Brian F. Keane, renewable-energy marketer, answers questions
What’s your job title?
I’m president of SmartPower.
What does your organization do?
SmartPower is a national nonprofit marketing campaign that promotes the use of clean, renewable energy as a safe, readily available alternative to coal, oil, and other limited sources of power. In short, we’re the “Got Milk” people for wind, solar, and hydro power — we’re broadening the base of clean-energy consumers to include people in all walks of life.
How does it relate to the environment?
SmartPower represents the next step in environmental activism, because we are creating a strong, robust market for clean, renewable energy. We think the altruistic argument for clean energy was made — and won — long ago. We need to now convince Americans that clean energy is real. Quite frankly, to achieve true energy independence, clean energy is a workable, available, and viable alternative to coal and fossil-fuel-based energy.
Americans need to know that our country already produces enough clean energy from sun, wind, and water to power every hospital and every sports stadium in America — and every factory in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It’s basic supply and demand. Increased demand for clean energy will increase the supply that power companies will provide. But the demand has yet to meet the supply. Clean energy hasn’t yet found its “tipping point.”
What are you working on at the moment? Any major projects?
We are constantly working to market clean energy to people who don’t consider themselves environmentalists, who don’t think about these issues on a regular basis. To that end, we have just recently completed some groundbreaking market research, and we’ve created a series of television, radio, and newspaper advertisements that talk directly to the average consumer.
And we’re also constantly working to get cities and towns to sign up for our 20 percent by 2010 Challenge. In short, we ask cities and towns across the nation to lead by example by purchasing 20 percent clean energy by 2010. Already the capital cities of Connecticut and Rhode Island have signed up — and close to 30 other cities and towns have joined them!
How do you get to work?
I take the subway to my office. I also drive a hybrid car.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
With a degree in communications and political science from American University in Washington, D.C., my career has basically been in nonprofit management and politics — two fields that require a deep focus on messaging and marketing. From my work on the Paul Tsongas for President Campaign to the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, I learned that the key to selling complicated and difficult-to-understand issues is simply through good messaging and good marketing.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born the 10th of 11 children in Boston and grew up in Needham, a town just outside of Boston. Needham is a wonderful place to grow up — basically our own version of “Mayberry.”
I now live in Washington, D.C., with my wife and our 2-year-old daughter, Karenna (who will become a big sister in late September!).
What’s been the best moment in your professional life to date?
Helping Tsongas win 10 primaries across the country after all the political “big feet” wrote him off. He went from a joke candidacy to the only one left standing to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. That was an amazing feat!
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
The biggest frustration continues to be the constant lack of understanding of clean energy among everyday Americans — from the guy next door all the way up to the White House. Clean energy does work; it is as strong as coal and oil, and in order to use it, you don’t have to change your lifestyle or commit yourself to some “cause.” And yet, the misconceptions about clean energy are everywhere.
In order to succeed, environmentalists need to adopt a market-oriented message, not a moral one, that makes more Americans aware of their realistic energy options. Until this happens, a tiny minority of Americans will continue to drive energy policy (or the lack of one!) in Washington.
Who is your environmental hero?
Tsongas. He had a smart, no-nonsense approach to the environment — and he made a huge difference for generations to come.
As an organization, I’d say the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston. Under the leadership of Doug Foy, these folks represent the maturation of the environmental movement.
Read any good books lately?
I just finished reading two manuscripts: The first, called Nora Collins, was written by my mother-in-law, Kem Knapp Sawyer; it’s a great story about an Irish immigrant girl. And the other, called Impossible Dreams and written by my brother-in-law Steve Walkowicz, is about a young girl in 1967 who has a passion for the Boston Red Sox and baseball. Both are incredible books and will sell out quickly once they get publishers!
What’s your favorite meal?
That’s easy — my mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce or my father’s “secret recipe” French fries.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
We have a hybrid car. I like not producing so much smog, but it’s the “smug” that drives me nuts.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Home with my wife and daughter. We don’t really refer to it as an “ecosystem,” but it’s definitely my favorite place!
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
I’d have the U.S. commit to buying 20 percent clean, renewable energy by 2010. Our electric grid would become diversified, and we’d really be on our way to true energy independence.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. Always was. Always will be.
What’s your favorite TV show? Movie?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Buy clean energy for your home or business and get your town to commit to 20 percent clean energy by 2010 by going to www.SmartPower.org.