By Kris Vann
The week-long Affordable Comfort, Inc. (“ACI”) National Home Performance Conference kicked-off March 29th this year in San Francisco, bringing together thought leaders from every sector – corporations, small businesses, federal government, state and local agencies, non-profit organizations, politics, private investment firms, and academia – to collaborate and solve issues in home energy efficiency.
The opening plenary included a featured keynote address from none other than California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and Charles Segerstrom, President of the ACI Board of Directors and Supervisor of Energy Efficiency Training at the PG&E Training Center. Segerstrom stressed the importance of generating homeowner demand for energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.
“Reducing home and building energy use by 25% across the US would save 102% of total imported oil, and $230 billion a year for consumers and businesses,” states Phillip Fairey of the Florida Solar Energy Center during a discussion on the future energy of America.
Conference panelists agreed that market awareness and consumer demand are the two largest hurdles to overcome. Getting consumers to act is the number-one priority.
“Let’s face it; we’re selling to the lunatic fringe of green, the lunatic fringe of efficiency. The market is this small strata right now. And of course we want to grow the market outside of the small strata,” said Paul Holland of Foundation Capital. “We need less kumbaya in the industry and less expectation. We preach to each other, when we really need to become better marketers.”
During a session titled “Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements,” panelists agreed that “engaging trusted messengers” is the lynchpin for success. Such trusted messengers include well-known third party organizations and local opinion leaders who can provide local control, model success and encourage contact with peers. This helps elevate acceptance and interest, often leading to increased participation, says Merrian Fuller of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
Fuller goes on to uncover two myths – if people are informed and if they have access to capital they will make energy efficiency improvements. Both are not true, says Fuller. “Debt is not exciting. People don’t want to go into debt for what they don’t want. We have to get people to want it first. … We need to get way beyond the 1% energy nerd world to the market.”
Though people will not admit it or are unaware of the influence, says Fuller, “social norms are often a significant decision driver. “ Joan Glickman from the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score program agrees. She says “emotion really matters. We don’t even realize how effected we are by the people around us. What people really care most about is how they relate to their peers.”
The Sierra Club’s Allison Forbes came to the same opinion and elaborated on how local leadership and strategic community alliances are critical. Sierra Club has built successful relationships with energy, says Forbes. They have been involved in campaigns to support increasing fuel economy standards in California and nationwide as well as advancing people’s understanding on home energy use. “The latter was the hard equation,” she says, “people didn’t understand the impact on the environment as much.” Says Forbes, “the Sierra Club engaged in education and awareness, handed out light bulbs, educated people about the vampires that lurked in their homes.” In addition to grassroots education, they were involved with policy advocacy such as pushing for the adoption of the latest energy efficient building codes at the state and local level.
Forbes points to one successful example of the work of Sierra Club’s Oregon Chapter Chair. He was the trusted messenger in the local group in Portland. He invested in his own home, advocated for clean energy works in Portland and got others to follow. “Groups like this can be the trusted messengers that make a difference,” says Forbes.
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