Every once in a while, one of my longstanding assumptions about a person or a place gets absolutely shattered. Most recently, my perception of Philadelphia’s status—or lack thereof—as a green, sustainable city got totally turned on its head. Ask most people to name the country’s top green cities, and they’ll tick off names like San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Boulder, Burlington, and other cities with a decidedly crunchy reputation. If they’re really informed, they might add New York and Chicago to their list. But Philadelphia? It wouldn’t have even made it onto my top 20 list, until, that is, an odd confluence of factors (or maybe some hard work on the part of Philadelphians) resulted in my seeing, reading, or hearing about not two, not three, but four examples of Philadelphia’s commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency.
The example I ran into first is RetroFit Philly’s Coolest Block Contest. The contest, which occurred in spring 2010, was sponsored by a coalition of organizations that included the City of Philadelphia, the Energy Coordinating Agency, a local nonprofit, and Dow Chemical Company. The program design is ingenious: pit Philadelphia’s blocks of row houses against each other in pursuit of a free audit and cool roof for everyone on the block. Because blocks were required to submit just one group application, and a block’s chance of winning was highly correlated with the number of block residents who signed onto the application, any individual interested in winning had a very high incentive to educate and then recruit their neighbors. The program design also ensured that the efficiency treatment promoted by the program—cool roofs—would reach its full potential. Since row homes share both walls and roofs, the roof treatment of one home can have a significant impact of the heating and cooling load of the homes on either side of it.
The program was, by all accounts, a resounding success. Following a fairly modest marketing campaign—the distribution of information packets to approximately 500 of the city’s “block captains” that contained, among other items, a signed letter from the Mayor—76 blocks submitted applications, which represented 1,480 homes interested in participating in the program. In other words, 1,480 row homes in Philadelphia now understand what a cool roof is and know the benefits they would incur if they decided to install one. Assuming each home on blocks that applied was contacted and asked to participate in the program (a generous assumption), a remarkable 69 percent of homes contacted about the program agreed to participate.
Why such a high participation rate? Research has shown that customer-to-customer communication, such as the neighbor-to-neighbor education and recruiting that occurred in this program, can be an incredibly effective marketing strategy. Person-to-person communication, of which customer-to-customer is just one kind, is just one of many tactics included under the community-based social marketing umbrella, which includes any marketing campaign that leverages peer networks to distribute information about a product, service, or opportunity. To learn more about person-to-person marketing, check out Me and My Big Mouth: Harnessing the Power of Person-to-Person Marketing (access limited to E Source members).
In case you’re curious, the other three examples of Philadelphia’s commitment towards sustainability and energy efficiency are their year-round farmers’ markets (we don’t even have year-round markets in Boulder!), the presence of BigBelly solar-powered trash compactors on many downtown streets, and a new school nutrition program I read about in the New York Times.
We’re always on the lookout for new utility and state DSM programs that are unique, progressive, or just downright cool, so be sure to let me know if you've seen any such programs, or run one at your utility.
April 2011 DSMdat updates: Added 35 new programs and updated 258 programs.