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Three Cities, Three Challenges

When most people imagine New York City, they see buildings – skyscrapers – apartments and offices. When energy efficiency professional looks at New York City, they see radiators – steam heat and inefficient systems.

In Pittsburgh, it has been difficult to achieve consumer buy-in, as it is in many big cities with an aging infrastructure.

And in New Orleans, where the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) just hosted its 28th Annual Meeting, some members of the population are economically disadvantaged and the city still faces post Katrina challenges and topographic challenges.

Representatives from all three cities shared insights at the meeting, the most highly attended of any AESP conference.

“Grassroots Green Homes (GGH) is a place-based program that empowers neighborhood residents to increase energy efficiency and home health through a neighbor-to-neighbor education model. The program operates within select neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, typically those with lower median income and older housing stock. Homes in this region are some of the oldest in the country, frequently energy inefficient, and often host to health hazards such as lead paint, mold, and radon. The goal of GGH is to engage achieve deep energy savings and long-term behavior change through individual coaching and connecting residents to resources,” said Allison Steele with Conservation Consultants Inc.

GGH engaged over 1500 neighborhood residents in conversation about the program, with over 500 expressing a desire to participate. Over 150 participants willingly shared their gas and electric usage information, which our utility partners helped us gather for analysis.

On average, participants who shared their utility information used less energy during the program year than they did during the year prior, despite the fact that the program year included a hotter summer and a colder winter than the baseline year. Normalizing data for variations in weather, we observed an average reduction of approximately 15%, with variations in the exact numbers depending on summer vs. winter and electric vs. gas usage. 

What were the key takeaways?

  • Achieve in-roads into communities after establishing relationships with Community Based Organizations. Coming into a community as a new, unknown, and untested program, there was some skepticism and resistance. Partnering with local, trusted organizations that are part of the fabric of the community gave GGH legitimacy that it would not have had otherwise.
  • Increase program bandwidth and effectiveness with resident participation. It is a rare organization that is not set up for community organizing but does have the resources for continued interaction with hundreds of households. Incorporating a train-the-trainer model allows for a viral approach to recruiting, toolkit distribution, support, and feedback by engaging people who already know their neighbors and have a long-term stake in the community.
  • Build long-term community resilience through common goals and neighbor support. The purpose of extending the program over the course of a year rather than to distribute all of the tools and materials in a one-time interaction is to build habits around energy efficiency and home health. Changing behavior requires ongoing support and engagement, which was provided over the course of the program and can hopefully continue in the network built by the participants.

In New York City, the Retrofit Accelerator Program offers free, personalized advisory services to streamline the process of energy efficiency improvements.

Retrofit is one of the only options, as 90 percent of the buildings currently in NYC will still be there in 2050, and 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, said Luke Surowiec, ICF and Ali Levine, with the NYC Mayor’s Office on Sustainability.

The program’s individualized assistance has already reached 4,500 buildings, and 1,000 buildings have completed at least one project.


Through an innovative and eye-catching advertising and marketing program, Retrofit Accelerator has communicated the options to upgrade better steam heat, with a boiler tune up, improved venting, sensors and thermostatic radiator valves. The program also offers residents tips on ways to keep drafts out of homes.

The program estimates that it has reduced emissions in the amount of 160,000 metric tons of CO2e.

And in the Big Easy? Energy Smart New Orleans, a demand side management collaboration between the city and Entergy New Orleans, is unique in that the specifics of the program are developed by the City Council. The overarching goal is to make the program feel that it is as unique and special to New Orleans as Mardi Gras and the Saints.

To accomplish that feel, the program has about a dozen partners that connect the program to schools, offices, homes, and other constituencies, said Derek Mills, Entergy New Orleans and Jacqueline Dadakis, Green Coast Enterprises.

During the AESP conference, the city and Entergy announced the Downtown NOLA Energy Challenge in which downtown buildings will compete for rewards based on energy efficiency measures.

“New Orleans was not only a great host city for our conference, it was a real time example of how a major city can increase efficiency by thinking in many ways like a small town,” said John Hargrove, CEO of AESP.

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