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Earth Aid: A great approach to energy efficiency

Earth Aid CEO, Ben Bixby

Earth Aid CEO, Ben Bixby

My great friend Ben Bixby is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Earth Aid, a start-up working to save energy costs for consumers and promote a greener approach. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has an outstanding article on Earth Aid. Diane Mastrull writes:

You manuever the controls on your thermostat, hoping for a few more degrees of warmth.

But wait! What if there were a reward for leaving the setting right where it is – or, better yet, for lowering it?

What if putting up with a little chill got you a price break on a butter pound cake split three ways and filled with lemon curd and blackberry and raspberry puree – the hopelessly tantalizing spring torte from Bredenbeck’s Bakery in Chestnut Hill?

Or maybe a $10 coupon for native plants or artisanal goat-milk cheeses at Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs? Or a bed-and-breakfast package at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City?

Perks like those are part of a growing list from local businesses hoping to improve their bottom lines by promoting a greener lifestyle.

Rewards for households that recycle are well-known through RecycleBank, which got its start here in 2005.

Now comes what is believed to be a first: a rewards program for saving energy.

Earth Aid, a Washington start-up, enables U.S. residents to track their electric, gas, and water usage online and, by cutting back on it, earn points that can be redeemed at local businesses.

Launched in September, Earth Aid will not dislose how many members it has or the company’s financials. Ben Bixby, its cofounder and chief executive officer, said membership was “in the thousands and our rate of growth is doubling monthly.”

Though the program has not yet had a formal introduction here, Philadelphia is home to some of its largest reward partners, Bixby said: Of the more than 100 businesses that have signed on, 25 are from Philadelphia or its suburbs, “with many more on the way.”

That could be a barometer of not only the growing influence of the sustainability movement, but of just how eager recession-impaired businesses are for a chance to boost sales, said Maria Cain, sales manager at Bredenbeck’s, where a few more sweet tooths would be welcome.

Linking with Earth Aid, Cain said, “really puts our name out there to the entire Philadelphia region.”

Said Stephen Falvo at Manayunk’s Art+Science Salon & Spa, where Earth Aid participants can redeem 300 points for a 60-minute massage: “I think people need to realize that just by supporting local business, they are helping to reduce their carbon footprint and, in turn, keeping the supply chain local.”

Earth Aid has developed proprietary software that makes it possible, with consumer permission, to retrieve household utility data everywhere in the country, Bixby said. Once people sign up, their energy use is reviewed and a baseline established. Then the company provides customized advice on how to become more energy-efficient and which rebates and tax credits are available to make the changes.

Participants receive monthly statements from Earth Aid showing how much energy they used and how that compared with the same month in the previous year. Reward points are based on reductions achieved.

“We just want to make it easier for people to save energy, and information does that,” said David Burd, Earth Aid’s vice president of business development.

Sign-up for households is free “and will forever be,” Bixby said. There is also no charge “at this time” for small and regional businesses to offer one reward, he said. Larger rewards-program participants must pay a promotional fee, depending on their size.

Earth Aid also makes money from sales it helps arrange between members and providers of energy-conservation services and products, such as oxygenating showerheads and programmable thermostats.

RecycleBank, the incentive-based recycling initiative now providing services to more than one million members in 20 states and the United Kingdom, was an inspiration for Earth Aid, Bixby said.

One of RecycleBank’s founders, Ron Gonen, a Germantown Academy graduate and now a resident of New York, said he was flattered.

Though calling Earth Aid’s energy-use tracking program a good idea, Gonen said he was not convinced the business discounts would be as effective a recruiting tool as they have been for RecycleBank. Last year, RecycleBank members redeemed and used more than $1 million in reward points, he said.

Without incentives, people who recycle were getting no benefit from the act other than “feeling you were doing something good” for the environment, he said. Energy savers, on the other hand, can see the benefits of that in cheaper energy bills.

“I’m not sure that you need additional incentives beyond reducing your monthly energy bill,” Gonen said.

At Yellow Springs Farm, co-owner Catherine Renzi lauded the idea of rewards – such as the $10 coupon she is offering toward the purchase of at least $50 in goods.

“It’s much easier to make [conservation] attractive for people,” she said, “when you have a carrot.”

Or a free overnight stay at one of Philadelphia’s premier hotels.

The Four Seasons, considered a sustainability leader in part because it composts, recycles, and has microturbines on its roof, is offering one bed-and-breakfast package for two, including breakfast in its acclaimed Fountain Restaurant.

To win it, you must assemble the group of friends or family on Earth Aid that collectively saves the most energy between today and April 30.

Excellent! I would encourage everyone to check visit the Earth Aid website. You can also follow Earth Aid on Twitter-  @earthaid and check out the Earth Aid photostream on Flickr.

And be sure to check out these videos with Ben Bixby-

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.