As we mark the official start of summer this weekend, like in years past, many storefronts from Rodeo Drive to Fifth Avenue to London’s West End will open up their doors, offering cool, air-conditioned oases from the sweltering heat of the streets. Yet, what serves as a clever marketing ploy for the businesses – often successfully luring in helpless passersby first for the cool and then keeping them there for their wares – is also, as you might imagine, a huge waste of energy.
Early last year, New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer introduced a bill to the council that would set penalties for these types of energy wasting practices. Brewer, who is a long time veteran of state and local politics in New York, is well known for her public action initiatives, from previously sponsoring congestion pricing bills to working on affordable housing committees to supporting e-waste recycling programs.
“Every single summer, when it’s warm, we get calls from residents on the West Side asking why doors are open when air conditioners are working,” Brewer told the New York Sun in February, 2007. “It is an environmental issue.”
It’s an old story; the New York Times has been covering the issue for years now. The headline of an article earlier this week even poignantly incited readers to think of “cold air at $140 a barrel.” Yet, just as much as it is an old story, the problem still has the same old results: nothing. The NRDC, citing statistics from the Long Island Power Authority, claim that retailers increase their energy consumption by 20-25% when they leave their doors open. Not to mention the strain it puts on the city’s electrical grid as demand peaks during summer months. Everyone seems to agree that it’s a problem, yet to the chagrin of many New Yorkers, neither the council nor Mayor Bloomberg – who appear more than hesitant to tell retailers what to do – have yet to do anything about it.
Across the pond in the UK, three Cambridge residents and friends saw the same problem and sought to do something about it. Estimating that ¬£300 million (approximately $590 million) is wasted on poor energy practices like open door policies, they started a campaign called Close the Door to raise awareness and hopefully get some businesses to change their practices. Amongst other things, Close the Door provides Yelp- or CitySearch-like stickers to businesses to post on their storefronts explaining and creating a culture around what they’re doing. With initial funding from the Cambridge City Council, the campaign has since been taken up nationally, and now has the participation of major British retail chain, Jaeger. WeConserve in Ontario, Canada also has a similar campaign called Doors Closed.
Meanwhile back stateside, Brewer’s energy initiative doesn’t seem to be too politically popular. As the cost of energy continues to rise on the heels of skyrocketing crude oil prices, perhaps we will see a shift in these kinds of practices anyway. Yet, some feel a bit more of political leadership will go a long way. As Peter Kaufman, a data network designer in Manhattan, was quoted in the NY Times earlier this week: “The mayor swings for the fences with stuff like congestion pricing, but a series of solid singles can drive in runs, too.”
Readers: Do you see these kinds of practices where you are? What would be some successful ways to change these kinds of energy wastes? Do you think a solution could come from the policy end, like Councilwoman Brewer is trying to do, or from the grassroots end, like the Close the Door and Doors Closed campaigns?