EMERGE Finds a Place at ACI Northwest Conference

I wasn’t quite sure how warmly the systems and change theory and other leadership lingo that make up the EMERGE Leadership model would be received by the Affordable Comfort Institute’s audience I addressed last week in the plenary keynote. ACI’s great practical and technical education always attracts a fair amount of those whom we lovingly term energy “techno-geeks” (or as we called ourselves back in the early 80s: “energy bozos”). In addition, the energy efficiency program managers and policy advocates attending, dealing as they are with dramatic transitions from ARRA stimulated roots and other serious realities, presented a no-nonsense assembly.

Feedback throughout the day, however, including questions, positive feedback, and concerns, indicated EMERGE hit a chord with many who attended — even if a disturbing one. And several of the sessions highlighted the fact that nifty technologies and tools can be a great help, but can’t achieve much without the “people” who are employing them leading or guiding their clients or constituents in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. Which means we have to do more work on ourselves. Yum.

“Relationships Matter,” a session presented by David Heslam (Earth Advantage Institute) and Chad Ruhoff (Neil Kelly) offered a combination of top-notch research and experiential data that among other things pointed out that converting prospects to customers was lots more likely when the energy audit report was concise and explicitly about the customer’s house, and not a generic, lengthy review of data, and when the sales personnel acted as a trusted advisor, translating audit/test results in a way that prospective clients can understand. As Ruhoff noticed, “people don’t buy what they don’t understand.” And why should they?

In a similar vein, ” Partnerships that Increase Revenues and Profits,” presented by representatives from UMPQUA and PSCCU Banks, as well as energy efficiency purveyors Sustainable Works and Clean Energy Works Oregon, discussed current efforts to simplify lending services (products and processes) to make them more user-friendly to contractors and their customers, and a better lever for converting energy efficiency audits to upgrades. Tara Anderson of Sustainable Works noted that regardless of whether the customer explicitly declares an interest in financing, the initial “kitchen table” discussion covering energy upgrade recommendations should always include a presentation of financing options. Besides the potential benefit to customers, this presentation helps put the investment in perspective. Energy efficiency is a long term investment, and when defined in bite-sized monthly payments it begins to make economic sense, even if you decide to self-finance from savings.

In addition to developing the capacity to communicate clearly and meaningfully to the markets we are serving, it is important we learn to do the same among our own working groups. “Collaboration is key” was the mantra of a panel discussing the long term sustainability of ARRA Funded Community-Based Programs. As the programs plan this critical transition, representatives from Clean Energy Works Oregon, Community Power Works, Repower, Washington State University, and Energy Conservation Training Company agreed that collaboration (and cooperation) among program stakeholders and among the various programs themselves will provide a pathway for long term health.

What I like about the EMERGE Leadership Model, is that it goes beyond the explicit advocacy of a particular “good” and recognizes that for that “good” to last, it must be embedded in leaders that have emerged through the process and live in the changed system. Every communication is a learning opportunity — for everyone!

I was able to share a little more about this aspect of the model at the ACI Women in High Performance Breakfast. There are many benefits to a more culturally diverse workforce delivering energy efficiency. I highlighted two. The first was that the design solutions (whether to figure out how to deal with those pesky continuous barrier details for a Passive House, or whether to figure out how to flesh out a revenue-creating “niche” for a community based energy efficiency program) are more robust when the team creating them is more diverse. That’s statistically proven. Culturally diverse teams provide better, more integrated results. The second is that a more culturally diverse market will be drawn to energy efficiency if it recognizes itself in those “selling” it. Because the EMERGE Leadership Model is intended to afford the ability to lead from any chair it can be particularly helpful in creating a more culturally diverse workforce, and in the end, acknowledged leadership.