You can call me an energy technology nerd, but I enjoy assisting clients in the development of energy management solutions that help to reduce our societal carbon footprint. More importantly, I find it intrinsically gratifying to develop successful consumer engagement strategies that incentivize the average citizen to reduce water and energy consumption. After all, we should all be good environment stewards. Yet, I attend energy and water management conferences where I am literally one of few Black people among conferences with attendances that range between 8,000 and 12,000 people. I also struggle to find Hispanics attending such events.
Since environmental sustainability is a global issue, it would stand to reason that initiatives related home energy management, water conservation, or recycling of any kind be targeted in an equitable manner. My point is not to make this a race issue, but to acknowledge “the elephant in the room”. A white upper middle class public utility corporate communications specialist inherently knows how to connect to her suburban neighbors. Tactics such as community forums, high-touch mobile displays, and engaging the church pastor will lead to significant traction in communities of color. Politician running for office have known that for a long time. After all, we are ultimately seeking ways to modify human behavior. The methods and the messenger matter for African-Americans and Hispanics – a lot!
The 2010 U.S. census counts almost 90,000,000 African-Americans and Hispanics collectively. Race or ethnicity aside, the fact is that we have to develop substantive consumer engagement strategies for such a large demographic. After all, everyone consumes water, uses electricity, and heats their homes. Institutions that serve the total public such as utilities and local governments have an obligation to create value propositions for all. If we are asking people to change habits, they have to understand what is in it for them. For poor and working class people of color, water and energy conservation has to be linked to cost savings. However, being an environmental steward may resonate more with higher income people of color. If the message of environmental stewardship is being driven home by someone with significant social or political capital within the community, then you will have more success. I have not even begun to overlay regional and age differences among communities of color. The larger point is that it is time to better engage people like me.
Despite all of this, I see progress on the horizon. Just as wireless phone providers slowly learned that people of colors also use cell phones, business models emerged to facilitate consumer preferences for communities of color. Various studies now show that African-Americans have a higher cell phone adoption and use rate than America in general. I expect the same phenomenon to occur in communities of color relative to the adoption of home energy and water management technology. At a recent consumer engagement symposium in Texas, a utility executive told me that he is engaging African-American pastors and politicians as a means of generating Smart Meter and energy management awareness within the service territory for his utility. Major energy trade organizations have made recent public declarations to develop consumer engagement strategies targeted to communities of color.
All of this signifies opportunity for people of color experienced in the development of customer segmentation strategies. Whether you be the owner of a public relations firm or a corporate communications specialist for a utility, this is represents a tremendous opportunity to contribute to your triple bottom line (financial, environmental stewardship, social responsibility). Retailers such as Best Buy are beginning to sell home energy management electronics. Green is becoming main stream. Pastors and grass roots community leaders also need to step up to the plate. Being a protector of the planet is a spiritual matter. The advocacy of green jobs workforce development programs can serve to economically revitalize many African-American and Hispanic communities. Although I believe that government and public sector institutions need to do more to ensure equity in the green movement, ultimately African-Americans and Hispanics have to take ownership of changing the landscape.