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How Non-Profits Are Using Social Marketing To Promote Energy Conservation

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday March 29th, 2010 | 0 Comments

An article published recently by Environmental Leader highlights how utilities and governments are using the “power of applying social marketing strategies” to change people’s “attitudes and behaviors” about energy conservation. Non-profit organizations are also using social marketing to spread the word about energy conservation. Project Porchlight, mentioned in the article, is an example. The non-profit organization defines itself as a “a grassroots energy efficiency program that encourages people to switch from old fashioned incandescent light bulbs to new energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.”

Stuart Hickox founded Project Porchlight in the summer of 2004 after he researched energy-efficient refrigerators on the Energy Star website, and discovered the following statistic: If every Canadian household replaced one incandescent light bulb with a CFL bulb, the reduction in pollution would be the equivalent of taking 66,000 cars off the road. Hickox asked himself, “How hard can it be to get everyone to change one light bulb?”

In 2005, Project Porchlight launched a pilot project to give a couple of thousand free CFL bulbs in Ottowa. It is now a “million-bulb campaign for energy conservation and grassroots social change” that uses open source technologies and social marketing so local volunteers can “instantly share photos and stories from the local bulb deliveries via their own project pages.” Each project is connected through an interactive Google Map that shows visitors and potential volunteers where bulbs are being delivered.

In 2006, the One Change organization was founded to help spread Project Porchlight to other North American communities. There are Project Porchlight campaigns in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Vermont, Puget Sound and New Jersey

“Social networking technology is helping us convert the individual action of changing a light bulb to a national movement,” said Hickox. “Online networks are complementary to our grassroots approach. Our Facebook groups and local Meetups will help to enlist volunteers and promote events.”

Hickox added, “We know that once people change one bulb, they feel part of a larger community that wants to take action, and are more willing to make other changes. Our new web site captures this enthusiasm. Volunteers can upload their own stories and photos from Project Porchlight campaigns across Canada and can see how their own simple action is connected to a global community.”

Market it like Coca-Cola

The non-profit group SmartPower states on its website that it “makes effective use of new and social media” to let consumers know about energy conservation and renewable energy. Created by private foundations and the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, the non-profit’s website states that the charge has been “market it like Coca-Cola.”

Two of the organization’s campaigns are the Western Mass Saves campaign and America’s Greenest Campus:

  • The Western Mass Saves campaign, launched in 2009, provides Western Massachusetts Electric customers with a virtual “personal energy advisor” to help them reduce their monthly utility bills and lower their carbon footprint.
  • America’s Greenest Campus is an online energy reducing campaign at colleges and universities across the U.S. The campaign partners with the U.S. Department of Energy. SmartPower launched the first campaign in 2009. A total of 20,000 students and 460 colleges participated in the campaign.

“Marketing is not usually where foundations invest their funds, and it is a skill that most non-profits don’t have,” Ruth Hennig, the executive director of The John Merck Fund said. “But the environmental message alone is not enough to make a difference to most electricity customers.” Hennig said that her company needed “more effective marketing information, strategies and tools,” and decided to help create SmartPower by supporting the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.


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