Cultivating an Energy Conscious South LA

By Erick Huerta on
Mari Mercado explaining the benefits of being energy efficient to a South LA store owner.

Mari Mercado explaining the benefits of being energy efficient to a South LA store owner.

As Maria Dubon and Landry Thomas make their way down the street, they peer inside businesses looking at light fixtures and exit signs. Maria and Landry are SCOPE members and trained Energy Service Representatives (ESR) for the Los Angeles Department of Water who outreach to small businesses and churches in the South LA community to let them know about the free upgrades they can receive via the Small Business Direct Install (SBDI) Program. Even though the upgrades are a free service to qualified LADWP customers, they still encounter community members who need a little convincing on the benefits of being energy efficient.

“This is because individuals might have been burned before by someone else offering something similar, only to get stuck with an unexpected bill in the end,” explains Landry. “It’s not every day that someone comes knocking at your door offering to do something that’ll benefit your business.” Many businesses also lease and rent their storefronts and – for fear of having unauthorized work being done to their shop without their landlord’s permission – they say no to the services.

However, from SCOPE’s perspective, the process is simple enough. Energy Service Representatives (ESR) evaluate the energy and water use of these businesses to identify areas where they can save on their energy and water bill. After recommendations are made and approved, an appointment is made for installation of equipment with a LADWP worker. The work is done at minimal inconvenience so businesses can stay open during the process.

Maria and Landry review what kind of improvements can be made at a South LA Church.

Maria and Landry review what kind of improvements can be made at a South LA Church.

On the surface, it looks like Maria and Landry’s only purpose is to provide a simple service to LADWP customers, but this is actually part of the larger work SCOPE is undertaking to cultivate and build a growing movement of climate conscious South Los Angeles residents and businesses. In 2008 SCOPE, along with the LA Apollo Alliance, won a green retrofit initiative that put Angelenos to work through job skills and training programs, so they could be hired by the city to retrofit city buildings. Using the model we created, we continued our work in coordination with the RePowerLA coalition, and created a job training and career pipeline for jobs at LADWP. SCOPE members have been working hard to meet the needs of folks struggling to find work and reduce the impact of climate change in our communities. And for their part, the majority of South LA residents already are conserving energy and water at home, but sometimes it’s for different reasons. Many of us can be described as accidental environmentalists because we take action that not only benefits us as individuals, but also the environment. We take actions like turning off lights, taking shorter showers, recycling bottles and cans for money or taking public transportation instead of driving. It’s a win for the environment and for our wallets.

The LADWP SBDI program works in a similar way. It starts by creating much-needed jobs for those in our communities as Energy Service Representatives and as installation workers. Many of the installation workers are Utility Pre-Craft Trainees, workers that are paid by the DWP, have living wage jobs with union representation and benefits. These are the same workers and job classification that SCOPE members fought hard to win with RePowerLA. And the icing on the cake is when South LA businesses take advantage of these resources, not only are they saving money on their energy bill, but they’re also being energy efficient, which is crucial to the sustainability of our natural resources.

Some of the energy efficient upgrades that the SBDI program offers include:

  • Upgrades to lighting system and lamps
  • LED exit signs
  • Pipe and water heater insulation
  • Pre-rinse spray valves
  • Low-flow showerheads
  • Faucet aerators
  • Low-flow toilets

Maria, Landry, and the rest of the SCOPE members on this team do their best to reach managers, landlords, and pastors at identified locations so they can take advantage of the SBDI program. The smallest changes in our everyday lives can have lasting impacts not only in our communities, but in the environment we share with everyone else. It is through job creation and training programs like these and grassroots organizing that SCOPE is helping build a climate conscious South Los Angeles.