"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

4.22.2010

what works: acting locally

I was completely thrilled to see one of my students featured by Change.org's Environment blog this week. In honor of Earth Day, here's a great lesson about making a difference through community engagement:
Let's Raise A Million is a student-led environmental justice project based in Atlanta, Georgia dedicated to bringing energy and water efficiency to low-income and minority communities. The idea is simple: a crew of students go door to door, swapping out incandescent bulbs for CFLs and installing low-flow shower heads and sink nozzles. For free...

“We said why should only people who can afford the upfront costs reap the benefits of energy efficiency? As things stand, you have to have money to save money, which shuts out the people who need it the most,” says Merrit.

Because passionate student volunteers provide all the hard work needed to knock on doors and screw in light bulbs, the key has been finding sponsors who will underwrite or donate the bulbs themselves. Considering that Let’s Raise A Million is a completely grassroots, volunteer operation, they’ve managed to line up an impressive roster of supporters, include the World Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress, and the Clinton Global Initiative.

Once a month, 30 to 50 students from Atlanta’s various colleges get together. New volunteers are trained, and the crowd breaks off in teams of four. These teams go door to door, educating homeowners about energy efficiency and changing out every bulb on the premises. In an effort to prove results to homeowners, they even conduct an energy audit - volunteers take down a home’s monthly bill and return the following month to measure savings. Merrit says this follow up is the project’s biggest piece of community engagement, and has helped to foster goodwill with residents.

On an average install day, volunteers will distribute 700 to 800 light bulbs, which works out to roughly 30 homes. The project has been operating since September, and has touched over 300 homes.

“Not only is this a project driven by the numbers and by how much people are saving, but it’s also about building a connection with neglected neighborhoods,” Merrit says.

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