The Sustainability Energy, Education and Knowledge-sharing (SEEK) Project catalyzes the values-driven leadership of cohesive social networks, such as congregations and non-profits, to accelerate societal energy transitions through education, technical assistance, and social innovation. An action research project of the Spirituality and Sustainability Initiative, SEEK relies on a novel model for leveraging existing assets and in-kind resources from multi-sectoral partners (including universities, congregations, commercial energy professionals, federal programs, and local leaders) to provide tailored mentoring and technical assistance in face-to-face and virtual formats that facilitate progressive knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and mutual problem-solving.
Project participants can measure their individual and collective impacts on energy usage, transitions to renewable energy products and services, greenhouse gas emissions, energy expenditures, and ability to reinvest cost savings into social service. The SEEK project tests, under real-world conditions, hypotheses about the capacity for social values and cohesive networks to drive accelerated energy innovation and transitions in their communities. It explores how this model intersects with social resilience; how reciprocal knowledge-sharing methods affect public understanding of energy and climate issues; which factors shape energy decision-making; social, economic and cultural value propositions; and the benefits of multi-sectoral partnerships in grappling with a diffuse, complex challenge. By prioritizing both practical outcomes and creation of new knowledge, the project enhances educational experiences for students, faculty, and others.
Why faith communities?
Faith communities are socially networked at local, state, national and global scales. They demonstrate deep social cohesion based on shared values of social service and stewardship, with high levels of motivation to take responsible action on community well-being. These actions can take many forms, including sustainable management of their own facilities. Many congregations have interests in “going solar” and participating in other solutions aligned with their values. While the energy marketplace offers opportunities for values-based action, faith communities face some challenges. Their energy projects tend to be smaller and require more technical assistance than average projects, and they may not be well-suited for conventional financing. This makes them more costly and less lucrative for private sector developers, leaving faith communities underserved. This forecloses the potential for substantial aggregate impact. In the United States, 350,000 congregations in 236 denominations involve more than 150 million people, almost half the total population.
Given the complexity of such a vast system, the SEEK project leverages the inherent power of these social networks to catalyze change by providing a sharing platform to unite existing in-kind resources and assets shared among multi-sectoral partners. This design shares features with the sharing economy model, which reimagines existing infrastructure with a mindset of social innovation (eg., Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb). Rather than infrastructure, the SEEK project builds on existing relationships among universities, the energy industry, and faith communities – all of which are socially networked from local to national scales -- adding strategic resources and organizational design to expand existing capacities. The program is the first of its kind. Key project elements include tailored energy use benchmarking workshops, simplified site evaluations to identify priorities for savings and actions, tracking of individual and aggregate impacts, and ongoing knowledge-sharing about opportunities and strategies for acting on shared values. Overall, the project aims to generate synergies and creative problem-solving that will accelerate energy transitions in line with service and stewardship values, along social innovation pathways. We propose a 3-year intensive window for cascading mobilization and iterative impact assessment, followed by recalibration to accommodate then-current conditions.
Jenny Norton and Bob Ramsey
Raza Development Fund