I’ve been involved—as an observer, a participant or a catalyst—in a variety of community-based energy efficiency programs over the last two decades. All of those efforts aimed to leverage a geographic or political community identity (neighborhoods, towns, etc.) to encourage individuals to implement energy efficient products or conservation practices in their own homes. Utilities and local governments target geo-political communities because it’s operationally handy—the communities align with utility territories or local government jurisdictions. So it’s easy to know who’s in and who’s out.
Community efforts, though, are most effective in a community with:
- a lot of informal interaction (so successes with one member can influence other members);
- strong established communication networks that reach all community members; and
- clear and compelling leadership to champion the effort.
Given those criteria, I’d argue that the ideal communities are corporate, not geo-political.
Think about your town or neighborhood vs. your workplace community.
- Whereas I wave at a neighbor while pulling into my garage, I chat daily with my co-workers and know more about their lives.
- While my city council person tries to reach me via snail mail and community forums that I rarely attend, everyone in my company has my email address and can interact with me at regularly scheduled meetings that I’m paid to attend.
- And while I might disagree with both at times, my CEO’s commitment to an issue is usually more straightforward than my mayor’s, often because the hierarchy is clearer.
Hence Cool Choices’ current focus on corporate communities. Our approach is to partner with companies that are already leaders in corporate sustainability efforts. We work with these companies to facilitate a cultural transformation where employees embrace sustainability in their personal lives, just as their employer has embraced it on the business side. We believe workplace efforts that promote personal sustainability are a big win for both the corporation and the employees.
For example, these efforts:
- Broaden and deepen employee engagement in corporate sustainability efforts, reinvigorating corporate efforts;
- Provide employees with the tools and opportunities to save money in their personal lives;
- Make sustainability a fun community effort; and
- Enable corporations to differentiate themselves in terms of candidate recruitment, community relations and other arenas.
Ultimately I think these efforts will affect neighborhoods and whole towns. But that might well happen via one employer at a time.
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