It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond

Water’s wicked problem by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: malla mi

flickr photo credit: malla mi

I recently had a conversation with Erin Culbert, the Environmental Outreach Coordinator at Charlotte Mecklenberg Utilities, and was reminded of the wicked problem that they face: encouraging consumers to use less water now that the drought’s been over for almost a year.  Back in 2007, she and her team launched a successful conservation campaign to educate Charlotte’s residents and business customers, and the city was able to cut its consumption to work with the limited supply.

Some folks debate that clean drinking water is the next biggest problem facing the environment.  (Good Magazine follows the argument here.)  But without formal restrictions or special drought rates, can we sustain our good behavior without slipping into old habits?

This question makes me think about an interesting framework for supporting and maintaining behavioral change mentioned to me once by a colleague – The Transtheoretical Model of Change.   It originally looked at the psychology of addictive behavior, but it might also have an application here. offers an easy-to-read explanation in the context of New Year’s resolutions, offering suggestions as to what steps should be considered at each stage of change, including maintenance.

Water (and, to some degree, gas and electricity) companies wrangle with another wicked problem: how do they meet operational revenue requirements if they’re trying to convince consumers to use less of what they sell?  Look for a later post on that one.

Demystifying energy: Innovation for everyone via EPRI by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: rbatina

flickr photo credit: rbatina

Energy is one of the “it” girls in innovation nowadays, given the full court coverage from the media and the Obama administration.  Amidst all the maelstrom sits the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI,) which is where marketing communications leader Don Kintner spends his days helping this independent, non-profit get its message out to customers from the Charlotte facility in the University area.

EPRI’s primary “customers” for its energy research are utilities and more recently, auto companies, but they don’t stop there.  They even provide answers for the utility technician, arming them with handy pocket field reference guides, such as “Visual Inspection of Polymer Insulators” and tools to help them evaluate the quality of transmission lines.

Kintner and the teams at EPRI host workshops with utilities to figure out which research projects ultimately inform the future of energy development, ensuring that the work they do is relevant and useful.  They also want to keep tabs on how the end consumer will react to changes in technology.  With all the attention and funding heading towards this sector, investment upfront to understand these issues sounds like money well spent.