Community-centered Energy Efficiency Outreach, Delivery: Part 1 of 2

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Communities increasingly are interested in proactively addressing their energy needs. Utilities see this community interest as a key to unlock additional energy savings by tapping into the community spirit.

Hence, energy efficiency programs across the country are designing new outreach and delivery models that leverage communities by tapping into the enthusiasm, innovation and resources available there. Community-based outreach and mobilization initiatives are two models being implemented.

Community-based outreach taps into the word-of-mouth aspect of encouraging participation.

Community mobilization initiatives involve the community-based outreach but append to this delivery mechanisms that involve local community members.

This article, the first in a two-part series on community-centered energy efficiency, focuses on communitybased outreach. Part 2 will appear in the March-April issue of Electric Light & Power and will explore community mobilization initiatives.

Community-based outreach is a strategy to leverage relationships with community organizations that have influential relationships with the citizens and businesses of a community.

Community-based programs use community dynamics for marketing and generating interest and enthusiasm. Successful community-based organizations (CBOs) rely on community partnersàƒ-à¢â€š¬”businesses, local media, schools or volunteersàƒ-à¢â€š¬”to deliver as much marketing and service delivery as possible.

Public relationship awareness is one of the key benefits of communitybased programs. It can lead to interest by other communities that can lead customers to take other actions. These community organizations educate and promote energy efficiency in their communities predominately using word of mouth. Early community-based pilots suggest that these approaches achieve broad, deeper penetration of energy efficiency.

Community Outreach Keys to Success

Utilities interested in offering community-based outreach should tap into the community innovation; the most successful CBO campaigns are community-owned and designed. Utilities support these efforts by offering attractive residential and commercial energy efficiency programs, providing community training and support tools and enticing the community with incentives.

  • Offer attractive energy efficiency programs. The best approach is to build and offer the existing, attractive energy efficiency programs. The community customizes the offering with marketing and outreach designed to encourage local participation. Energy efficiency programs that are attractive for residential and small business customers are the most often leveraged in a community-based offering.
  • Provide community support. Many small communities have limited resources and staff to help advance energy efficiency programs, so administrators must offer communities tools to make the process easy and manageable. Fundamental is helping the community develop a plan that outlines proposed strategies to reach the community. To speed development, utilities may use a CBO plan template that includes campaign strategies and tools upon which the community can create its own plans. A utility or program administrator will want to provide staff and Webbased support to offer training and respond to community questions. The program administrator also will provide collateral support that the community can use to promote the programs. Increasingly, utilities are providing communities with data on high-potential neighborhoods that lag in participating in energy efficiency programs. Some innovative CBO efforts are providing communities with Web-based tools for individual energy-savings pledges. This effort taps into the leverage local community members have with their constituents.
  • Entice the community with incentives. Utilities that offer CBOs are finding that rewarding performance yields even better results. A perk might be a financial reward to the community or providing something the entire community values. For example, the reward offered to one community was the installation of solar panels on the town hall when participation reaches a designated level.

Community-based outreach increases customer participation in programs by tapping into local community pride.

Utilities and other energy efficiency program administrators increasingly are offering CBOs as a tool to reach customers and support high energy-savings goals.

For communities, these programs offer a way to proactively address energy concerns.


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at

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