associates to the company. Another compelling magnet is that no inventory is required. For customers, changing energy companies is simply a matter of paying the utility bill they already pay.
“It’s about three helps: You’re helping your wallet, helping your friends with their business and helping the environment,” Berkich explains. “Associates like it because it’s all benefit-driven to their warm market, but definitely they appreciate the green component. This group seems to be very motivated by significance and community. They get to make a difference and be a part of something bigger than themselves. There’s something so appealing about that.”
President Meredith Berkich helps with beach cleanup in Fiji.
While Berkich doesn’t call the energy business recession-proof, she does note that it suffers far less during tough economic times than a company that offers more optional consumable goods. For a company launched during a recession, that’s a big plus.
“I used to be in a nutraceutical company, and during economic downturns we watched autoships plummet,” she recalls. “People assessed their tight budgets and asked themselves what they could cut. But during the recession, people continued to use electricity and natural gas. Maybe they were more careful about turning their lights off, but no one stopped paying their energy bills. Even before people pay the mortgage and car payment, they’ll keep the heat on. That will never go away. It was a perfect time to start out as a network marketing company in the energy space.”
While the consistent demand for energy can create predictable income for Viridian associates, they have to learn some of the variables of the industry. Energy is deregulated on a state-by-state basis, and each state has the ability to implement different regulatory components. It is critical to Viridian’s success that its associates are informed on the local guidelines and requirements so that the company maintains a constant culture of compliance. Viridian ensures that its associates can discuss deregulation confidently with their prospective customers by requiring each new associate to complete training on energy deregulation and regulatory issues before they can enroll a single customer. They complete the training online in their back office in about 45 minutes. Then they are certified to represent Viridian to their family, friends and warm market. Additional training, updated monthly, is available in their back office on everything from market conditions and products to the future of the industry. They also receive Success on Demand, instant online access to a library of personal development content, at no additional charge. Education and compensation seems to pay off as the average Viridian associate enrolls 15 customers.
|Founder and CEO Michael Fallquist participates in Fiji’s reforestation efforts.
“We consider associates our business partners,” Berkich says. “We’re asking them to invest their most precious resources: their time, their credibility, their talents, their name and their relationships. Money can’t buy those things. In honoring that relationship, we feel a responsibility to be transparent. We view them as investors, and that’s how we talk to them in all of our communication touch points.”
When Berkich discusses Viridian’s future, she looks beyond the company itself to all the ways it can improve the planet. One of them is the influence Viridian can have on other energy companies. It substantially exceeds regulatory requirements for the renewable energy sources for its products and takes transparency to unprecedented levels through its detailed annual accountability report.
“People ask us, ‘Aren’t you concerned about putting the whole business model and the method of operation in print?’ ” she says. “But the reality is that our devotion and commitment to responsible energy solutions isn’t only about Viridian making a difference. It’s also about other industry leaders being inspired and changing their business practices. We’re about global change and collective impact. We want to inspire our competitors to do what we do. It’s the only way we’ll get the ripple effect that will change the world.”
To create that scale, in 2012 Viridian Energy Founder Michael Fallquist established Crius Energy, which encompasses a family of brands that already serves more than 600,000 residential and commercial energy customers in 19 states and the District of Columbia, with plans to continue expanding its geographic reach. The company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2012. The largest member of the Crius family—currently more than half of it—is Viridian Energy.
Like Viridian, the other companies under the Crius umbrella share the goal of making the world a better place to live. They are committed to being socially and environmentally responsible by supporting local communities and improving the planet. Crius headquarters are in a 23,000-square-foot, Energy Star-certified workspace in Stamford, Connecticut.