We've already seen over the past three Mondays how cooperation among the public sector, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit private sector firms can produce some real benefits. We've also seen how the success of a project or program can depend on the ability to mobilize the local community.

Let's look at another case where these elements successfully converge: The Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge (BNEC). BNEC is a pilot program of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability (part of the Baltimore City Department of Planning) and the Baltimore Community Foundation, a tax-exempt, publicly supported organization serving the Greater Baltimore region.

Shaine Griffin, one of three AmeriCorps volunteers working with volunteer community organizers on the Challenge, came to my city of Greenbelt in April to describe the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge. Shaine explained that BNEC, like WeatherizeDC, has been hugely successful at spreading knowledge, resources, and motivation to help the local communities save energy and money by tapping the energy of neighborhood leaders and volunteers.

Photo of a man and a woman holding a brochure and materials from the Energy Challenge.

Martin Luther King Day Team

BNEC works with community groups, neighborhood volunteers, and residents. The Energy Challenge initially targeted eight Baltimore neighborhoods selected for their diversity. The program trained more than 100 volunteer Neighborhood Energy Captains who operate within their specific neighborhoods, talking to their neighbors. These Neighborhood Energy Captains have recruited more than 750 participants.

The program also works with faith-based organizations, schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations operating within the targeted neighborhoods. They are starting to engage local small businesses as catalysts for change and places to display program materials.

BNEC uses a variety of outreach tactics and hosts a wide range of energy efficiency events around the city. Examples include door-to-door canvassing, house meetings, volunteers speaking at community meetings, large-scale community-wide events focused on energy efficiency, presentations at annual meetings, a presence at neighborhood resource fairs, and articles in neighborhood newsletters.

By taking the pledge and joining the challenge, residents who live in one of the target neighborhoods can get a free pledge kit with energy-saving tools, learn how to save energy, connect with their neighbors, and plan home energy projects. The kit includes a copy of our own DOE Energy Savers Booklet. (PDF 3.5 MB) Download Adobe Reader.

Residents who don't live in one of the target neighborhoods can still sign up and participate through the Web site.

BNEC has vetted contractors involved in home energy projects and vendors selling energy products, so that participants can find products, services such as home energy assessments or audits, and local contractors they can rely on to help them save energy.

The Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge also partners with the local utility company Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE), which will allow participants to access their energy consumption data online to help them more easily understand their energy use and view their actual energy savings following energy improvements. The Energy Challenge enlisted BGE's help to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot program by collecting electricity and natural gas consumption data for all participants. Preliminary results show that neighborhood participants reduced electricity on average by an impressive 6.6%. The natural gas picture is still unclear, however. Half the neighborhoods achieved slight reductions in consumption, while the other half consumed slightly more natural gas.

Phase II of the program is just starting up. Trained volunteers will assume primary outreach responsibility for the initial eight neighborhoods, while BNEC staff will begin supporting 12 new target neighborhoods. Simultaneously, three non-geographic audiences will be targeted: 1) schools and students, 2) religious institutions and communities of faith, and 3) the energy bill payment assistance program and its clients. The intention is to eventually expand the Energy Challenge citywide and connect the program to other efforts aimed at creating jobs to make Baltimore homes healthy and energy efficient.

For more success stories from around the country, visit Energy Empowers, and be sure to let us hear about the work you're doing in your communities.

John Lippert is an employee of Energy Enterprise Solutions, a contractor for EERE. He assists with technical reviews of content on the Energy Savers Web site.