Not any more

Group behind Project Porchlight to spread message of conservation across California

In Canada on September 19, 2010 at 08:05

Ottawa-based One Change is bringing its grassroots message that simple actions matter to America’s most populous state.

California’s Public Utilities Commission has hired One Change, which bills itself as a not-for-profit community-based social-marketing organization, to sell energy conservation to state residents.

One Change opened an office in San Francisco two weeks ago and hopes to train and mobilize 15,000 California volunteers over the next two years.

“That’s like all the volunteers One Change has ever trained in all the time that we’ve existed,” marvelled Stuart Hickox, the organization’s president.

Hickox founded One Change in 2006 after the success of his door-to-door Project Porchlight campaign, which distributed 250,000 free compact fluorescent light bulbs to Ottawa households.

It has since run light bulb campaigns across North America, distributing more than three million “CFLs” in 900 communities.

Until now, its biggest U.S. success was in New Jersey, where Project Porchlight has reached 1.3 million homes.

But the multimillion-dollar contract in California, which runs until December 2012, is a leap beyond that. With 37 million residents, the state’s population is larger than Canada’s.

The state utility will test One Change’s approach in three regions over the next two years. If successful, it will be extended to other regions after that.

One Change used footage of the porchlight campaigns in Ottawa and New Jersey to show the Californians how community-based social marketing can persuade people that simple measures can make a difference.

“They were really impressed by the idea that you could create a social movement for energy conservation using real people.” Since 2001, California has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote energy conservation. But largely because of deep-rooted cynicism about official programs, the response has been tepid.

“There was no tangible action connected to it,” Hickox said. “There were no real people speaking on behalf of it. We provide the bridge between the typical utility program and real people.” Over the next six months, One Change plans to identify dozens of key “influencers” in the state — politicians, sports figures, teachers, faith leaders.

Then it will bring them together to “buy into the notion that we want to create action on the ground, not awareness,” said Hickox.

They’ll form the leadership of the 15,000-strong volunteer corps that will go door-to-door, distributing free products and using that “moment of reciprocity,” as Hickox calls it, to convey information about energy-saving programs they can tap into.

That’s paid big dividends in past campaigns. In New Jersey, for example, participation in a state fridge-recycling program was 250-per-cent higher in neighbourhoods canvassed by One Change volunteers. “It’s really powerful,” Hickox said.

The organization’s methods have become increasingly sophisticated. It now uses census data and mapping software so volunteers can customize their message and the free products they distribute.

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