American Express has recently produced a powerful ad, “Take Charge: Changing A Community One Block at a Time,” which features Geoffrey Canada, founder of NY Children’s Zone (www.hcz.org).  The sixty-second spot shows how Canada decided to take a stand against failure in his central Harlem community by working with kids ‘one block at a time,’ and how the small increments have added up to major transformations in kids’ success rates.   Since its inception in 1996, more than 10,000 kids have participated in the program, which is dedicated to ensuring college graduation for all participants.  Impressive!

So why is a lighting company exec focused on this ad?  Beyond the fact that it is an inspiring story, there’s a clear analog between the seemingly overwhelming educational undertaking and the seemingly impossible widespread adoption of energy efficiency measures.  While they’ve vastly different challenges, I think that the ‘one-block-at-a-time’ approach is equally applicable.

The point of energy efficiency is removing massive amounts of load from the grid so that we do not have to go to greater and greater lengths to generate additional power.  But where do you start?

Not with a few CFL bulbs.  Not with new Energy Star appliance or an energy audit.  Those are all fine steps, but there’s another approach — a designated ‘block captain’ who spearheads the initiative in his or her geography.  This local representative knows the area and many of the residents, and can be a valuable local resource to guide the residents of that very finite area through the range of measures available to improve their efficiency.  Have a question about programs that you don’t know how to address?  Talk to your block captain.  Now, multiply this ‘block captain’ across towns, cities, regions and states and you have a major impact.

Is this another idea for radical efficiency?  No.  Is it a super-practical way to radically improve our country’s energy efficiency?  Yes.

We need to move vast numbers of residences and businesses to rapidly embrace numerous and appropriate energy efficiency initiatives.  A locally focused initiative has tremendous potential.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts and opinions.