Community Connections Innovation

New program leverages the sharing economy to improve energy efficiency in Palo Alto

It’s often said that the best collaborations come from shared goals and values, and that’s definitely true about the Energy Ambassadors Program, a new, innovative partnership between the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s linkAges TimeBank and the City of Palo Alto Utilities that aims to promote community connections and reduce energy consumption. And to make it really cool, the Energy Ambassador program also draws on a technology framework modeled after the ‘sharing economy.’ Here’s how it works.

Making a difference for the environment

People sign up to be trained as Energy Ambassadors, volunteers who show their neighbors how to decrease energy consumption by installing items such as LED light bulbs and weather stripping, or reduce waste through getting off junk mail lists or moving more trash into the recycling. Ambassadors don’t need any special expertise, just a desire to help reduce the community’s energy footprint. The first Energy Ambassador training is May 16 from 9:30-11:30am (register online here).

Tapping the sharing technology to connect different generations

Generations working together (photo: PAMF)

Generations working together through the linkAges TimeBank (photo: John Williams, PAMF)

Neighbors helping each other is nothing new, but what’s different about the Energy Ambassador program is that it is using a unique, multigenerational online platform called the linkAges TimeBank to help Palo Atans connect with one another. The linkAges TimeBank was started by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Druker Center for Innovation in 2013 to address the issue of social isolation among seniors in the communities that PAMF serves. Recognizing that isolation can impact the physical well being of seniors as well as their emotional health, PAMF looked for solutions that would address this issue as a part of a long term strategy to reduce systemic health care costs.

The TimeBank is based on the notion that while seniors may need support from the community as they age, they also have many wonderful assets, knowledge and expertise they can give back. To put this idea into action, the linkAges TimeBank has created a virtual ‘sharing economy’ where seniors ‘earn’ help for tasks by volunteering their time and talent for jobs posted by others in the community.

Seniors getting support AND giving back

This dual exchange is a powerful new way to see the role of seniors in the community, explains Vandana Pant, Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives for the PAMF Innovation Center. “People think about frail seniors who are in need of help, but we’ve forgotten about the vibrant, high functioning older adults in our community. The linkAges Timebank represents a shift in perception and an understanding that there are many meaningful ways we can connect the generations.”

As an example, Vandana described how her mom, who moved to the Peninsula a few years ago, has used the linkAges TimeBank to find people who are interested in playing Scrabble (a favorite hobby), while she in turn has knitted baby blankets and other items for people who are grateful for her homemade gifts.

Check out a video about the linkAges TimeBank here.

Exchanging over 1,300 hours of time…and growing

Although the linkAges TimeBank has only been around for two years, through partnerships with faith communities, the YMCA and other organizations, the program has created an active

Tai Chi class offered through the linkAges Timebank (photo: PAMF)

Tai Chi class offered through the linkAges Timebank (photo: John Williams, PAMF)

membership base that is an almost even mix of older adults and other community members. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 424 members in five communities served by PAMF (San Carlos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Palo Alto)
  • 17% of members reside in Palo Alto
  • 46% of the members are older adults (60+ in age)
  • 56% of the exchanges have been intergenerational — between a person under 60 and a person over 60

One of the most appealing aspects of the linkAges TimeBank for people who are looking to give back is that there is no minimum time requirement. Once they have attended an orientation and signed up online, members can just browse the listings and sign up for the jobs that fit their interests and availability.

Reducing energy + improving community connections = great return on investment

installing low flow faucets is one role for the Energy Ambassadors

installing low flow faucets is one role for the Energy Ambassadors (photo: City of Palo Alto Utilities)

For the City of Palo Alto, the partnership with linkAges is a classic ‘no brainer’ that promises great benefits for seniors and other members of the community with very low cost. “The Ambassador effort is a low-cost, innovative way to improve energy efficiency,” said Catherine Elvert, the Communications Manager for the City of Palo Alto Utilities. “We are excited to partner with PAMF to foster positive connections and help Palo Alto homeowners learn from each other about how to reduce consumption.”

For more information or to get involved, check out these resources:

 

About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of GreatSchools.org , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.