Fatter pockets, greener communities

An online database is helping hundreds of business and home owners in the Richmond area save green in more ways than one… and is giving them the chance to reap the rewards of their energy-saving efforts all around town.

An online database is helping hundreds of business and home owners in the Richmond area save green in more ways than one.

The co-founders of Earth Aid, Ben Bixby (Chief Executive Office) and Greg O’ Keeffe (Chief Sustainability Officer) launched a website, EarthAid.net, which tracks users’ energy consumption through their utility accounts.

According to Bixby, by allowing users to view their electricity, water, and gas consumption all in one place, the end result is going to be more environmentally-friendly communities and a little more green to be put back into residents’ pockets.

“It’s sort of a universal dashboard and rewards program for saving energy,” Bixby said. “There are really two key pieces of what we do: we built a smart technology that makes it possible for us to automatically pull and automatically analyze your utility consumption data for all of your utilities (electric, gas, and water) and to do that entirely for free over the Web.”

Pair that with a business-savvy rewards program the co-founders created to attract more home owners to the free service, and it’s easy to see why tens of thousands across the nation have signed up.

“So we have built onto the tracking site — to make this more fun — the world’s first rewards program for saving energy where we have over 250 businesses around the country that have signed on to help support energy saving in their communities,” Bixby said. “These businesses will actually give you physical rewards, free things, and discounts, and other fun stuff when you succeed at saving energy.”

Where does Richmond fall in the latest green business trend? According to Bixby, Richmond is one of the most vibrant rewards networks for saving energy in the country.

“The sheer number of Richmond businesses that have signed up and the caliber of the rewards that they’re giving out are among the top in the country,” Bixby said. “For example, for local folks, there are quite a few great restaurants and cafes that are on offering rewards of various sorts.”

Richmond business offering rewards on EarthAid.net include Lift Coffee, The Republic, Science Museum of Virginia, ReStore RVA, and Segway of Richmond.

David Burd, Earth Aid’s vice president for Market Development and In-House Counsel, recently traveled to the Richmond area to speak with community leaders about their energy consumption, and said there are about 30 to 35 businesses in the Richmond area, along with hundreds of individuals and households, tracking their usage.

“Generally speaking, users are adjusting their thermostats down, using ENERGY STAR appliances, using energy efficient shower heads, and following other tips we give them on the website,” Burd said.

Yet, the notion remains that it is unorthodox that you get a free Segway tour or a free year membership to a museum for saving energy but, Bixby said, thanks to the local businesses of Richmond, that idea is now becoming more traditional.

Both Bixby and Keefe have been working as a company since 2007 on the EarthAid.net project, which Bixby said was founded on a mission of helping people better understand their energy consumption and to improve and to save energy and money. However, the website users have become familiar with today was not the first draft in their attempt to make their vision a reality.

“We have worked through a couple models and ideas of how best to help folks do that but I think our best project to date has culminated in EarthAid.net,” Bixby said. “It’s really a realization of two things — one is that it’s very important that folks have access to their own data to see how much they’re consuming and then figuring out how they can improve on that. The other notion that crossed our minds was, ‘What can we give to interest people the first time and make things more rewarding?'”

Bixby and Keefe have invested heavily on building a platform that is universal, social, and that gives users a helpful community perspective on how much they are using along with how much is being used in their communities. Their rewards program, according to Bixby, is something frequently seen for credit cards or airlines, and things of that nature, but the co-founders thought it could be a beneficial application to start having people rewarded when saving energy.

“We were really stuck on this and we knew this was the idea,” Bixby said. “This was how we would be successful. We realized that by partnering with some great businesses that wanted to support saving energy, support sustainability in the neighborhood, we could actually create a system driven by data that allows you not to just save that extra $25 but it allows you to let’s say get a $25 gift card on top of it. We’re doubling the value of saving energy for people.”

Bixby said it has been a great experience to be able to implement their idea around the country and in the Richmond community in particular.

“There is a thriving program in Richmond to bring a public partnership of local community leaders that want to support this,” Bixby said. “There’s a reason why our business is very fun — we’re helping people save energy, save money and get rewards and it’s very rare that you find anybody that considers that objectionable.”

For more information about Earth Aid, visit their website and follow them on Twitter. It’s free to sign up and only takes a few minutes, but make sure you’ve got your utilities billing information on hand. And if you’re looking to for tips for reducing your energy consumption (and save some cash), check out a few tips that Earth Aid offers up:

  • Replace 100W light bulbs with 23W CFLs
  • Keep your dryer’s exhaust clean
  • Adjust your thermostat up during cooling season
  • Replace 60W light bulbs with 13W CFLs
  • Replace 75W light bulbs with 18W CFLs
  • Photosensitive LED night lights
  • Install a programmable thermostat
  • Use ENERGY STAR Appliances
  • Use dryer balls
  • Install efficient shower heads
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Erica Terrini

Erica Terrini is a contributing writer for RVANews and currently attends Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is also the executive editor for The Commonwealth Times. During her time in Richmond, she has gotten used to running around like a crazy person with a never-ending checklist in her pursuit to report the local news of a thriving, raw, and pretty fly city.

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