Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Engaging NYC Community Groups to Promote Sustainability Initiatives

Over the last year, this blog has explored ways that community-based nonprofit organizations (CBOs) could earn income from promoting sustainability initiatives. Government leadership on sustainability is centrally important, of course, but enlisting the active support of community organizations is potentially powerful. Because CBOs can reach out to neighbors and networks of close relationships, they can be very effective marketing partners in sustainability projects. The articles in this series draw on interviews with many sustainability program providers and advocates in NYC, and on our direct experience promoting a range of services in western Queens at Long Island City Partnership.

In fall 2012 we published a report looking into potential projects in composting, urban agriculture, energy efficiency retrofits and solar power for CBOs with more local contacts than cash.  

The ideal sustainability program to engage community groups would provide:

(1) enough incentive for community groups to make the effort of promoting them
(2) enough benefit for constituents to sign up
(3) value in the form of income, savings, goods, services, or social capital
(4) low entry and set-up costs
(5) applicability to NYC

"The report is quite impressive, synthesizing a lot of information."

- Kubi Ackerman, Project Director, Urban Design Lab at The Earth Institute, Columbia University; Lead author, "The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City."

Our updated results

There's probably no opportunity for CBOs to earn easy income through compost, and probably not through urban agriculture either. The good news: CBOs can earn money from promoting solar energy systems right now. It's easy and we'll show you how, on request.

Lessons from the City's white roof painting program

Here's an example of a sustainability initiative that's great for the City as a whole, but insufficiently appealing to would-be participants. Highly reflective white roofs are much cooler in summer than NYC's standard black tar roofs. Through promoting the NYC program to paint roofs white we learned that savings to individual building owners from lower electric bills were too small to induce owners to pay for the cost of paint, even if the City took care of labor costs. The City sensibly upgraded the building code to require that new and repaired roofs meet minimum reflectivity standards - which will gradually and unobtrusively cool more of NYC roofs. Without enough incentive, voluntary programs don't work.

Upcoming posts in this series

- Case study: community group promotes energy efficiency upgrades, participation goes way up. 

- Easy income from urban agriculture? Not so much.

- Can community groups sell compost instead of Girl Scout cookies? 

- Finally, we'll show you the money: referral fees for promoting solar PV system installations.  We'll reveal our model so you can try it in your own neighborhood.

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