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Community-Based Distribution Programs: Partnering Utilities with Local Food Banks

April 29, 2019
A community-based distribution program helps a Missouri utility connect with low-income customers who have the greatest need to lower their electric bills.

In 2009, CLEAResult was challenged by a Missouri-based utility to develop a solution to engage the utility’s hard-to-reach low-income customers. They sought a positive touchpoint with a historically underserved customer segment, a community with the greatest need and potential for savings on their utility bills.

From that challenge, the community-based distribution program design was born. CLEAResult program designers first considered how to make engagement and participation in an energy-saving program as easy as possible for this customer segment. They posed questions like, “what places might these customers already visit, what organizations might they already be working with?” Food banks and local food pantries were determined to be probable access points, places where income-eligible customers might already be “shopping” for necessities. Identifying food banks as the partner and setting to engage with this demographic presented an opportunity to offer additional pantry provisions like utility-purchased, energy-efficient products, such as ENERGY STAR® certified LED bulbs, low-flow faucet aerators and advanced power strips.

Once the solution was conceptualized, program designers coordinated the logistics to make the initiative flexible, turnkey and scalable. A key step to success was developing partnerships with both manufacturers and local food banks to ensure efficient and ongoing distribution. As the implementer, CLEAResult purchases products on behalf of utilities from manufacturers, who then ship products directly to local food banks and pantries. The end-use consumer receives their respective energy-efficient products as part of the typical package assembled by food-bank staff or by selecting it from the pantry shelves.

Education also plays a critical role in the program as informational handouts are given to each customer who receives energy-efficient products through their food bank, with background on why they are receiving the product, as well as where to install them to see the most savings on their electric bill.

Mutual Benefits for Customers, Food Banks and the Utility

In addition to helping utilities connect with this hard-to-reach market, community-based distribution programs effectively bolster participating utilities’ brand awareness. By attributing energy-efficient product packaging to the respective utility, customers become increasingly aware that their energy utility is a trusted and helpful resource. Utilities may also benefit from positive publicity as local media is often engaged to promote the program during the early stages of its launch. Community-based distribution programs are also a great avenue through which to promote other utility program offerings aimed at assisting low-income customers. 

Similarly, food banks further their mission as well by meeting their long-term goal of providing products beyond just food to those in need.

All of us benefit from energy efficiency and implementing a community-based distribution program can play an integral role in helping make energy-efficient tools and products as widely available as possible.

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