Connecting Residents to Resources for Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation, and Household Level Sustainability in Flint, Michigan
The UM-Flint Urban Alternatives House (UAH) is a LEED Platinum certified residential property redevelopment project established in 2010 through a partnership between the Genesee County Land Bank Authority and the University of Michigan-Flint. UM-Flint with community partners seek to use the UAH as demonstration project that connects residents in Flint and Genesee County to programs and resources that support adoption of sustainability measures to increase community resilience. Population decline and economic challenges are evident in the metropolitan Flint area, and energy costs place a larger financial burden on low income households. The desire to connect residents to resources that reduce residential energy and water costs while advancing adoption of sustainable practices informed development of this study.
The objectives of the study were to identify organizations and programs in Flint and Genesee County that provided resources or support to advance household level energy efficiency, water conservation, and sustainable development practices, to understand how these organizations are networked together, and to understand the opportunities and barriers they perceive relative to advancing efforts in the region. To meet this objective, the study focused on gathering organization level information and perspectives. Participants were identified using a snowball sampling technique.
Stakeholder analysis and social network analysis were the methods used to inform the study. The stakeholder analysis was completed using an integrated approach, informed by semi-structured interviews with nineteen stakeholders (n=19). NVivo 10 quantitative analysis software was employed to analyze stakeholder interview responses using a strategic perspectives approach. An actor linkage survey was completed by seventeen of the participants (n=17), and the information collected from the surveys provided data for the social network analysis completed using NetMiner10 software.
Forty-eight organizations were identified as stakeholders with direct or indirect alignment with the study area. Thirty-four of these organization were active in the study region. Analytical categorizations resulted in organizations being classified in three levels: type (i.e. Government, community organization, etc.), organizational alignment identified as 1) Community Economic Development, 2) Community Education and Engagement, 3) Health, and 4) Coordination/Collaboration, and study alignment identified as 1) Energy Efficiency, 2) Water Conservation, 3) Construction (Regular and “Green”), 4) Agriculture and Food Access, and 5) Recycling and Waste Management.
The first portion of the results section explores the themes found through analysis of the stakeholder interview data. The organizational alignments provided a broad context through which the themes emerged. Community economic development examines the role of stakeholders involved in housing programs, often supported by state and federal funding aimed at low to moderate income households. Community education and engagement highlights the important role of the utility provider as well as water quality and resources management organizations, and educational institutions. Health aligned stakeholders included those that addressed household hazards and organizations engaged in local food system work. Coordination and collaboration identifies that many partnerships exist, but only one local collaboration focused primarily on household health and sustainability. Opportunities and barriers are also examined.
The second portion of the results section features the results of the social network analysis. The social network analysis focuses on measures of centrality, exploring the properties of an actor (stakeholders represented as nodes in the network) and the prominence of said actor in the network based on the ties to other actors. Measures of centrality highlighted in the analysis include in- and out-degree centrality, closeness centrality, and betweenness centrality which are often positively correlated. The dominant actors and the deviations from the positive correlations found between the centrality measures are identified.
The discussion and recommendations section of the study notes that a variety of programs and initiatives exist that support energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable construction, and overall household level sustainability in in the study region, but few stakeholders have a primary focus in these areas. Recommendations for ongoing stakeholder engagement with existing efforts and approaches to advance education and outreach objectives are made. The impacts of fluctuations in funding, particularly at the federal level, areas in which services are being centralized, and market gaps revealed by the study are discussed.
The study identifies several areas to advance residents’ connections to energy efficiency, water conservation, and household level sustainability, and concludes with the following:<ul> <li>Education is both an opportunity and a barrier to connecting residents to resources for energy efficiency, water conservation, and household level sustainability. The inventory of programs may serve as a starting point to connecting residents to these resources, and development of a social marketing campaign could advance both promotion and adoption of these resources. </li> <li>Stakeholders in the Flint area are actively partnering on a number of initiatives and to advance community sustainability in a larger context. Building a shared understanding of household sustainability, understanding the strengths and limitations of partner organizations, and finding ways to creatively leverage resources through new and existing collaborations could support efforts moving forward.</li> <li>Ongoing engagement with stakeholders aligned with fair housing, natural resource management/water quality, and local food systems is recommended. The important role of government in connecting to resources and advancing a collective vision is recognized. Building alignments with business and economic development efforts is also suggested.</li> </ul>
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