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I propose to mobilize communities using social campaigns that emphasize accountability, feedback, and infrastructure.



If individuals and communities could be persuaded to shift daily practices while orienting their community toward an alternative clean energy source that makes sense for their area, fossil fuel-based electricity could be drastically reduced and clean electricity could gain an important foothold. I propose to mobilize communities using social campaigns that emphasize accountability, feedback, and infrastructure with two specific goals in mind: improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable resources. These two goals will be accomplished using a three step plan implemented by local governments and tied together with overarching social programs. The first step is shifting individual behaviors and lifestyle choices at a residential level to accept sustainable technologies and sustainable behaviors through community-based social marketing. The second step is shifting community practices towards sustainability using an incentivizing loan program with a standardized measuring system and clear, tangible objectives. The final step is shifting the primary energy generation base to clean, zero-emissions alternative sources by employing federal public policy, like tax incentives and subsidies, to update and improve infrastructure. The versatility and structure of the final step will be illustrated by describing a possible infrastructure project to connect coastal communities. This three step plan can be modified and used as a template for sustainable action by any community, capitalizing on the resources available to specific locales. Each campaign will be implemented by local governments, headed by mayors and local committees within individual communities. Mobilized communities will provide the framework for shifting individual behaviors and mindsets, so that cities collectively adopt clean energy choices and efficient energy practices resulting in reduced GHGs. Though this plan is intended for the United States, if successful, it will act as a model for other nations.

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from electric power sector.

What actions do you propose?

Sustainable action to reduce GHG emissions must begin at an individual level through behavior modification and acceptance of sustainable technologies.  In the past, education or simple economic incentives have been the primary methods implemented to change behaviors. However, it has been shown that “nonintegrated intensive approaches” toward altering individuals’ behavior, like education or economic incentives, are not successful (Fostering Sustainable Behavior 1999).  By contrast, the feedback and pragmatism of community based social marketing (CBSM) has been proven to be highly effective in shifting behaviors.  I propose local governments, spearheaded by mayors and local committees, as the chief organizing agents because of their close community ties and access and knowledge of local resources.  CBSM begins by identifying the barriers and benefits to an activity, through focus groups, observations, and surveys of residents, along with research and review of relevant articles. In general, barriers to energy conservation might include perceived lack of convenience, ignorance, or misinformation.  Barriers to alternative energy resource acceptance might include concern for neighborhood aesthetics, perceived negative externalities like noise and construction, or concern over cost. It is important to recognize and address these barriers in order for CBSM to progress successfully.  This could be done by providing accurate information to citizens and showing how benefits outweigh costs in tangible, relatable ways, as in money or health benefits.  

The next step of CBSM is to develop a strategy using tools that have been proven to be effective in changing behavior (Australasian Marketing Journal 2014).  Out of the normal set of CBSM tools, I postulate that individual electricity efficiency will be most improved through commitment, prompts, and communication.  The “commitments” tool capitalizes on the principle that if individuals agree to do something small, like sign a “Promise to Reduce Electricity Agreement” then they will be far more likely to agree to a larger request, like replacing incandescent light bulbs with florescent bulbs.  Further, commitments can be made public, like listing the names of residents who made a commitment to reduce electricity in the local newspaper, to reinforce behavior with accountability.  The “prompts” tool addresses the inherent human tendency of forgetfulness. This problem can be fixed with visually interesting and well placed signs, as well as TV ads or posters, to remind people of the commitment they made and the tangible benefits they would be receiving if they reduced electricity consumption.  Catchy campaigns ads could remind individuals to only run washing machines and dishwashers when they are full or to buy “Energy Star” appliances.  The last tool, “communication,” addresses how information is presented to an individual.  Messages should be vivid, tangible, specific, easy to remember, and consistent with the beliefs and behaviors of the community.  Further, messages should be presented by trusted and credible sources, like the mayor or a distinguished scientist, and should be framed to emphasize what an individual would lose by not acting. While these tools work well for energy efficiency, a new set of CBSM strategies must be crafted to prompt acceptance of alternative energy sources.

 I postulate that the most effective tools to prompt individuals to accept and utilize sustainable technology are prompts, norms, and incentives.  While the type of technology can be shifted depending on the community and may improve in the future, I suggest smart grids as a current starting basis for most communities wanting to encourage sustainable technology with CBSM because of their remarkable ability to act as prompts to reduce electricity usage.  With In Home Displays (IHDs), consumption of electricity can be adjusted in response to a signal to do so, which includes the tangible prompt of price (Smart Grid 2013).  Further, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) can provide bi-directional communication of data at fine-time intervals to allow individuals to see and control their electrical consumption even when not in the home.  One study found that using CBSM to get individuals to accept and use smart grids reduced end-user electricity consumption in Western Australia by 10% in participating households (Renewable Energy 2014).   A second CBSM tool to encourage technology acceptance is social norms, which often guide how individuals behave.  If every household in the neighborhood connects to a smart grid or installs solar panels or wind turbines, individuals are more likely to ‘go with the flow’ and follow the trend.  Incentives complete this trio of tools.  This strategy works particularly well with smart grids because they allow individuals to sell back excess energy to the electricity sector, motivating individuals through profit. 

The last steps in the overall CBSM process are piloting the chosen strategy and evaluating the results, both of which are useful in refining and expanding the CBSM program (Fostering Sustainable Behavior 1999). These steps are also essential in providing feedback from citizens to the local government so that any inadequacies can be fixed.  An open flow of communication is necessary for CBSM’s success

As citizens become more focused on sustainability and grow to accept alternative resources, local governments can implement an incentivizing loan program to aid community growth toward electricity reduction and foster investment in renewable resources. Mayors may at first be reluctant to create such a program.  However, when paralleled with a Green City Recognition Award that publically honors mayors and their cities who meet tangible green goals through embracing a loan program, this project becomes feasible. Much like the Green Revolving Fund (GRF), a 12 million dollar revolving loan fund that provides capital for high-performance campus design, operations, maintenance, and occupant projects, this incentivizing program will have a revolving endowment, but one that is suitable for each particular community (Western Michigan University 2011).  However, this fund will be more focused on occupant and community projects, rather than colleges or institutions, and will take bimonthly measurements of the reduction of fossil-fuel based electricity consumption.  The incentivizing program, called Green Revolving Capital for the Community (GRCC), will loan individuals or groups sums of money to carry out green ideas that cut electricity or generate electricity without fossil fuels.  Funds could be used by individuals to update neighborhood buildings by adding insulation to cut heating and cooling expenses, changing windows for double glazing, or adding outside shades to use in the summer.  Similarly, community groups could borrow capital to install alternative energy sources, like wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal energy, as a city-wide source of fossil-fuel-free electricity.   GRCC funds could also be used by community investors or companies for sustainable building.  For example, a housing company in which engineers passively designed houses could use GRCC funds to develop a neighborhood of zero-electricity homes.  Before borrowing funds from GRCC, groups would have to submit a detailed plan with tangible goals that could be monitored by a local GRCC committee appointed by the mayor. Once approved to participate, the individuals, community groups, or companies borrowing GRCC funds would have a full 10 years (or less) to pay back the borrowed capital.  However, the borrowed capital would be generated through money saved by reducing or producing electricity, meaning that groups borrowing money will essentially bear no real costs. Once the money has been paid back, GRCC will continue to lend out funds to other groups in a continuous effort to reduce community-wide consumption of fossil-fuel generated electricity and to increase generation of clean electricity. Loans will be staggered to ensure that when one group is borrowing funds another group is paying them back, reducing the risk of overdrawing from GRCC.  The predicted success of this program can be seen through the success of its cousin, GRF.  Since its creation, GRF has successfully helped craft close to 200 green projects, which have yielded over 4 million dollars in energy savings each year (Western Michigan University 2011). GRCC has the potential to be integrated into almost any community. However, different areas will use GRCC funds for different purposes, highlighting the adaptability and flexibility of the program. The potential barrier preventing GRCC’s development and implementation is finding a way to set aside sufficient funds from local government coffers. Poorer areas may not be able to afford such a large investment, however nearby more affluent communities can spread their own GRCC to incorporate such communities in a nation-wide attempt to reduce GHGs.

After the community base has been thoroughly activated, the last step in transforming a city or county is to shift from a fossil-fuel based electricity generation system to an alternative, zero-emissions electricity generation system through infrastructure improvements. These shifts will not be done in solitude. Ideally closely linked cities, or those sharing the same natural resources could connect their electricity generation systems together to maximize efficiency and reduce costs. Such large scale projects will require funds outside of what local governments can acquire themselves or set aside. Therefore, federal public policy will be employed to provide funds for green energy infrastructure development. These policies will attempt to counteract the uneven economic playing field that currently dominates the electricity generation sector and makes fossil fuels so cheap. This will be done through a provision of subsidies for green infrastructure development and tax breaks to companies constructing alternative energy sources. Recently, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and bioenergy technologies have become cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, which decreases the need for specific economic support to provide investment opportunities.  However, this does not take into account the costs of integrating renewable schemes into an already functioning framework, as well as the cost of deconstructing fossil-fuel based electricity generation plants (Deploying Renewables 2011).  Furthermore, the infrastructure plans this step postulates are large-scale, complex, and community based, which will require additional funding to ensure speed and success. 

This third step is versatile in that it does not specify the technology that shifts electricity generation from fossil-fuels to clean energy. This will vary based on natural resources available to a particular area and locational limitations, such as weather, population, and community attitudes.  In order to illustrate this step, I will hypothesize a feasible infrastructure improvement idea connecting a series of coastal communities together. I propose a Coastal Electric Network (CEN) based on a system of wind turbines strategically placed off particularly windy coasts, reducing GHG emissions from the energy sector to zero when the network is complete. Much like Google Energy’s proposal for an electrical transmission backbone off the East Coast of the US, CEN would install a series of wind turbine lines along suitable coastlines of the US in the most effective collection areas (Sustainable Communities 2010).  Energy grids can transfer energy for about 300 miles, thus the energy collected from by CEN would support and connect communities as far as 300 miles inland (Renewable Energy 2014). The community-linking infrastructure development of this third and final step complements the locality of the other two steps and brings the proposal full circle.

Who will take these actions?

The plan’s three steps build on each other in the actors they use. The first step calls upon individuals within communities and on key aspects of local governments, meaning the mayor and local committees. Though this campaign would be promoted by the federal government, allowing local governments to organize and head up campaigns permits this program to work with and capitalize on unique regional variability, rather than being smothered by a rigid ‘blanket’ policy.  Further, local governments have the necessary actors and avenues for change, as well as a vested interest in their area's economic and community health, creating a potent motivator.  With specialized information and expertise that the federal government lacks, local governments are able to properly tailor this three-pronged approach to distinctive conditions and problems.  As energy setups are not consistent throughout the United States, a local focus is paramount. The second step, encompassing the actors of the first, calls upon the community as a whole, small businesses, companies, and community groups, to act collectively in order to reduce electricity consumption and develop clean electricity-generating alternative resources. The last step, by far the most complex and broad of the three, includes all of the aforementioned actors, as well as the federal government and international manufacturing companies to produce equipment for the alternative energy infrastructure.  Overall the emphasis in this program is on the actors as organizers, rather than centralized authorities setting standard precedents.  Though this is a contrast from the typical top-down environmental policy seen in Europe, in the United States structural variability as well as individualistic, business-oriented culture makes a bottom-up CBSM approach preferable.  While there will be a cost increase in the adaptation of a large-scale program to individual communities, the benefit in result warrants the extra spending.

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions will initially be taken within communities throughout the United States.  However, if the model is successful in reducing GHGs while still providing the amenities developed countries have become accustomed to and developing countries crave, then it should spread to other nations.  The program will work best in countries that face large structural differences like the United Sates.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

Rather than simply reducing GHGs released from electricity generation, this plan increases community cohesiveness. Also, the ties and communication routes between local government and its constituency will become more efficient and frequent, as these are requirements for the success of CBSM. A closer knit and better communicating community produces a higher quality of life. Another key benefit is the stability alternative energy sources provide for the power grid on high-risk days or extreme weather events.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind power helped keep lights on and insulate energy prices in the Midwest during the recent ‘polar vortex,’ safely providing energy to thousands of people (2014). This type of stabilization would be expanded nationwide through this three step proposal. Furthermore, electricity would be cheaper for consumers, while still allowing the energy sector to grow through maintenance and development of alternative energy resources.  

What are the proposal’s costs?

The costs of this proposal can be viewed through each step.  The first step would cost very little money.  Successful CBSM campaigns have run for about 80 dollars per person per workshop, which focus on implementing the tools and steps of CBSM discussed earlier.  If there are 6 workshops in a year, one every other month and about 1,000 people willing and able to participate in a community, then the cost would be 480,000 dollars.  This number will vary depending on the size of the community.  The next step, GRCC, will require anywhere from 1 million to 12 million dollars to be set aside as an endowment for this incentivizing program, again dependent on the size of the community.  The last step has variability as well based on the technology used and the extent to which the infrastructure is shifted. Based on an average of the amount of money it costs to implement large scale geothermal, wind, bioenergy, solar and hydro systems, this last step could produce a range of costs between 22 USD/MWh to 3900 USD/MWh.  This cost would be buffered by federal subsidies.

Time line

The first step could start immediately with CBSM strategies.  However, the second step would realistically take 3-5 years to organize and successfully implement.  The last step would probably require 3-5 years of planning and 10 years of construction, as well as approximately 2 years for federal subsidy policies and tax breaks to be crafted and then approved (Diverse Regional Needs 2014).  The best case scenario would be 15 years, and worst would be 17 years.  Once put in place these programs would continue to expand and develop, consistently reducing GHGs from the electricity sector.

Related proposals


Works Referenced or Cited

Australasian Marketing Journal: Special Issue on Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling by Luisa Perez-Mujica, Roderick Duncan, and Terry Bossomaier, published by AMJ, 2014.  Pages 36-44.

Bayer, Tildy. "Marine Life Unhindered by Offshore Wind Farm, Study Says."Renewable Energy World. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

"Diverse Regional Needs: The Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB)." MARACOOS. University of Delaware, 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. .

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr and William Smith, published by New Society Publishers, 1999. 

Renewable Energy: Deploying Renewables. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2011. Print.

Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development and Decarbonisation by Martin Anda, and Justin Temmen, published by Renewable Energy Journal, 2014. Pages 119-127.


Sustainable Communities: Toward Energy Independence and Carbon Neutral Communities by Woodrow W. Clark, published by Springer-Verlag New York Inc. , 2010.

Smart Grid: Infrastructure and Networking. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2013. Print.

"U.S. Wind Energy Output Breaks Records, Thanks to Transmission Upgrades and New Wind Development." American Wind Energy Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Western Michigan University: Quasi-Revolving Fund. Green Revolving Funds in Action: Case Study Series by Christina Billingsley, published by Sustainable Endowments Institute, 2011.