Tuesday, February 22, 2011

White roofs, a conversation starter

Rolling out the strategies according to plan, but behind schedule.
Things got very busy at the day job.  There was a major grant application that took up a lot of the organization's bandwidth, contributing to a lag of several weeks since my last post.  

During that time I've been moving forward with the first strategy, of targeted outreach.  After pitching Dr. Bednarz to a slew of graduate student groups at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, and contacts at the New School and NYU, I have one interested group, and am simply waiting to see if they proceed.  I pitched The Nation Magazine on one or more local events to tie into their online video series, but they weren't interested.

The second strategy - grassroots organizing around appealing sustainability initiatives - is less paradigm changing, but easier to make progress with.  Here are the ways it plugs into the larger goals discussed on this blog:

- There are many civic groups that don't see themselves as sustainability advocates, but who can transmit very green initiatives into far-reaching local networks - if they see where those initiatives further their own agendas.
- City level green initiatives can always use some promotional support.
- Positioning oneself on the edge of City level initiatives, and neighborhood networks who could potentially adopt them, allows the social change entrepreneur to offer value to both groups.  Permaculture people will recognize the potential of edges within ecosystems. 
- This work can develop a growing community of contacts who can be educated about still more sustainability initiatives. 
- More crucially, that community can eventually be educated about why sustainability initiatives will be increasingly necessary.  However, it will be very counterproductive to raise those topics prematurely.

So, focusing on the NYC CoolRoofs program, I've done a few things.  Working closely with the program staff, who operate out of the NYC Department of Buildings, I put together a seven page memo that explains in great detail exactly how commercial building owners and nonprofits can get the City to paint their roofs white, what they have to put in, and what they get from the City or other partners.  It also serves as a marketing piece for commercial building owners.  It's always good to be able to talk about lowering electric bills, and free labor to apply the white paint. 

They care only about whether and how they financially benefit from the program, and would be distressed  or offended if any appeal so much as mentioned climate change response. My research revealed that white roof coating of older NYC commercial / industrial buildings, with little insulation and black tar roofs, that are only one or two stories tall, will pay for the cost of the white paint in three years or less.   I'll target that appeal first to Long Island City commercial building owners that I know well, and then to larger lists.  If that service doesn't appeal, and the opportunity presents itself, I'll tell smaller electricity users about Con Ed's free energy efficiency survey, and its 70% discounts on many upgrades. 

To encourage western Queens nonprofits and civic groups to step forward and get their roofs coated, the appeal is partly about lowering air conditioning bills, but more about being perceived as a neighborhood leader.  The full memo on how to work the NYC CoolRoofs program is available on request.