So here’s the situation. It’s 2005, and energy conservation is the top environmental issue. The big blackout in 2003 was the crisis that helped bring in a new provincial government with the promise action on conservation and renewable power.
In response to the Province’s “Ontario Conserves” campaign, we at the Conservation Council of Ontario (CCO) had launched a mirror campaign, “We Conserve” to promote voluntary leadership. We needed a quick win – a campaign to tackle a hot-button issue and win support for conservation. We found it in air-conditioned sidewalks. In the heat of the summer, retailers were running air conditioning with wide open front doors to entice customers into their super-cooled stores. The public response was visceral – “Why should I have to conserve energy at home when stores are blasting out air-conditioning onto the sidewalks?!”
The easy approach would have been to organize a boycott, or call for provincial regulation or city by-laws. But we saw the potential for a win-win situation by promoting stores that did the right thing.
We designed a simple poster that could be printed in small batches to include local distribution partners and sponsors, and put out the call for community groups and volunteers to help distribute posters. In particular, we asked for
help for a one-week blitz leading up to the second anniversary of the blackout on August 14, 2005. The response was amazing: over 5,000 posters were distributed by 24 organizations in 15 communities. Here’s the full 2005 final report.
The campaign peaked in 2006 (campaign report) and continued for five years before being retired. It was a tremendous success, in terms of building partnerships, developing a culture of conservation, and in curtailing a wasteful practice. The campaign was adapted in the United Kingdom, and at least one utility, Toronto Hydro, has integrated the message into its conservation marketing with a window cling for stores:
We estimated that the campaign helped save up to 2 MW of power, which is a drop in the bucket of the 18,000 MW of power used across the province, which means the true value of the campaign was in its contributions to building a conserver ethic – a cultural foundation for ongoing and deeper action.
Where next? One of our goals for Doors Closed was to use the single issue as a stepping stone to develop a more comprehensive approach to promoting business leadership. You’ll find many of the ideas in the Doors Closed campaign have been incorporated into the Climate Leaders campaign for Climate Action Canada – including movement-based marketing and voluntary leadership.