Putting Home Energy Upgrades on the Air

Rocky Mountain Institute has teamed up with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to supply the nation’s TV newscasters with materials about home energy upgrades that they can use in their broadcasts, blogs, and websites when they are most relevant. Drafty, energy-inefficient homes can seem perfectly fine when conditions are moderate, and many homeowners don’t think much about doing a home energy upgrade despite the many health, comfort, and financial benefits. But improved home energy performance can jump to the top of the priority list during a heat wave or a cold snap, during a power outage, or when the prices of home heating fuels soar. Local news stations cover all those events and when they do, expert home energy upgrade tips will now be at the fingertips of TV newscasters.


Relevant and Timely Home Energy Information

The evergreen package of seasonally relevant home energy materials, prepared by the two organizations working together, includes content ready for local newscasters to incorporate across their news channels. Each bundle of information includes angles and resources for producing a story or writing a blog, recommendations and action guides for viewers, and suggested social media content.

The material is organized around news triggers like weather events and disasters. For a cold or hot spell or a spike in oil prices, for example, there are stories about home energy upgrades to improve comfort and lower energy bills. When floods or hurricanes damage a community, stories focused on rebuilding to improve resilience, health, and economics are ready to go. NEEF will also push out information to its network of newscasters when such triggers occur, and will be adding new bundles of information about seasonal triggers as the seasons change.

There are even human-interest filler stories to highlight local people who are helping their families and communities get smarter about energy and the environment, while boosting the local economy. Nick Bradford, a senior research officer at NEEF, explains that such stories are an effective way to influence behavior: “Newscasters are showing on air that people around them are improving their homes, that their neighbors are doing these home energy upgrades,” making others more likely to do the same. Every type of news story helps people see that home energy issues are not unrelated to them.

A Unique and Trusted Channel for Energy and Climate Information

NEEF has a long history of supplying newscasters with trusted information. Congress established the organization in 1991 to promote environmental literacy as the nonprofit partner of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Though NEEF is supported in part by congressionally appropriated funds, it’s an independent nonprofit that is also supported by donations.) NEEF’s mission is to give Americans practical, accessible environmental information they can use through sources they know and trust—sources like TV newscasters.

Moreover, NEEF is nonpartisan and seeks to communicate most with those Americans who aren’t already committed to environmental causes, but are persuadable. They don’t need to reach Sierra Club members who are already conscious of environmental issues in their daily lives, nor stubbornly skeptical folks who are convinced that climate change is a hoax. Instead, NEEF wants to speak to the “moveable middle” on environmental issues, the vast portion of Americans who are receptive to environmental knowledge but only somewhat engaged. And even in these times of low trust in institutions, just about all Americans rely on their TV newscasters to give them good, actionable information, including those in the moveable middle.

For 15 years, NEEF has been providing environmental and climate-related information to newscasters so they can talk about those topics on air with their audiences and share materials with them online. Every week, NEEF provides shareable resources that newscasters can use to post articles on their own blogs and websites and to tweet with. For NEEF, it’s an ideal collaboration. NEEF’s Bradford said, “Research shows that weathercasters and newscasters are highly trusted by the general public and for many, weathercasters are the only—or one of the few—scientists who they see on a regular basis.”

This relationship works because NEEF consults with newscasters it has worked closely with over the years to tailor information to suit their needs, and because NEEF’s information is known and trusted. Some NEEF researchers are even members of the American Meteorological Society, just like all weathercasters, and they see each other at the society’s conferences. NEEF’s information relies on credible scientific sources, including peer-reviewed journal articles, the EPA, the Department of Energy, and RMI.

Past and Future Work with RMI

NEEF and RMI have collaborated over the past year on creative communications to spread information about the benefits of home energy upgrades through networks of trusted professionals—and sometimes very powerful yet unexpected messengers.

For example, RMI worked with NEEF to supply top energy-saving priorities to be promoted to sports fans through an innovative campaign with the National Basketball Association (NBA). This campaign featured animated bobbleheads of sports celebrities encouraging fans to improve the efficiency of their homes, and an interactive texting campaign launched at specific games. Over 9 million views of the posts and videos helped contribute to a “new normal” that having an efficient home is an expected part of modern life.

RMI and NEEF have also coproduced a series of infographics to reach consumers through other trusted sources. One infographic, targeting real estate professionals, provides ways in which they could leverage home energy performance as a means to improve competitive advantage and increase sales value. Another infographic, developed for NEEF’s network of health care professionals, provides talking points about how home energy upgrades create a better home health environment and can achieve better health outcomes, while conversely, unhealthy homes make health care professionals’ jobs harder.

The infographics were well received by NEEF’s real estate and health care networks. “RMI is a trusted, reliable source for energy information, so we were trying to find ways that we could work together to promote increased home energy performance,” said Bradford. “This [latest effort] was taking the next step, teaming up with RMI to discuss how we can relate home energy performance to weather in a way that weathercasters or newscasters can talk about with their audiences,” he observed.

Once the rollout of the newscaster’s package is complete, NEEF will begin planning the next steps to promote home energy upgrades with RMI through other social networks. Possibilities include K-12 schools, offices, and local sports teams. The key, says Bradford, is “to have people think more about their energy use at home and how it relates to improved health and improved money saving.” But there is even more at stake than the improved health and finances of individual American families. Bradford and RMI agree that part of the opportunity that home energy upgrades present is to “ultimately reduce emissions from energy generation and reduce human’s impact on the environment.” Which is good news indeed.