A San Francisco company is using Facebook to promote renewable energy in the wine industry and offer vintners a marketing opportunity aimed at a prized demographic.
Village Green Energy, a renewable energy certificate (REC) provider, launched its Green My Vino application Aug. 6. So far, eight wineries have committed to buying enough RECs to meet their energy needs for one year. The program has raised nearly $20,000 that will go toward solar generation projects in California.

"It's going great," said Village Green Energy President Robby Bearman. "I just looked at the applications and there were 4,000 green minutes passed in the last hour."

The program works like this: Facebook users can give each other "gifts" of renewable energy in one minute, five minute and 10 minute increments. Each minute equals the amount of electricity an average person uses in one minute. Village Green then buys the equivalent amount of renewable energy for each gift.

Here's where the eight wineries come in: Wineries are highlighted during each gift-giving drive and agree to buy enough RECs to satisfy energy use for one year when a certain number of green power minutes are gifted.

For example, Benziger Family Winery agreed to buy some 581,000 kWh in RECs after Facebook users gave away 30,000 minutes. That took about 40 hours. DeLoach's goal of 20,000 minutes was sealed a short time later.

The average Green My Vino winery consumes about 400,000 kilowatts of electricity annually, Bearman said. Wineries in the Green My Vino program have spent between $3,000 and $7,000 on the Green-e certified RECs, depending on size.

The program meshes well with Benziger's environmental initiatives, said Mimi Gatens, the company's director of sustainability. The biodynamic winery is now conducting an energy flow study to see how it can employ on-site renewable energy in the most effective and environmentally friendly way. It has also embarked on a project to measure its carbon footprint.

In the process of promoting renewable energy, many Facebook users are meeting new wineries for the first time. Benziger successfully used Facebook previously to create a buzz about its Imagery Estate winery. Word-of-mouth advertising is crucial to a winery's success, Gatens said -- especially if the message can be conveyed with significance.

"You want to make it more meaningful and this brought a meaningful message," Gatens said.

Village Green Energy isn't alone in using the social networking site to drive green initiatives. Toyota created a Facebook application in March that allows users to give trees to friends as part of a Plant-A-Tree program with the Arbor Day Foundation. And in June, Timberland tapped Facebook to recruit a million "Earthkeepers" to soften their ecological footprint.

About half of the Facebook Green My Vino users are between the ages of 24 and 35; about 20 percent fall between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Bearman. "They're our future bread and butter," Gatens said.