WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?

Do everyday choices to reduce our carbon footprint make a real difference for the climate? Sure, when we add them all up, but most of us still want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

A company called Earth Aid has a unique answer to this question: Give people tangible rewards for saving energy in their homes and apartments. Instead of just helping us avoid things we don't want, such as higher energy bills, Earth Aid is offering us things we want, like free coffee, in return for energy savings.

They call it “Earth Aid Rewards.” The program launched in Washington, DC for the first time in the fall of 2009 with about 50 rewards partners, and the company plans to expand rapidly throughout the country with both local and national business partners. Anyone in the U.S. can sign up for Earth Aid’s free services, but currently the rewards program is only up and running in DC.

This is how it works: You can sign up to be a member on Earth Aid’s website and begin submitting information about your utility bills—electric, gas, and water. Earth Aid then automatically extracts monthly data from your utilities, keeps you up-to-date on your latest trends and tendencies, and offers you tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, etc. According to Ken Yarmosh, a web-based product strategist, “Earth Aid is basically Mint.com for household utilities.”

Earth Aid Rewards is not for everyone. Some folks won’t be comfortable with Earth Aid digging into their energy data (even though it’s already publicly available). It’s also one more online membership program to sign up for, enter information into, and keep track of, so not everyone has the interest or mental bandwidth to take it on.

Perhaps most importantly, it can take over a year of tracking your energy use before you really know that you’re saving energy and money. This will make it challenging for people who move often (such as apartment renters) to establish a baseline for future energy savings.

To keep people engaged, Earth Aid will need to find ways to reward its members for their good-faith efforts, even if their carbon footprints aren’t shrinking in the near term. While this approach may make business sense, Earth Aid must be careful to guard its carbon credibility.

In spite of these caveats, Earth Aid Rewards has great potential to set off a virtuous cycle. Businesses have an added incentive to promote sustainability in the community. Households have another reason to save energy and reinvest their savings in the local economy. Earth Aid, meanwhile, earns advertising revenues from its business partners.

Sound like easy green, easy money? You decide.

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Peter Fargo, MBA Candidate

The George Washington University

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