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Redwood City Green@Home

Case Story

Community Story written and posted by BAAQMD, June 2010

City: Redwood City
Population: 73,598


Green@Home is a program aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of households by sending trained community-based volunteers to visit neighbors in their homes, install several energy-saving devices, and perform a home energy assessment (called “HouseCalls”). Started by the environmental non-profit Acterra, the program utilizes proven social marketing techniques such as securing written commitments, placing an emphasis on neighbor-to-neighbor communication, and using visual prompts like yard signs, as well as providing recognition for participant accomplishments. Redwood City decided to launch the initiative in their community after Acterra and the City of Palo Alto completed a successful five-month pilot in two Palo Alto neighborhoods.

Program Highlights

  • By partnering with Acterra, a trusted community non-profit, Redwood City is able to leverage limited resources.
  • Acterra’s Green@Home program trains volunteers from the community they will be working in to make “HouseCalls” to their neighbors.
  • Former Redwood City Mayor Rosanne Foust and former Vice Mayor Diane Howard volunteered to be the first households in Redwood City to participate.
  • Completed upgrade records show that an average of 1,000 lbs of CO2 per year is reduced in each household served, and follow-up calls 2-3 months after the HouseCalls find that nearly all residents have taken additional actions to reduce energy use.

Lessons Learned

  • To garner interest in the program, meetings with neighborhood leaders are key, especially one-on-one meetings.
  • In order to get residents to complete the next steps that are recommended during the audit, it is important to make a connection beyond the initial HouseCall.
  • Getting a balance between trained volunteers and requests from residents is one of the big challenges. If the community is informed about the program before trained volunteers are ready, residents are discouraged by a long wait. If volunteers wait too long after training to perform a HouseCall, they forget their skills and may move on to other projects.
  • In addition to the hands-on training sessions, volunteers can get some “real life” practice by performing HouseCalls for each other after their training is complete.
  • Scheduling volunteers and HouseCalls can be a challenge. It’s helpful to schedule HouseCalls at least two weeks in advance, in order to allow enough time to schedule in the volunteers. Having at least some of the volunteers sign up for a definite weekly or bi-monthly time slot (eg, every other Tuesday at 10 am) can make scheduling resident requests much easier.
  • Hiring a Spanish-speaking outreach worker and using a targeted approach has resulted in a big increase in program participation from the Latino community.

Resources To Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The government of Redwood City places a strong emphasis on creating partnerships with the community and engaging the public in order to effectively deliver services. This emphasis is also reflected in the City’s approach to addressing climate change. Their 2010 Redwood City Community Climate Action Plan is based on the idea that climate action can help build community, and includes a variety of measures that educate, engage, and empower residents to take action.

The Green@Home program is one of the community-building actions included in the City’s Climate Plan. The program is part of the Redwood City Verde initiative, a collection of programs, activities, tools, and ideas for reducing energy and water use in Redwood City homes, neighborhoods, and businesses. While Green@Home is designed to be a turnkey program, as a result of partnering with the trusted local non-profit Acterra, the City is able to make best use of its limited resources and take advantage of Acterra’s social marketing expertise and community connections. Acterra conducts outreach to residents, recruits volunteers, provides materials and training, and manages the program database. The City provides facilities, hosts trainings, and assists with community outreach.

Volunteers were recruited from neighborhood organizations, churches, and other community organizations, as well as Acterra’s own membership. The educational level and sheer number of people (175) interested in volunteering exceeded expectations. Volunteers that go through the Green@Home training conduct simple energy audits and install donated energy saving devices, such as CFLs, retractable clotheslines and low flow showerheads. Using an 80-point checklist and a Kill-a-Watt meter, the volunteers audit energy use in the home and also talk with residents to create a household plan for further energy-saving steps. Follow up with participants done after the home visits is a crucial component of getting the most out of the program.

Continued contact creates a stronger bond that helps motivate participants to take additional energy efficiency measures and feel that they are part of a larger community effort. Enlisting help from a neighborhood e-newsletter editor in providing recognition for participants in the program is one way to encourage completion of a household plan for “next steps” – and it can also build the “buzz” about energy conservation efforts throughout a neighborhood.

Green@Home staff estimates that an investment of $40,000 - $50,000 would create a robust Green@Home program in any city. One option may be for a group of adjacent cities to offer the program cooperatively. In the case of Redwood City, the program costs were covered through grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the San Francisco Foundation. To date about 100 Redwood City homes have received Green@Home HouseCalls. The City’s goal is to scale up quickly by completing 500 HouseCalls by October 2012.

By using proven techniques of social marketing, the impact of the program, however, goes well beyond that of the households that receive HouseCalls. For example, residents that receive HouseCalls also place lawn signs in their yards, creating interest in their neighborhoods, and volunteers trained to conduct audits are exposed to a skill set that may put them on the path to take advantage of new “green” job opportunities (at least one former volunteer is now an employee of Acterra). Redwood City views this program as part of an outreach effort that will help mobilize a community scale shift to more energy efficient behavior. Rather than simply presenting information, preaching about individual responsibility or struggling to change entrenched political and economic interests, the social marketing approach leverages the power of individuals in groups, creating a tipping point for behavior change.

The Green@Home program has also been rolled out in Cupertino, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale, and Spanish language versions of training materials are available.


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