Collaborating to Stimulate the Energy Efficiency Retrofit Market: 2 Takeaways on How Philanthropy Catalyzes Change

Posted by Jim Wolf on

Earlier this year six philanthropic institutions, MacArthur, Kresge, Rockefeller, Doris Duke, Living Cities, and Energy Foundation, came together in a collaborative effort to address the challenges to scaling the energy efficiency retrofit market in the US. This project is the third phase of an earlier project, Building Retrofit Industry and Market ("BRIM").

As part of BRIM 3, expert roundtables were held for different sub-sectors of the building market: commercial office, commercial retail, single family residential, multifamily and health care. Participating experts were asked to identify the top three research issues that need to be addressed and the top three promising approaches to take the market to scale. Aside from specific recommendations for philanthropic action, the roundtable discussions also revealed important implications for how philanthropy approaches this effort to catalyze retrofit markets at scale.

As the institutions began to engage with practitioners, the scale of the challenge became clear and the benefits of collaborative action to scale a retrofit market were heightened. Although individual actions by a foundation can make a significant difference, no single foundation has the resources to provide the comprehensive approach that is needed to stimulate the energy efficiency retrofit market. By collaborating, foundations can increase their effectiveness in addressing the overall challenge while still meeting their individual objectives and priorities. Indeed, each foundation has its unique interests in specific sectors of the building market and in the specific benefits that energy efficiency can provide-from more affordable housing to increased jobs to lower carbon dioxide emissions. Still, even as the foundations in BRIM 3 began to work together, another lesson became apparent.

The scope of the challenge requires that philanthropic partners use a cross-sector table and approach. Collaboration with utilities, the private sector, government agencies, and non-profit organizations is clearly needed to achieve a scaled market. In this context, it also became increasingly apparent throughout the roundtables that many actors in the private sector (along with some in government and even some NGOs) know very little about the current activities of foundations, the types of activities or programs that foundations can undertake, or even what foundations can do beyond traditional grant making.

The detailed results of all the roundtables, including the top identified approaches and research needs, will be posted on the Living Cities website in early October. The participating foundations will consider the lessons and recommendations from the roundtables as they develop individual strategies as well as possibilities for ongoing collaboration.

Jim Wolf is an energy and environmental consultant currently serving as Project Director for the BRIM 3 Research Project.