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Energy Challenge Two: The WeatherizeDC Campaign

June 14, 2010 - 9:15am

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In my quest to learn what other local groups are doing to help the environment and hopefully avoid reinventing the wheel, I attended a meeting of the Greenbelt Climate Action Network, a local chapter of the grassroots, nonprofit organization Chesapeake Climate Action Network. There I met two WeatherizeDC field organizers who described the work they are doing.

Terrance and Heather explained that WeatherizeDC is a campaign of The DC Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., founded by former leaders of the Obama for America campaign around a mission to advance economic and environmental justice by creating clean energy career opportunities for people who need them most. The DC Project applies cutting-edge organizing tools and tactics to mobilize community interest in weatherization, creating economic savings, environmental benefits, and new green jobs. It views home weatherization as the linchpin of a revitalized community.

Caption: A field organizer has a conversation with a DC homeowner about her weatherization pathway. Photo courtesy of WeatherizeDC.

WeatherizeDC quickly identified two realities: weatherization is one of the fastest and most cost-effective strategies available for mitigating climate change, and the home performance industry represents one of America's few economic sectors primed for expansion. WeatherizeDC also recognized that there was no community partnership between nonprofits, organized labor, and the local small businesses that perform the audits and energy improvements and that ultimately hire new workers. WeatherizeDC set out to change that by forging crucial, sustainable partnerships with community leaders, organized labor, and small home performance businesses, to advance both the local economy and the environment.

WeatherizeDC is mobilizing one of America's greatest assets—community leadership—to unlock the promise of the home weatherization industry. Activating a community-driven approach to stimulating the weatherization industry takes into account the reality that most people will listen to trusted friends and neighbors, more so than strangers, to help them make decisions. Trained field organizers work with existing community leaders and residents, who help gather together their neighbors and friends and encourage them to attend community energy meetings. Community means different things to different people. WeatherizeDC employs door-to-door canvassing and organizes get-togethers at different gathering places, including the office, at church or synagogue, in homes, and at community block parties, to help spread the word and encourage people to attend community energy meetings.

One such event, a weatherization block party that took place at St. Albans Church on April 18th, combined good food, good music, good vibes, and good information. Kids tossed beanbags and families ate frozen yogurt. Anthony Clark, 16, was so stoked about the event that, only an hour after his own arrival, he was signing in newcomers and handing out t-shirts. Jacob Weiss, an energy auditor from Ardently Green (WeatherizeDC's first home performance partner), gave tours of the weatherized St. Albans rectory every half hour to DC homeowners hoping to learn more about weatherization.

Every volunteer canvasser is trained in the basics of weatherization and is guided by a script to begin a conversation with homeowners about their energy goals and the details of the next WeatherizeDC community energy meeting. Energy meetings serve as a place to continue the conversation and to learn more specifically about the process and steps of home weatherization, what WeatherizeDC refers to as the weatherization pathway.

WeatherizeDC field representatives run community energy meetings and interfaith energy meetings in different neighborhoods, bringing neighbors together and explaining to them the home weatherization pathway and the benefits they can reap from weatherizing their homes. One vital component is helping them select a local home performance business they can trust to conduct a home energy assessment or audit. To add icing to the cake, WeatherizeDC arranges a discounted rate for these assessment services.

As WeatherizeDC's success spreads, the local home performance businesses hire new employees to meet increased interest and demand for their services. To ensure that these new employment opportunities it helps foster provide high quality career positions and not just minimum wage jobs with no future, WeatherizeDC brokered a groundbreaking Community Workforce Agreement (CWA) between a leading national labor union and a local home performance business. The CWA ensures that jobs generated by WeatherizeDC are filled by local residents from communities of high unemployment, and that all workers receive certification-based training, support to encourage career mobility, and a truly livable wage.

Caption: An energy auditor points out air leakage around a door frame. Photo courtesy of WeatherizeDC.

To help determine the energy savings resulting from their weatherization efforts, DC residents are using a free service developed by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Earth Aid. During its first 6 months, WeatherizeDC succeeded in placing 185 homes in the weatherization pathway, creating two-and-a-half new good green jobs, and saving homeowners up to 30% on their energy bills. Cost per home has been running about $2,000-$5,000, which generates up to a 30% reduction in energy use, which is equivalent to taking three cars off the road as measured by carbon mitigation.

Side note: Following the quick success of WeatherizeDC, a number of cities and states have sought the support of The DC Project to jump-start their own local weatherization markets. For example, a partnership of Colorado governments, businesses, and nonprofit agencies led by Boulder County is receiving $25 million in Federal stimulus money under the U.S. Department of Energy's Retrofit Ramp-Up Program for a program of energy-efficiency improvements to existing residential and commercial buildings. Additional partners and collaborators include the DC Project—parent of WeatherizeDC—and other private businesses and nonprofit agencies with expertise on financial, technical and social mobilization.

For more success stories from around the country, visit Energy Empowers, and be sure to let us hear about the work you're doing in your communities.

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