Helping The Planet, Saving Money: Non-profit Helps Others Go Green

Jonah Comstock
Spare Change News

Tucked into the back corner of the modest kitchen, the Energy Star refrigerator still manages to dominate the room. It’s huge, it’s shiny, and it’s new the Cambridge Community Center near Central Square just purchased the unit in July.

The new fridge, which will save $3,862 in energy costs and 26,422 lbs of CO2 over its lifetime, is just the sort of thing nonprofits often desperately need, but don’t rank high on their financial priority list.

“The main building dates back to 1882, and even though there aren’t many fixtures left from 1882, sometimes it feels like they all are,” said Executive Director David Gibbs. “In a place this old there are always energy-efficiency problems. It’s just a problem of prioritizing.”

So how did the Cambridge Community Center come by their new appliance, and at no cost to them? The answer lies in the green sticker adorning the front of the fridge a nonprofit organization called New Generation Energy.

New Generation is kind of like Kickstarter, the online fundraising platform that lets people collect donation pledges for any project and automatically collects the money only if the goal is reached. But New Generation’s platform is aimed specifically at nonprofits raising money for green friendly projects. And the company attracts donors by framing donations as community friendly carbon offsets.

“That’s what sets us apart,” says Bianca Strzelczyk, New Generation’s social media director. “You can buy carbon offsets, but it’s more symbolic. With us, you choose the project you want to support. You believe in the mission of that nonprofit.”

New Generation is also involved on the marketing side, and in calculating just how much energy a project can save. Typically, a not for profit comes to New Generation with a proposal for an energy-saving project and a cost estimate. The CCC’s fridge, which came in at $759, is at the low end of what New Generation will do. Their upper cost tends to be around $25,000, although Strzelczyk stresses there are no hard and fast rules each project is evaluated on a case by case basis.

If they take the project on, New Generation sets up a “thermometer” for it on their website, which shows the costs savings, the carbon savings, and how much carbon is saved per dollar donated. Then they and the nonprofit they’re working with use social media and traditional marketing to bring as many people to the site as they can. Often, they’ll do matching drives where, for a limited time, a business or an NGE grant will donate a matching dollar for every dollar received.

For the businesses, supporting an NGE project is a twofer – with a single donation they’re seen to be helping their local community and helping the environment. Businesses can get stickers like the one on the CCC refrigerator, that show their commitment to community and energy-efficiency. Individuals see the same draw a carbon offset that also helps the community. NGE encourages people to consider offsetting big expenditures like trips and Thanksgiving dinners by donating to projects they support.

Because the service is online, Boston-based New Generation can work with projects from Tennessee to Minnesota, but the ones close to home have an added advantage. New Generation is currently raising money to replace the windows in the Elizabeth Peabody House in Somerville, and Strzelczyk says the proximity is helpful.

“It’s so much more powerful when you can go see it,” she said, “When I go to promote I can say ‘I’ve seen those windows. They have holes in them!’”

New Generation Energy is hoping to start satellite groups around the country one, in Washington, D.C., is already established. In the meantime, they’re increasing their visibility and social media presence, making it easier to share projects on Facebook with a single click, or to potentially go viral.

For Dave Gibbs at the Cambridge Community Center, another partnership with New Generation is not out of the question.

“Our gymnasium has about a dozen broken, single pane windows,” he said. “We were lucky to get a grant to replace the roof. But now all the heat that was leaking out through that roof is leaking out through the windows.”

He certainly has no complaints about the experience.

“This was so easy,” he said. “They shopped for us. They had it delivered to us.”

JONAH COMSTOCK writes for Spare Change News.

Photo: The Cambridge Community Center replaced its old inefficient fridge with a new Energy Star qualified model, which will save the center more than $3,800 in energy costs over its lifetime. Photo by Joseph Cote/New Generation Energy

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