Paul Markowitz is jealous of recycling. “There’s a blue box or a bin that everybody sees. There’s a social pressure to it,” that inspires (or guilts) others to follow suit, says the Community Energy Program Manager with Efficiency Vermont, a non-profit funded by a utility bill surcharge to promote and affect energy efficiency in the state. “The challenge with energy efficiency is that you can’t see it.”
To find a similar dynamic for energy savings, Markowitz throws parties, as many and as often as he can. Enlisting “early adopters” who were among the first on their blocks to invest in energy efficiency, Markowitz has them host so-called energy parties in their homes to show and tell their neighbors about the improvements and upgrades that enabled their savings, as well as who did the work, how it was financed, and the results.
“If you really expect people to change, you have to go beyond advertising and utility bill flyers,” he says. “You have to leverage real people who’ve done it to inspire and help others do the same.”
In addition to energy parties, Markowitz also trains volunteers to schedule and conduct home energy visits in their communities, whether next door or for friends and colleagues who share common interests.
Such visits focus on an objective assessment of energy- and water-using products and systems, from the number and type of light bulbs to the age and designed efficiency of major appliances and HVAC equipment.
While far from a formal energy audit (conducted by a certified professional for a few hundred dollars), such visits expose opportunities for homeowners to save energy and provide access to the resources that can help them take the next step.
“It’s proven to be an effective way to motivate people,” says Markowitz, noting that homeowners who submit to the half-hour visit from an acquaintance are 20 times more likely to invest in an energy-saving upgrade than the national average, which hovers around one-half of one percent a year. “All the awareness campaigns in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t offer people the means to act on it.”
Simply, Markowitz has tapped into a social dynamic that already exists and exploited it. “We seek out recommendations and advice from people for almost everything,” he says, whether it be restaurants and movies or the most efficient route into town from the airport—especially in today’s wired world. “Why not energy?”