Our Energy Savers program provides a comprehensive energy efficiency solution to help Chicago’s multi-family building owners reduce costs and improve tenant comfort. We identify the most cost-effective energy saving investments, obtain low-cost financing, oversee construction, and monitor savings over time. The program was developed in Chicago through a partnership between CNT Energy and Community Investment Corporation (CIC), and demand for the program has doubled since its inception. That said, our progress was never easy and we’ve learned valuable lessons along the way that we would like to share with Living Cities and its partners.

1. Reduce barriers to information . First, we provide a free energy assessment. This is a game-changer, because it dramatically increases the amount of affordable rental buildings we can access. We’ve found that there is no better classroom for energy efficiency than one’s own building and no greater motivation to improving building efficiency than having a trusted professional point to energy waste and potential savings, and providing owners with a simple action plan to address it.

2. Collaboration and relationships are vital . We couldn’t function without our collaborative relationships. We’re joined at the hip with the Community Investment Corporation (CIC). They provide us with a consistent stream of participants and vital financing solutions. We’ve also built relationships with a large network of contractors by moving beyond transactional relationships. For example, we proactively share our energy analytics with contractors, and contractors are eager to teach us about their new products and techniques, this quid pro quo makes both groups better and builds trust. Since we have an established network of contactors, we have simplified paperwork and streamlined the bidding and payment process – which they value.

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3. Our people are our greatest asset . Yes, it’s a cliché, but it is absolutely true for us. We hire dedicated people, provide opportunities for career advancement, and create opportunities for leadership. As a result, they strengthen our relationships with partners, improve our process from the inside, and believe passionately in the work we do. Staff trained to “close the deal” are central to improving our conversion rates from audit to retrofit.

4. There is more than one way to get to scale . It takes a lot of effort to educate and motivate an owner to take action. This has led to a growing emphasis on owners who have a portfolio of buildings and property management companies, since one “yes” might mean the conversion of hundreds of units. However, we don’t want to neglect the majority of owners who own only one building, so we’ve made changes to speed up the application process specifically for these individuals. Past participants promote our work by speaking to the media, hosting open-house events, and reaching out to applicants who are reluctant to commit to the program. We also make use of case studies - examples of successes motivate building owners to convert. As a result of our multiple approaches, we now convert nearly 50% of applicants into participants and are reaching scale with bigger projects and streamlined management of smaller projects.

5. Facing challenges . Our model focuses on multi-family (5+ unit) sector, but we see opportunities in non-profit buildings and 2-4 unit buildings. Maintaining our core program offerings while venturing into new areas of work is difficult. We are growing our staff and systems to support improved productivity in our multi-family program, while investing start-up resources in new markets. Fortunately we’ve had some great business development consulting support to guide us through this tricky phase. We’ve learned that looking to other business models for organizational structure, process, and technology has improved our management capacity to succeed through this phase of rapid growth.

Through this collaborative effort, the Energy Savers program created a successful energy efficiency business to meet the needs of an underserved market. The banking industry has taken notice. Our work has retrofitted over 8,000 apartments, collectively saving $2M annually in energy costs and generating over 400 local jobs. We are proud to work for an organization that creates cost efficient energy savings for building owners, reduces energy usage, and puts Chicagoans to work!

Anne Evans is the Executive Director of CNT Energy