Effective Methods of Public Education, Marketing and Outreach

Max Beasley, Jenna Fierstein, Hyo Kim, Kaila Raybuck

Summary of Recommendations

After consideration of the challenges faced with education, marketing and outreach of energy efficiency and the evaluation of several case studies, the following recommendations were chosen to be the most effective:
  • Collaboration with community leaders allows marketing firms and home improvement programs to build momentum for energy efficiency and conservation. These leaders are already established in a position where decisions can be readily endorsed by constituents. Moreover, citizens would be more likely to participate in a program if it is supported by a familiar figure.
  • The effective and exhaustive use of media has proven to be successful as technology created more opportunities for marketing. DVDs can be created to produce educational material, TV programs and newspaper articles
  • provision of rebates and other financial incentives for purchase of energy efficient products
  • information about energy upgrades and how individuals can conserve energy


Energy efficiency, like most environmentally friendly ideas, is traditionally associated with cost. When a campaign is purposed to plant trees, set greenhouse gas emission caps, or stop the use of a specific toxin, an individual’s first reaction is to question how much it will cost. Moreover, we have gotten so used to this idea of extreme economic cost that is associated with the environmental movement that we fail to judge policies from a dispassionate perspective. Energy efficacy through weatherizing of homes is actually something with not only environmental opportunities, but economic ones as well. Several of these opportunities and benefits lie within effective public education, marketing, and outreach.

The first and most accessible opportunity of outreach is job creation. Outreach and public education creates jobs. Energy efficiency currently is one of our biggest untapped resources. It is not a traditional physical resource like coal or oil, but can be used in a similar way. When extracting oil from a well, there are several benefits commonly cited. Job creation involved in actually harvesting and extracting the oil, and the actual oil itself. Energy efficiency outreach has these same benefits. Outreach and public education creates jobs that are in high demand. In our current economy, everyone is interested in saving money. Therefore, energy efficiency must also be looked at as a resource. Energy upgrades allow us to live more comfortably and use fewer of our dirty burning fossil fuels. Moreover, energy upgrades do not come with the negative costs associated with oil or coal like greenhouse gas emissions, smog, or excessive wastewater runoff.
A second opportunity from the outreach process is the interaction between multiple levels of government. Local, state, and federal government programs are notorious for clashing with one another and are often a bureaucratic nightmare. Therefore, a successful energy upgrade campaign can be used as an example and a model for further public outreach efforts at multiple levels. Energy upgrades inherently draw upon multiple levels of government. It takes the state and the federal government funding a program that utilizes local jobs and communities. This interaction is an opportunity in itself to better the interactions between multiple government levels and agencies.
The local jobs created through energy efficiency have additional opportunities for specific communities. Localization of jobs gives a familiarity to the process and increases community communication and level of importance. Moreover, communities that have close ties are more capable of social change and create impactive relationships among their members. Local jobs will create multiple opportunities related to this relationship between the individual and their community. Local jobs also provide more opportunities for easy commuting to work and a greater sense of ownership in what one does. These are additional benefits of local job creation not found in traditional energy methods which focus on shipping goods across the country or even internationally.
Education and outreach also provide opportunities that can have lasting impacts on the future. A community with a strong energy upgrade campaign will have children that grow up around this process. This will allow energy efficiency to become familiar and a societal norm. This has the opportunity to also further other environmentally related fields. An area with strong community ties and energy efficient homes will naturally be more sustainable and resilient. This will inevitably lead to personal value of one’s geographical location, which will encourage genuine care of the natural world and help the environmental movement as a whole.


Educating the public about energy efficiency and retrofitting is the first step towards progress, as well as the first challenge. Targeting the proper audience is key to expanding the success rate in energy efficiency, but the difficulty lies in reaching out to the right people, and those that will be receptive. Once you have captured the attention of a group, you then need to engage them in following the proper steps and passing that information on to future generations. Issues also arise regarding those who are knowledgeable about retrofitting. They simply cannot inform businesses and individuals that they should become energy efficient, there needs to be a clear sense of direction on how to accomplish these goals. Gaining the interest of numerous audiences is a difficult task. Educators themselves need to be display confident and knowledgeable attitudes in order to both gain and retain the trust of their targeted followers.
Reaching out to different audiences’ means different tactics and techniques will need to be implemented in order to obtain results, yet another challenge. A smart scheme is to involve younger generations, such as school age children, to ingrain into them at a young age the importance of energy efficiency. Those knowledgeable enough to teach the younger generations cannot just run into schools and preach to children, they need to get approval from the school as well as make sure their content is correct for the age group. This challenge encompasses reaching out to any group, the manner in which one goes about it needs to be in such a way that the audience they are targeting can understand.
A second major challenge in educating the public is the inclusion of Stakeholders. Involvement of big companies is a great way to promote efforts towards a more energy efficient lifestyle, and if this becomes a new trend, there will be a greater interest in investment.
The third challenge in public education is the actual education process in itself. Many people simply do not want to retrofit their homes or business because it is not convenient to their lifestyle. Many jobs can be created, which in turn helps to boost the local economy, but many individuals are unaware of this. To reach out to the public, there needs to be an actual place where they can go to be informed, whether it is a public place such as a library, park or even a website, someone needs to make these options available. The task of finding place or creating informative websites is a job in itself, which is yet another advantage.

When branching out to the public, there is no room for error. Educators cannot make false presumptions or incorrect claims to try to pull in an audience, therefore the marketing strategy needs to be concise and informative. If educators begin making false claims or promises, and a different result occurs, the reputability of energy efficiency will quickly be lost. The public is already skeptical towards these new practices as is, and any mistakes will push back any further progress. Making a declaration about retrofitting and being able to see it through will not hinder the progress, but sometimes mistakes and accidents occur that are out of the control of those in charge, which set them back.
The results of energy retrofitting are not seen immediately, making it difficult for many individuals to buy into the system. Most consumers see the short term goal in such terms that they will to spend a lot of money upfront. This can seem unappealing and be a turn off to most people, with money being one of the greatest challenges. It is important to educate people about different loan options available, as well as inform them of the money they will be making back in the Long term. Looking at energy efficiency in the long term is often a difficult task for many individuals.
Genuinely motivating individuals is very difficult, especially when results are seen in the long term. Educating people in all the benefits they can gain for themselves personally as well as their surroundings is difficult because they will not immediately see the results they are promised, making it difficult for them to buy into the system, and trust these programs.

Best Practices

Vermont: Efficiency Vermont: Ask Rachel

In 2004 Efficiency Vermont developed a plan called “Ask Rachel”, which is currently called “Ask the home team”, a free column printed in local newspapers. The column was supported by an actual employee for Efficiency Vermont and worked specifically well for the state because of the large number of small rural communities. Over 30 percent of call and queries directed to the energy efficiency help line were questions because of or directed to the column.

This type of ongoing outreach proved to be very successful and provide an ongoing place for people to receive public education and find information about energy upgrades. Not only was this a cost effective method, but it also allowed Efficiency Vermont to develop a kind of familiarity among neighborhoods and communities. To further this familiarity, in 2007 Efficiency Vermont launched their Mascot Watson, a lightning bug to appear at their events. They have had several more traditional campaigns and studies since “Ask Rachel”, but none of them as original as the ongoing familiarity campaign provided by “Ask Rachel”.
An additional and more traditional campaign designed by Efficiency Vermont, was their “New Bulb in Town” campaign. It was to encourage people to use bulbs of appropriate mater and energy efficiency to light their signs and storefronts. This campaign also featured a mascot, Jesse the CFC bulb.

Flex Your Power Campaign

The Flex Your Power (FYP) Campaign was a state program developed by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and California utilities as a means to mitigate the threat of rolling blackouts through the strengthening of demand-side management and response strategies. The Campaign was sectioned into three parts - FYP General, FYP Rural, and FYP Spanish - so as to allow for increased effectiveness in reaching out to as many Californians as possible. Specific outreach tactics utilizing the media included: (1) the internet (a website, blog, email newsletters, peak-demand-period alerts and links to local resources); (2) television (FYP Spanish was in partnership with the Spanish language cable TV provider Univision; TV advertisements in Spanish; FYP General incorporated four TV advertisements in English; discussions about FYP opportunities on Univision talk shows); and (3) radio advertisements in both Spanish and English. FYP targeted residential, commercial, institutional, industrial, and agricultural sectors within each of these three sections of the campaign.

The campaign was designed to educate and inform the public about natural gas and electricity savings potential through both energy efficiency and conservation efforts. Various energy efficiency tools and topics were emphasized, ranging from behavioral changes and energy savings tips to product guides. This strategy - catering to a wide array of interests - allowed for an even greater degree of success in public outreach. Information was provided on rebates and other incentives. Practical steps that citizens can take to reduce energy use were publicized in the form of Water and Energy Conservation Kits (packages including brochures with tips and information on reducing utility bills and conserving water and energy). The option to participate in a program offering financial incentives in return for cutting down on one’s energy use during periods of high demand (in an effort to prevent rolling blackouts) was offered. Rebates were offered on energy efficient technologies and products (such as Energy Star refrigerators), and coupons were distributed for free compact fluorescent bulbs (to encourage use of more energy efficient lighting in homes and businesses). Best practices were described to facility managers in a variety of sectors.

Examples of public services and incentives offered included landscaping classes and the leasing of electric vehicles to city departments, as well as rebates for purchase of electric vehicles, installment of solar roofs, and refrigerator recycling, in addition to the rebates offered for purchase of energy-efficient Energy Star products. Educational information was printed in neighborhood association newsletters; and a monthly business newsletter spotlighted one business each month for its contribution to energy efficiency and conservation. A phone hotline - AnswerLine - was also established as a means of communicating with the public.

FYP was designed, managed, and evaluated using contractors paid with utility Public Benefit Charge funds. The program commissioned evaluation of its efficacy more than once, and has been modified to reflect the feedback received. The program’s outreach was very successful with regard to achievement of widespread recognition, although its success was more limited in fostering individual empowerment - i.e., the consensus was that not enough information was provided on what people can do as individuals to be more energy efficient.

Bringing Good Energy to Oregon

In 2008, the Energy Trust of Oregon hired Conservation Services Group (CSG) to help market Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, a house retrofitting program. Their mission was to increase the number of participants as well as have them understand the various tools, incentive and training opportunities. CSG created a strategy to reinforce this and to help contractors with their sales efforts. CSG used visual, written and educational tactics to increase program awareness among the consumers. By doing so, One of their projects was to create and distribute a DVD featuring a Home Performance contractor who goes through a home assessment step-by-step until its final evaluation. This provides valuable information that is accessible and comprehensible. CSG also promoted training for contractors to learn sales and marketing techniques and familiarize themselves with current building technologies. Learning both of these tactics allow them to be well-rounded therefore becoming more efficient in interacting with future customers.
In terms of advertisement, CSG coordinated title sponsorship on an annual Better Living Show to promote the program and company. In addition, 39 events were held to educate consumers and to assist program contractors with outreach. Media and grassroots tactics were key to publicizing to the masses in the shortest amount of time. Combining these methods with collaboration created an even more effective advertisement plan; people who are already interested in home improvement will be exposed to this new style of retrofit.

As a result of this efficient marketing strategy, Energy Trust managed to extend to 1.3 million eligible customers through the Internet, advertising, and cross-promotion with other Energy Trust programs. More specifically the program reached 1,040 homes, a 61% increase over the prior year. Using the services of a specialized private company like CSG proved to be a smart move for Energy Trust; not only did they successfully reach their mission goal, but they also hired more program contractors that will eventually expand this program even further.

Energizing a Small Community to Create Big Changes

In the town of Marshfield, Massachusetts demand for electricity was on its way to exceeding capacity in two years or less. CSG (Conservation Services Group) and NSTAR electric worked together to devise a marketing campaign that that would sufficiently capture the support of the community.

They created a pilot to begin reducing the overall energy usage which encompassed: reducing the demand on a congested circuit, testing the value of “Distributed Generation” and rallying the community together in order to face the challenge at hand. CSG played an important role in assisting with the Marshfield challenge, beginning with meeting and working with the community leaders, such as NSTAR, funder MA Renewable Energy Trust, groSolar and RISE Engineering to develop an outreach effort. They also had a role in creating and executing a comprehensive marketing-drive program.

The community of Marshfield benefited in several ways as well. All NSTAR customers received a free energy assessment, and those who qualified received 75% in cost sharing plans for air sealing and insulation. Also all the benefits received and work put in by leaders came at zero cost to the town.

CSG and NSTAR had two major goals: a zero percent increase in load growth, and a two megawatt peak load reduction in 18 months. To obtain these goals they used several marketing strategies in order to gain the interest and cooperation of the town. They developed the message “it’s about where we live, work and play” including visuals and branding to go with it. Also postcards and collateral were distributed to residents as well as dedicated customer contact services made readily available. Radio spots, local newspaper ads, internet and community awareness events where utilized for promoting as well. These companies also conducted energy assessments to assess whether customers would benefit from a PV (solar photovoltaic) system and offered $150 rebates on refrigerators.

All of their incentives and marketing to the town paid off, and the kilowatt savings goal was met. Participation in NSTARs energy efficiency program increased by a factor of 13 - from 50 to 650 homes. The congested circuit was relieved, the energy assessments audit goal was surpassed and the overall measure installation goals were met. Overall, CSG and NSTAR electric had successful and effective market strategies that helped them to fix the issue in the town of Marshfield.

Best Practices

The Efficiency Vermont program utilized newspaper columns as a means of communicating with the public; a mascot to facilitate recognition of the program; and provided information about energy upgrades. The Flex Your Power campaign incorporated effective use of media for outreach - including the internet (website, blog, email newsletters, links to local resources), tv (adverts/commercials, talk shows discussing benefits of program); and radio adverts. Importantly, the program was bilingual: it included outreach efforts presented in both Spanish and English. The program targeted multiple different sectors, provided information on rebates and other incentives; tips on energy and conservation tips; and other public services. It also held a hotline, and made a point of commissioning evaluations and modifying the program based on feedback. The Bringing Good Energy to Oregon campaign, a home retrofitting program, utilized DVDs as a means of outreach, as well as provided training opportunities in sales and marketing techniques, and familiarized individuals with current building technologies. Written, visual, and audio media were incorporated in the campaign efforts. The campaign efforts in Marshfield, Massachussetts included meeting and working with community leaders to develop outreach and marketing strategies catered to the area; offered free energy assessments to all NSTAR customers; and utilized radio, local newspaper ads, the internet, and community awareness events in their outreach strategies.

Drawing from the reported successes in each of these case studies, the following best practices have been selected: (1) collaboration with community leaders; (2) effective and exhaustive use of media; (3) provision of rebates and other financial incentives for purchase of energy efficient products; (4) use of a mascot; (5) information about energy upgrades and how individuals can conserve energy; (6) multilingual campaign efforts; (7) newspaper columns (to communicate with the public); (8) telephone hotline; and (9) seeking out objective sources of feedback on the program’s efficacy and progress.

For Further Information

Conservation Services Group

Conservation services group is an energy upgrade company that has had many effective outreach campaigns and focuses on energy efficiency as an alternate positive alternative to fossil fuels.


NYSERDA: Green Jobs Green New York

A successful campaign focused on outreach for personal energy upgrades and retrofits in New York State. This is a good place to start to see a model of a successful statewide campaign that has effectively integrated its policies into local government as well.


Works Cited

The Healthy Communities Institute. "Flex Your Power Case Study: City of Pasadena." Healthy Arizona :: Better Health through Community. The Healthy Communities Institute, 2006. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. http://www.arizonahealthmatters.org/modules.php?op=modload.

Brown, Matthew. Alliance to Save Energy | Creating an Energy-Efficient World. Rep. The Alliance to Save Energy. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. http://ase.org/resources/brief-5-state-run-energy-efficiency-outreach-programs.

Howard, Katharine. "Home Performance with ENERGY STAR | Conservation Services Group (CSG) Case Study." Conservation Services Group (CSG) | Promoting Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources. CSG, Conservation Services Group. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. http://www.csgrp.com/business/casestudies/smark02.html

DeVito, Kathleen, Robert Eckel, and Bill Julio. "Energizing a Small Community to Create Big Changes | Conservation Services Group (CSG) Case Study." Conservation Services Group (CSG) | Promoting Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources. CSG, Conservation Services Group. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.csgrp.com/business/casestudies/smark01.html.