Communicating the Value of Energy Efficiency


  • A successful communication strategy for promoting an energy efficiency initiative requires understanding the goal of the messaging and motivations of the audience.
  • Reference energy plans from other cities or the Department of Energy’s Guide to Community Energy Strategic Planning for examples of how other cities have successfully communicated their energy efficiency goals and plans.
  • The City of El Paso’s Energy Savings Challenge leveraged a successful communication strategy to reduced energy consumption and engage employees in municipal libraries and fire stations.

Developing an Energy Program Communication Plan

In order to initiate new energy-savings projects and maintain support for existing initiatives, local governments must be able to effectively communicate the benefits of energy efficiency to leadership, staff, and citizens.

While each local government is unique, the U.S. Department Energy’s ENERGY STAR program provides a framework for developing an energy program communications plan:

  • Define your goal: Understand what you are trying to accomplish with your communication. Are you trying to gain approval from the City Manager or encourage staff to modify behavior? Understanding your goal defines how you communicate with your audience.
  • Identify your target audience: Determine who you need to engage in your communication plan based on your defined goal. You may have to engage multiple departments or stakeholders to implement your initiative.
  • Tailor your message: Consider what is important to each stakeholder and develop justification for your initiative based on their priorities. Payback and return on investment may resonate more with department heads and finance functions, whereas time saved in operations and maintenance may be more compelling to building services staff.
  • Select the best way to reach each audience: Maintenance staff may not check their email regularly or your department’s social media may be the primary way to engage citizens. Understanding the best means to delivering your message will help ensure the target audience absorbs and considers your message. Your city’s communication staff may be helpful is determining the best way to reach your audience.
  • Schedule each activity: Coordinate message timing and necessary resources to maximize the likelihood that your target audience will receive your message. By considering timing of your message you can avoid overloading your stakeholders or reaching them at an inopportune time.

The ENERGY STAR website offers more resources on strategies to communicate energy efficiency.

Other Best Practices for Communicating Energy Efficiency Initiatives

  • Participate in the City Efficiency Leadership Council where you can learn from nearby cities, share your success stories, and help one another overcome challenges.
  • Highlight impacts beyond cost savings and Climate Change. Energy efficiency projects can improve indoor and outdoor air quality, enhance occupant comfort, help create jobs, and build more resilient cities.
  • Utilize case studies from other cities to show that your energy conservation ideas have achieved proven savings.
  • Align your work with a recognized program such as ENERGY STAR, LEED, the Better Buildings Challenge, or other national programs.
  • Celebrate your successes with your community. Many significant energy efficiency improvements, such as HVAC replacements and lighting upgrades, occur behind the scenes – utilize social media and press releases to provide recognition to your staff who are working to reduce the city’s energy costs every day.

Reference Other Successful Communication Campaigns

Cities across Texas have created local energy, sustainability, development, climate, and resilience plans. Local government staff can refer to that community plan when justifying future projects, even as leadership, staff, and elected officials change.

If your community would like to add your City’s plan to this list, contact SPEER.

The US Department of Energy’s Guide to Community Energy Strategic Planning provides a step-by-step resource for communities developing energy plans. The guide includes worksheets, customizable spreadsheet templates, and examples from energy planning efforts around the country including the City of Austin. Highlights include:

DOE’s presentation “How City-Led Efficiency Efforts Can Support State Energy Planning” provides further valuable resources on creating your community’s energy plan.

Case Study: El Paso Energy Savings Challenge

The City of El Paso focused on behavior change to reduce energy consumption in libraries and fire stations, as well as engage city staff on energy conservation best practices.

In many cities, the General Services or Finance department pays the city’s energy bills, so individual city departments never see the amount of energy they are using.  By engaging departments in a behavioral challenge, cities can demonstrate the high energy savings opportunities to staff while also engaging in a friendly competition to cut costs.

Because city buildings vary widely in size, occupancy, and function, El Paso limited the first challenge to libraries which have similar sizes and use patterns. In May 2012, twelve libraries in El Paso competed to save the most energy. By the end of the six-month energy savings challenge, the city saved $21,000 in energy costs and the winning library reduced its usage by 19%. The initiative was so successful that El Paso repeated the challenge with fire stations soon after.

The US Department of Energy featured El Paso’s Energy Savings Challenges in its Better Buildings Solution center. Highlights and supplemental materials include:

Read the full El Paso Energy Savings Challenge case study to learn more about how the City engaged employees in energy efficiency.

Additional Assistance

SPEER provides technical assistance to local governments looking to reduce their energy and water consumption.  Contact SPEER and we can help you start your local energy plan, as well as communicate the benefits of your energy and water efficiency initiatives.