Bill Clinton said it best: "It's the economy, stupid."
The former president reiterated his economy comment in a piece in Newsweek, offering energy efficiency measures as several of 14 ways to jump start the U.S. economy and create jobs.
He's hardly the first. The corporate sector, utilities and governments are swapping out old lighting and inefficient energy-hungry systems like crazy. Why? It saves money.
This rapid embrace of energy efficiency over the past couple years has a lot to do with money. IBM says it's saved $50 million since 2008 through energy saving and conservation measures. "Bottom line; it pays dividends," the company said in a statement.
Converts are signing up in droves. Wal-Mart, an early believer in sustainability, played a big part in expanding the movement's reach. For instance, the retailer has provided more than 100,000 of its global suppliers with a sustainability survey and encourages them to embrace energy efficiency policies.
Utilities also are playing a major part, especially in California where representatives work one-on-one with clients to install retrofits and save money and kilowatt hours. While they are somewhat inspired by financial incentive, most of these reps have become some of the best educated on how to adopt energy-saving measures for the least amount of money.
Efficiency-aware utilities are hardly limited to the Sunshine State. On the north side of the continent, a couple of Yukon utilities launched an innovative program with Ottawa, Ontario-based One Change, a nonprofit that encourages people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors, including energy efficiency.
One Change is helping the utilities get feedback from residents in far-flung places like Carmacks, Teslin and Dawson about what conservation measures they think will work in their communities, said Sara Haskill, the organization's marketing manager. Many of the communities in the program "are quite isolated and have limited resources. Yukon is also not hooked up to the North American grid."
But people who live in these harsh lands know better than most what works and what doesn't. When it's 50 below, a poorly insulated house requires three and four times what a super-insulated house needs in terms of heat. Northerners also tend to be quite careful (one mistake and you're a human Popsicle) and imaginative.
"We are definitely looking forward to hearing what the people in Yukon have to say," Haskill says. "We are expecting some innovative thoughts. Stay tuned to our web site/twitter/facebook in the coming months."
Who knows? The next big idea that creates 100,000 jobs might come from a Canadian in Old Crow.
In the meantime, here are some more traditional measures:
1. Lighting. Go with compact fluorescents, T8s or even T5s, using digital ballasts. Install occupancy sensors. Try LEDs. Their price is dropping. I bought my first bulb last week.
2. Insulation. Load up. HGTV's Mike Holmes tells his viewers to go overkill, R-40 in ceilings or more. Weatherize. I insulated my floor last winter. California home didn't have a thing. Reduces cooling costs, too.
3. HVAC. Yeah, it's expensive, but newer and more efficient air conditioning units or furnaces pay for themselves. Seal up existing duct work or add new stuff.
4. Electric motors. In this category, I'm thinking pumps and other items that draw a lot of power. Go with premium efficiency or variable frequency drive.
5. Roofs. Paint 'em white. Go with a cool roof if you can afford it. The savings payback works. Clinton offers up this one as well.
Speaking of Clinton, he's got a couple more in his Newsweek piece.
6. Copy the Empire State Building. The iconic structure is the epitome of energy efficiency these days after a costly makeover by its owners. The building now stands as a monument of how to successfully retrofit structures erected far before we came up with the concept of greenhouse gas or net-zero.
7. Utilities. Get them in on the energy efficiency retrofit action, Clinton says. "You wouldn't even need banks if states required the electric companies to let consumers finance this work through utility savings."
And diversify. A national trash hauler that pioneered landfill gas technology 20 years ago recently cranked up renewable energy generation power plants McMinnville, Ore. and Arlington, Wash.
"These projects show... increasing focus on green technologies that extract value from waste," said Paul Burns, a company official in Pacific Northwest, in a statement. It's efficient.
Analysts often advise clients to institute efficiency measures first. Then, they say, there's the option of adding renewable energy.
But I'll wait for the advice from the folks of the tiny town of Old Crow, via One Change. Last I checked on the web cam there was some work going on down from the John Tizya Center. The community is northeast of my old stomping grounds in Fairbanks, Alaska in the Yukon on the Peel River. People who live there are no doubt efficient, and tough.
Mike Nemeth, project manager of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, spent 24 years working as a newspaperman editing and reporting from Alaska to California. The SJVCEO is a nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life through increased use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO is based in Fresno, Calif. and works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley. For more information, go to http://www.sjvcleanenergy.org.