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Targeting underserved renewable energy adopters, we will make solar accessible and desirable with an info hub & national ad campaign.


Description

Summary

Instead of focusing on the problems of climate change, we want to raise awareness for solutions: using 100% renewable energy ASAP.   Solar energy–the fastest growing renewable resource– will be our entry point.  As a passionate coalition, United Under the Sun will:

  1. increase accessibility of solar power

  2. create a core iconic message to unite the industry

  3. build demand nationally.

To do this, we will enhance our site www.power4thepeople.org- a hub for going solar that will feature our iconic message.  The website will include clear, low effort directives on how to set up solar in participating states.  Links to state and federal programs, and mentors will guide people through the process.  

Using a slogan, a clever ad campaign and social media, we will unite the solar industry and turn the nation's attention to solar power. Our ad campaign will take a radical approach: rather than target environmentally-focused consumers, we will target traditionally-minded, low-income and non-homeowner consumers.  An environmental, morality-based conversation surrounding solar energy can be polarizing (Mooney, 2015, March 31);  we will shift the focus to energy independence, lower costs, and freedom from changing utility rates.  A careful design will allow us to keep potential customers that are already pro-renewables, but will put special efforts towards the non-environmental demographic with little knowledge of renewables.

Ultimately, individualized energy plans will be needed to attain a goal of 100% renewable energy use.  Almost every location in the United States can obtain a portion of their energy from solar, making it a strong entry point for renewables.  This will crack open awareness for the benefits of diversified energy sources and start moving the country towards climate change solutions.  

Most of the Climate CoLab grant will be used to establish the initial solar campaign and website, and remaining funds would go towards launching the coalition nationally.


What actions do you propose?

United Under the Sun will improve, maintain and develop markets for the solar industry by creating a coordinated program of research, promotion and consumer information.  A social media campaign and a website that makes obtaining solar power easily accessible will attract a target audience that is unfamiliar with solar benefits and shift attitudes and behaviors towards a new energy regime.  Our business model will be loosely based on the commodity research and promotion programs, aka “Checkoff Programs”, run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2014).  These Checkoff programs have produced iconic and successful campaigns such as “Got Milk”, “Pork: The Other White Meat”, “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” and “The Incredible, Edible Egg”.   In these campaigns, competitors banded under the same marketing scheme to drive demand for the industry as a whole.  With the increased popularity of the industry, companies then fought for their piece of that increased market share.  After initial startup, financing for United Under the Sun will come from the industry itself.  We will pool funds from solar companies in exchange for a guaranteed, measurable increase in consumer demand, access and use of solar installations.

There are many solar industry associations, some aim to educate and provide opportunities within the industry, while others advocate for the industry directly with utilities and policymakers.  These organizations build support for the industry, share statistics on the growth of solar power and connect the industry using social media.  None of them, however, have developed a mainstream campaign or aimed to shift norms and attitudes about solar among low-income and traditional-minded populations.  We believe it is time for a consumer focused media campaign that will benefit all industry players.

Why Solar?

There is a large sector of underserved populations in the US that would benefit greatly from the financial attributes of solar, but are not.   

For example, here are some compelling aspects of solar:

  • It is a great long-term home investment. Residential solar systems offer a better rate of return than the S&P 500.  Even in snow-ridden states, solar systems offer double digit returns on investment (Meehan, 2013).

  • Solar panel systems can pay themselves off in as little as four years and many installers offer no money down for financing.

  • Panels are extremely durable as there are no moving parts.

  • Individual investment in solar panels offers resilience and protection from foreign oil price hikes, and boosts U.S. energy independence.

  • solar is a fixed energy cost - panels have a lifespan of 25 years, allowing homeowners to "lock in" the price they pay for electricity.  Over that same life span, utility rates are expected to increase by as much as 33% to 83% (Clover, 2015).

  • Solar industry creating jobs nearly 20x faster than overall US economy (DeVico & Boykin, 2015)

The solar panel industry is positioned well to sell itself - our role will be uniting the industry, increasing demand and capturing those that are unaware of, or alienated by, environmental rhetoric.   One major aspect of our campaign will be the creation of an iconic message that will unite solar industry associations and expand the solar industry as a whole.   

Target Audience

Now that the solar industry has grown beyond first movers and early adopters, these “early majority” groups will serve a critical role in extending distributed solar into the general populace. The Power for the People campaign will begin by focusing on demographics previously excluded from solar industry targeting.  While specific qualifications vary from region to region, members of these demographics can be summarized into medium to low-income renters, as well as members of religious communities.  Notably, households that earn less than $40k per year make up 40% of all US households, but account for less than 5% of solar installations (Mueller & Ronen, 2015).  Many of these households include renters who were not able to make investments in local distributed solar due to their homeowner status.  The White House recently announced it "Solar Access for All Americans" initiative, which focuses on providing opportunities for renters to invest in solar through pathways such as community solar installations (White House, 2015).  There is a large sector of underserved populations that would benefit greatly from the incentives and financial attributes of solar, but are not.

In addition to renters, individuals who self identify as religious or claim traditional family values represent another deep untapped market. While some religious leaders took an early stance on the subject, including the Presbyterian Church which in 1990 stated that “the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems,” many religious leaders felt Climate Change was a political issue and chose to remove themselves from the discussion (Presbyterian Church General Assembly 1990). Within the last few years however both the Episcopal and Baptist church have formally called for action to stem Climate Change based on a moral to future generations and the environment  (American Baptist Churches USA, 2012). Most recently Pope Francis released the Encyclical on Climate Change, advocating that it is imperative that the faithful do everything possible to take “care of God’s creation”, including “substituting ...fossil fuels [with] developing sources of renewable energy” (Pope Francis, 2015).

Simplifying Solar Installations with a “One Stop Shop” Website

We at United Under the Sun believe the market needs an information hub, or one-stop shop for the solar industry.  We have created www.power4thepeople.org as a sample template of this hub.  The website will increase accessibility to incentive programs and reduce the effort required to replace a portion of a consumer’s energy bill with independently owned solar power.  Ideally, the website will have an area where a consumer could set up solar power by filling out a simple one page online form.  It will include links to local, state and federal solar programs, companies and incentives.  It will provide the home for our core, iconic message that unifies the solar industry, though this message will be promoted through other outlets such as social media and advertising spots.  

A real challenge for the environmental movement has been that good decision making often requires more effort, is at times more costly, and the behaviors aren't rewarded as immediately or densely as competing behaviors which are less environmentally friendly. Our website will make it easier (increase accessibility and reduce effort) and more reinforcing (realized financial benefits) for the target groups to engage in the carbon reducing behaviors of adopting solar energy.  

Inspiration and involvement will change minds

Behavioral science will greatly inform our campaign.  Research has shown that a key enabler of environmental change is a project champion’s ability to gain commitment from stakeholders (Gattiker & Carter, 2010).  According to many resources, the most effective way to do this is to gather information from the target audience, incorporate their wants, needs and ideas into the project and appeal to them on an emotional level (Gattiker & Carter, 2010).  Unfortunately, time and again, studies have shown that facts don’t change people’s minds, and pressure and personal appeals lead to resistance (Geller, 1992; Falbe & Yukl, 1992).  

Additionally, to shift lifestyle and behavior patterns, we need a slogan that will identify the consumer benefit.  This should be a rallying cry that appeals to people so they will change their behavior.  For example, taxes.  Democrats frame taxes as “investing in our communities.”  This is an emotional rallying cry that people can get behind; who doesn’t want to invest in improving the place they live?  Meanwhile, Republicans frame “tax cuts” as “tax relief,” suggesting that taxes are an undue burden that needs to be eased, or they describe them in a distasteful way, such as calling the estate tax the “death tax.”  Both approaches frame the issue in an emotional context that gets people “on their side.”

An effective slogan for the solar industry, therefore, will re-frame renewable energy in a way that taps into people’s emotional reservoirs, allows them to feel that they have input, has wide and diverse appeal, and identifies a consumer benefit. It should be encompassing of those already on board with renewable energy, while targeting those who are not.

To create this campaign, we will interview our target audiences: low-income households, non-homeowners and traditional-minded consumers, or non-environmentalists.   Once we have a better understanding of what motivates our target audience and what the barriers are in changing to solar, we will craft our campaign around this (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000).  Our major focus will be to capture the sector of the population that eschews renewable energy simply out of principle, or because they are at an income level where renewables seem too “bourgeois” .  Environmentalists generally have a solid grasp on the climate change issues facing society.  They have already - or will when the time comes - made educated choices about their energy.  This sector is already deep in the purchase funnel and is the "low-hanging fruit".  To create a campaign that moves the needle, we will downplay the environmental benefits of solar and highlight a more universally appealing draw: the aforementioned freedom and financial independence from energy monopolies.   

SAMPLE Solar Slogan and Campaign

Note: Market research will inform a stronger campaign and slogan.  A professional art director will create images to popularize the slogan.

Slogan idea: Power for the People or Let's Make the Switch

Logo : We will design a symbol that merges the concept of solar energy with the "down to earth" principles forwarded by this campaign.

    Examples:

Core message: Solar power merges today's technology with old-fashioned, common-sense values, empowering America to take back control of our energy, our independence, and our finances.

Campaign Messaging - will be targeted towards demographic of audience

Example 1 - low income target audience: “There’s something the utility companies don’t want you to know: you don’t need them. Invest in solar panels and you can generate free power over the course of your system’s 25-30 year life cycle. The costs are negligible; your investment could pay for itself in five years. It’s easy to do. Go solar.”

Example 2 - traditional minded consumer “it’s time to take back control of our power.  With solar technology, the raw energy we need in our everyday life is all around us.  Free for everyone to harness and use.  Solar energy is an efficient, independent and cost-effective energy source.  Invest in solar panels, and experience power freedom.”

Power for the People: USA reinvests in solar technology and traditional values.Power for the People: USA reinvests in solar technology and traditional values.See below for larger pictures

Over the next few years, the significance of climate change, not as a political issue but as an issue for human survival, will move to the forefront.  At this point, we will have augmented the popularity of solar and can broaden the campaign to additional renewable energy use, or further “energy independence,” as a solution to climate change.


Who will take these actions?

Our team, United Under the Sun, will operate as a passionate coalition to design and launch this idea.

Members:

Andrew Schneider is a VP Associate Creative Director at Mullen Lowe, a global advertising agency. He has worked with brands such as Chevrolet, GMC, Bose, Timberland, Capital One, Stanley, MassMutual and Victorinox.  

Molly Benson, MS in Special Education, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst focusing on behavior change for a sustainable world.  She is fresh from a successful attitude shifting campaign, working in Hawaii on grassroots efforts to ensure the passage of autism insurance legislation.  

John-Peter Dolphin, Wendy Chen, Laura Tomaino and Mariah Tinger recently completed a Master’s degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard University.  All have a variety of experience in corporate settings, with technology, psychology, human resource and biology backgrounds.  The majority of their work focuses on environmental issues.  

Budd Titlow, MS in Wildlife Biology, is a professional wetlands biologist (emeritus) and an internationally award-winning nature photographer.  In addition to extensive experience as an environmental scientist, his artist eye for design and layout will guide decisions on marketing materials.  Budd Titlow and Mariah Tinger are currently writing a book about climate change.

Our team will work closely with many of the solar associations listed on our website www.power4thepeople.org , such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), and regional organizations such as the Solar Energy Business Association of New England.  We hope to connect our campaign with work already done by associations such as the Solar Power Advocacy Network of SEIA.

Ideally, we will partner with national organizations such as AmeriCorps to educate the public and assist our target populations in switching power sources.  Landing a celebrity for our campaign will give us access to their fan base.  


Where will these actions be taken?

We will begin this campaign focusing on the areas of the United States where robust solar initiatives are already in place.  States that have SREC markets and subsidies established are Hawaii, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania and Arizona.  We will also focus on low income areas of the country that are targeting in President Obama's recent initiatives and bills such as Bernie Sanders' Low Income Solar Act.  Surveys administered in person or via an online surveying tool will collect market research data about beliefs and attitudes in these areas and build the campaign around the results.

Building on the success of the programs in these states will allow us to springboard the initiatives into other states that are not as far along in the process.  If needed, we can target local governments - great climate change successes have occurred at the local level, even in states like Florida, where the term "climate change" has caused controversy in government proceedings (Mooney, 2015a).

Once we have a campaign designed, and funding established from the solar industry, we will create a media "stunt".  We will power an "all-American" event such as the College World Series, a State Fair or a poverty-stricken town with solar.  Distributing promotional material will get our message out, and a large digital display will show how much money is being saved by using solar.  At the end of the event, we will donate the savings to a Veteran's group or local charity.  This will provide ample material to promote us on social media and a lot of hashtags we can utilize to get our message out. 

 


How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

Transitioning to renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that does not require regular maintenance on the part of the public the way that environmental movements (e.g. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle") often do.  As stated by Lehman & Geller in Behavior and Social Issues, "Large-scale interventions that focus on increasing one-time efficiency behaviors could have powerfully beneficial effects on the environment while obviating the need for maintenance" (2004). 

As The White House recently announced its plans to triple renewables beyond current levels (Mooney, 2015b), this is the time to capitalize on solar's momentum.  Part of the Obama Administration's plan is to focus on serving low and middle class Americans.  Solar is a renewable that has ample incentives outside of environmental benefits to draw these target populations rapidly into renewables.  Joining and supporting The White House's efforts helps achieve a GHG emissions reduction goal of over 1700 GtCO2e by 2020.

 


What are other key benefits?

This campaign will capture the attention of an audience that may not normally come to climate change issues.  This will send a message to government officials that the demand for renewable energy is growing.  Ideally, policies, government subsidies and political leaders will follow the lead of the people.  Connecting low income communities with government subsidies will provide them with resources they need, increasing their quality of life.  More than 60% of their income goes towards basic necessities like electricity and food and their are hardest hit by rising utility prices (Mooney, 2015b).  It will also yield additional benefits for environmental and public health, local and global economies and humanitarian efforts.

 


What are the proposal’s costs?

We estimate the total costs of this proposal to be between $19,000 and $25,000.

$5,000

Research gathering – done by social media, or remotely if possible.  May require a team of 2-3 of us to travel to areas of interest, in particular areas where solar incentives are strong, but not well adopted.                 ...........................                                          

$1,000 per year

We will need a website and social media handlers to connect with both the solar industry and consumers to promote our campaign. We have website developers on our team but still have to pay for the cost of the website and domain, and perhaps hire a student intern to run our social media.

$5,000 to $10,000

Printed materials and production of sample campaigns by a freelance professional art director and copywriter               

$1,000 to $2,000

Professional presentation related expenses

$3,500

Host small roundtable event for solar industry - refreshments and space rental required

$2,500

Revisions to campaign

$1,000

“Flex funds” to be applied where excess is needed


Time line

Our project will be most effective if implemented immediately.  The short term goal is to build awareness and demand for solar within the first year of the campaign.  As solar grows over 5 years, it will generate interest in other methods of renewable energy independence.

Phase 1 of our ad campaign - target the early adopters to build on their success and move towards early majority in states with robust solar incentives.

Phase 2 - carry the momentum of the industry and target the next wave of solar early adopters in states that are not yet on board.  Work with the local and state governments to augment their solar incentives.

Immediately after award presented - Our team meets to plan details for an official launch.

Two weeks later - establish initial contact with the solar industry to receive input and get buy-in via email blast, online meetings, networking and cold calling.  Prepare and mail invitations to solar association “roundtable” event.

Five weeks later - initiate plans for market research approach - organize focus groups or surveys, develop strategy for interviewing target group.

12 weeks later - Hold roundtable event for solar association. Fine tune the industry’s interest in our final result and substantiate that we are adequately targeting our audience.

15-18 weeks later - collect market research on target group.  Administer interviews, surveys and questions to understand what would “invite” them into participation in solar.

22 weeks later – summarize findings from research – create storyboards for the marketing campaign.  Finalize slogan, sub-heading and body of marketing campaign.  Brainstorm solar association blitz campaign – best avenues of getting the message out.

24 weeks later – research and coordinate materials, create sample campaigns, print materials and deliver to solar association.

26 weeks later - follow up meeting with solar association to collect feedback on the campaign.  

30 weeks later - redesign, edit, relaunch campaign


Related proposals

Our proposal is unique in that our target audience is citizens of the US that would not seek out climate change information on their own.  This is the group that truly needs work on "shifting attitudes and behavior".

There are many ideas for online collaboration.  These "think tanks" may be a good location to tap into for ideas for slogans and campaign material.

Through our coalition, we could work with India's Energy Ambassadors program to build a similar youth outreach campaign in the United States.

RE-volv offers the suggestion of using savings from solar to invest back into the industry - the "resources" page on our website will connect with organizations similar to RE-volv.

There are a few excellent ideas for magazines - notably "New Climate" magazine.  This would be a great space for running solar power ads, though it is unclear whether they would reach our target audience.


References

References truncated.  See "Comments" section for full list of references.

  1. Clover, I. (2015, January 14). US: Solar better investment than stocks, study finds. Retrieved June 3, 2015, from PV Magazine: http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/us--solar-better-investment-than-stocks--study-finds_100017770/#axzz3chrb4ccj
  2. Gattiker, T. F., & Carter, C. R. (2010). Understanding project champions' ability to gain intra-organizational commitment for environmental projects. Journal of Operations Management, 28, 72-85.
  3. Meehan, C. (2013, August 6). Rooftop Solar Outperforms S&P 500 in 13 States. Retrieved June 3, 2015, from Solar Reviews: http://www.solarreviews.com/news/solar-outperforms-S-P-500-13-States-080513/
  4. Yukl, G. & Falbe, C. M. (1990).  Influence tactics and objectives in upward downward and lateral influence attempts.  Journal of Applied Psychology 75 (2), 132-140.