ECCo Presents the Big Picture in Energy Efficiency Programming

How can a museum help communities engage residents in action that is good for the planet? By helping them learn from the big picture. On May 12th, anthropologists from The Field Museum’s Division of Environment, Culture, and Conservation (ECCo) convened community leaders in the South Chicago neighborhood to learn about community-based energy efficiency programs from around the country. The meeting was part of the South Chicago Retrofit Project, led by the affordable and green housing organization Claretian Associates. The project aims to retrofit 1,200 homes by 2020.

ECCo anthropologist Kate McClellan and intern Asmah Mubarak presented six different community-based energy conservation programs from big cities such as Boston and small towns such as Hood River, Oregon. Each program used a range of means, such as competitions, incentive programs, and creative media strategies, to prompt residents to retrofit their homes and reduce their overall energy usage. One program even incorporated energy conservation story lines into popular soap operas. Two strategies were used by all programs: engaging communities by forming partnerships with trusted local institutions (churches, schools, community centers, etc.) and tailoring programs to address the culturally-specific assets and needs of their communities.

The presentation helped South Chicago’s leaders think in new ways about their project. Now, they are working with a local drumming group to spread the word, helping area businesses incorporate retrofit and energy messages into their marketing materials, and sharing the program through Tupperware and other house parties. Overall, participants expressed that learning from larger cross-cultural scales helped them think more innovatively about how they can effect change at home.