The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), where I worked for two years, is delving into questions which are relevant to Southern states and working-class communities. I support this approach because it’s essential for environmental nonprofits to take on questions that reach beyond the East and West Coasts and outside the Beltway.
The first report showing that ACEEE was pursuing this course of action was the May 2012 publication Opportunity Knocks: Examining Low-Ranking States in Energy Efficiency. These states are mainly located in the Southeast and the northern Great Plains, where lack of awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency often combines with skepticism and an aversion to top-down mandates.
The theme of avoiding government mandates has emerged in ACEEE’s behavioral research. An article from Real Energy Writers reports that ACEEE Behavior and Human Dimensions Program director Susan Mazur-Stommen has been touring the South. She’s been interviewing people about what energy efficiency means in their lives. Her discoveries so far are intriguing. Many of her interviewees are aware of energy efficiency, but are pursuing it independently and not through structured programs.
“People are pursuing green in the South, but they are doing it in their own way. That is one of the messages. They don’t trust the government. They don’t trust their utility. They worry about scams,” Mazur-Stommen said in her interview with journalist Elisa Wood. Mazur-Stommen said that messaging about energy efficiency in the South needs to be customized for regional viewpoints.
Economic opportunity may be a valuable angle. In August, ACEEE published a fact sheet on Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity which addresses the importance of designing energy efficiency programs so that they build stable employment in local communities. As the fact sheet says:
At every step of the economic value chain produced by efficiency investments… there are opportunities to target the economic and social benefits to those households, businesses, geographies, or sectors for whom they will make the biggest difference. The results of these choices can include lower costs for low- and moderate-income families and small businesses; opportunities for disadvantaged, local workers to get jobs with good wages; and new and retained economic activity in disinvested communities.
This is a crucial statement. Given the large number of American communities suffering after the recession, it’s absolutely essential for environmental nonprofits to discuss socioeconomic issues.
Working-class communities sometimes include manufactured homes. Mobilizing Energy Efficiency in the Manufactured Housing Sector, a report which ACEEE published in July, broke new ground by charting the potential energy savings in manufactured homes.
Manufactured houses waste energy as if their owners had money to spare – which they often do not. Builders of manufactured homes focus on cost and have relatively easygoing code requirements. As a result, these homes have high energy bills.
The report says making manufactured housing more energy-efficient could save 40 percent of the total electricity consumption and 33 percent of the total natural gas consumption of these homes between 2011 and 2030.