Gauging "Readiness" Helps Make a Clean Sweep in Michigan Communities
Ever wish you had a crystal ball to tell you which neighborhoods would make the best market for your energy efficiency offerings? One Michigan residential energy upgrade program may not be able to tell the future, but it helped contractors come in and sweep neighborhoods with the most potential for upgrade business.
BetterBuildings for Michigan, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner, developed a “readiness scale” to help target communities by determining the factors that indicate whether homeowners in a particular area are really ready to commit to energy efficiency upgrades.
In 2010, BetterBuildings for Michigan launched the first of its neighborhood “sweeps” in 58 communities across the state. The program used these different neighborhoods to test a variety of different messages, marketing strategies, and incentives to get homeowners to invest in energy upgrades. Community “readiness,” as it turns out, was one of the most important factors to success.
“Three main areas influence residential energy upgrade program success—program offerings or incentives; contractor skill and capacity; and community ‘readiness’ for the program,” said Jacob Corvidae, interim executive director of EcoWorks, a BetterBuildings for Michigan program partner. “Readiness is the element we have the least amount of control over, making it especially important to figure out the key factors determining readiness.”
Community readiness can include factors such as economic demographics, type of housing stock, the presence of a credible messenger to spread the word, and whether or not the community has been exposed to messages about energy efficiency in the past.
“In communities that were ready to invest in the program, we found that there was already a conversation going on about energy,” said Mary Templeton, former BetterBuildings for Michigan program manager and current executive director of Michigan Saves. “It’s important that the community is open to or already has some degree of knowledge about energy efficiency.”
The program found that existing communications played a significant role in success. Communities with established communication networks (e.g., local newspaper, neighborhood association newsletter, strong word-of-mouth social networks) had a built-in capacity to share information about energy upgrade opportunities in their area.
Following are just a few of the other lessons BetterBuildings for Michigan learned through its neighborhood sweeps:
- Communicate through satisfied, credible customers. Community leaders and peers make the best salespeople for upgrades. Many Michigan sweeps started with a trusted community contact who made initial upgrades and then promoted their participation (see sample above).
- Keep the lines of communication open. Sweeps stood a better chance of success if program staff communicated with contractors early and often. Contractor feedback helped staff adapt the program in a way that made sense for the marketplace.
- Find the right approach for each community. Not every neighborhood is ready for the same energy efficiency message. Take the time to find out what angle will make upgrades relevant to customers in a particular area. For example, are older homes in the historic part of town particularly drafty in the winter? Or are people in starter homes looking to reduce utility bills or make a positive impact on the environment?
Over a three-year period, BetterBuildings for Michigan’s neighborhood sweeps program helped pave the way for contractors to make energy efficiency improvements in more than 11,000 homes across Michigan. After the neighborhood sweeps program was completed, EcoWorks developed a community readiness assessment tool as part of its Actioniirs Web app. The tool can help contractors learn what actions a community is ready for, from basic energy efficiency work to deeper upgrades.
To learn more, read the full interview with Corvidae and Templeton.
Danielle Sass Byrnett is the supervisor of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. DOE is transitioning the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to a voluntary, national residential energy efficiency membership network. Learn more about joining the Better Buildings Residential Network.
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