Empowering Communities through Energy Efficiency

Year Complete: 2016
Grant Amount: $30,000
Local Government: City of Knoxville, TN
Local Foundation: United Way of Greater Knoxville, East Tennessee Foundation

Project Purpose

To launch an education and engagement campaign to empower disadvantaged residents in Knoxville to reduce utility bills through energy efficient behavior and cost effective upgrades.

Key Lessons Learned

Lessons learned about tools and tactics through the project that other sustainability directors could use to advance their work.

  1. Take the Time to Design: By taking the time to really understand industry research, partner perspectives, and community preferences, grant partners were able to design Savings in the House to reflect best practice while also matching closely with community capacity and interests. Without this match, it would have been more difficult to establish consensus and recruit partners to assist in implementation.
  2. Be Rigorous in Planning, but Flexible in Execution: The Savings in the House planning phase was crucial, but equally important was taking on the mentality that unforeseen challenges are inevitable. The dynamics of the Smarter Cities Partnership allowed grant partners to be adaptable and respond to unanticipated roadblocks with creative solutions.
  3. Partner Alignment is Critical: Grant partners engaged a wide variety of stakeholders early and often in the design phase of Savings in the House. This “Education Work Group,” in turn, presented the campaign to other Smarter Cities Partners in order to establish buy-in to the overall approach before beginning implementation. Partner buy-in also helps ensure that the Savings in the House campaign continues through on-going efforts, even beyond the life of Partners for Places grant funding.
  4. Measurement of Impact: An on-going challenge will be measuring impact as the Savings in the House campaign continues. Results indicate that peer-to-peer direct outreach is more effective than traditional marketing at encouraging resident engagement with energy efficiency education opportunities.  Still to be measured, however, is whether this engagement actually leads to increased energy efficiency habits. The City is still exploring methodologies to quantify any correlation between the campaign and reduced energy use.

Lessons for developing a collaborative process between a local government sustainability director and local place-based foundation(s).

One of the most important lessons is to engage potential local foundation partners early and often. United Way’s engagement with the Smarter Cities Partnership beginning in 2013 meant they understood the history of the grant proposal and saw how it advanced both United Way funding and community priorities. Both United Way and East Tennessee Foundation expressed appreciation for the community-wide partnership underlying the program design. Splitting the local match requirements between two local foundation partners also helped make the opportunity more accessible to funders. East Tennessee Foundation in particular noted that they were attracted to an opportunity to leverage investment 3:1, with their contribution of $15,000 leveraging an additional $45,000 from other sources. East Tennessee Foundation also expressed interest in the program because, while they had previously funded programs addressing similar needs, the Partners for Places grant aimed to address the issue at a more systemic level, hopefully reducing the need to fund additional programs in the future. The ability to show alignment and integration with existing programs is important for funders who have been working in the community for a long time and may have funded similar activities in the past.

Additional Information and Resources

As part of their work, the city of Knoxville created the Savings in the House website to promote workshops and community outreach. Read more about their efforts and ongoing funding from USDN for this project here.