Fayetteville’s energy cop

Fayetteville, Arkansas’ sustainability officer John Coleman is paid $57,000 a year to make sure he saves the city at least $57,000 a year through energy efficiency improvements. There’s enough low hanging fruit (ie. inefficient thermostats, non-fluorescent light bulbs, computers left on overnight) that for the moment, Coleman is easily making up for his salary. Of course, it’s only going to get harder.

In a recent Governing magazine profile, Coleman says he is developing an idea to allow vehicles that get more than 40 miles per gallon to park for free at street meters. In a similar initiative, Victoria, British Columbia, has special parking spaces for Smart cars.

Coleman has no pool of funds to tap for projects. And so his challenge is to get managers to feel as passionately about sustainability as he does. One idea Coleman came up with he stole from the television show “The Biggest Loser,” in which overweight contestants compete to shed the most pounds. Coleman’s version is an energy-efficiency competition among the various departments. Each month, he compiles a list of the seven offices that reduced their power consumption the most from the year before. Sustainability team members post the results in their lobbies and in break rooms, and Coleman hangs a copy on the heavily trafficked back door of city hall.

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One Response to “Fayetteville’s energy cop”

  1. Dave Comerford Says:

    Incentivising behaviour that reconciles social and individual costs is an admirable initiative. So much so, that it is surprising that Tom has been awarded a monopoly. I imagine that Tom is motivated by considerations other than the $57,000 salary but if I were a conventional economist, I would point to the perverse incentive here. As soon as Tom reaches the $57,000 target, he should wait until the following financial year before implimenting the next energy saving initiative. That way his income stream lasts longest – rather than exploiting all the low hanging fruit in year 1, a monopolist would be expected to spread the exploitation over time. I don’t mean to make life difficult for Tom but an open competition that offers a prize of $57,000 to the individual who does most to clean up Fayetteville will lead to an outcome that is at least as good as this system.

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