Insulating Window Insert Interventions in Energy Injustice: Incentives, Barriers, and Strategies

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Our student team partnered with the Maine nonprofit WindowDressers (WD) to simultaneously introduce and evaluate its model within a target locality: Lewiston, Maine. WD offers affordable, effective, and innovative home-insulating window inserts. The organization’s model is community-oriented and collaborative to its core; The organization trains and supplies a state-wide network of Local Coordinators to recruit households and facilitate Community Workshops, where participating households and volunteers not only help build inserts, but also forge community bonds. To meet its goals of increasing agency over home comfort, utility costs, and carbon emissions, WD recognizes it must incorporate energy-insecure individuals. The non-profit has a specific avenue for providing effective home insulation to those with fewer financial means: a special-rate program which offers 10 free inserts to households who self-identify as unable to pay for the full rate. However, WD identified a pattern of special-rate participant attrition within its state network, which has consistently obstructed the organization’s goal of providing a collective 22% of inserts for free. This conspicuous trend of special-rate attrition warranted our investigation of its drivers and corresponding mitigation strategies. Our team accordingly recruited over 30 special-rate households in Lewiston for the program, and simultaneously qualitatively investigated incentives, barriers, and strategies for increasing participation at each stage of the WD model. Our primary informants: energy-insecure individuals themselves. Because drivers and mitigation strategies ought to be individualized for community and inter-community needs, we provide three essential findings to serve as platforms for that work. S pecial-rate recruitment, retention, and integration requires mitigating (1) interpersonal, (2) attitudinal, and (3) logistical barriers by employing strategies targeted at these three areas. (1) Interpersonal barriers arise from discord between the organizational and/or local leadership’s story of what WD offers and the potential participant’s story of what they need. Interpersonal incentives emerge from leaderships’ efforts to ask potential participants their story of energy-insecurity, and individualize support accordingly. (2) Attitudinal barriers arise from a rift between organizational and/or local leaderships’ expectations versus capacity for engagement. Attitudinal incentives emerge when leadership invests in adaptive, need-aware, supports, and flexibly defines “engagement” among special-rate participants. (3) Logistical barriers arise from gaps in practical knowledge and tools suited for special-rate recruitment, retention, and integration. Logistical incentives emerge when hard skills and strategies are developed by and shared among organizational and local leadership. These essential findings, and nuances within each, offer WD’s community branches concrete action steps. This report accordingly recommends both systematic and organic approaches to future investigation and promotion of special-rate recruitment, retention, and integration. Next-steps fall under three categories: (1) tools, (2) training, and (3) networks. Both organization-specific and generalizable to other providers, these recommendations aim to cognizantly and sustainably direct resources into energy insecure communities.

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