The Vassar honors graduate was soon running one of the fastest growing and most innovative civic engagement organizations in the nation. Its mission: to give low-income people a real opportunity to work in a new clean energy economy. Byrne, 27, and his DC Project “think + action tank” have galvanized community interest in weatherization, increased economic savings and environmental benefits, and put local residents to work in new green jobs.
What does DC Project do?
We focus on energy efficiency upgrades for homes and buildings that create work for people in need.
How did you get organized?
It started as a bunch of crazy young people – three Obama field staffers and a forest fire fighter – with an interesting idea to create opportunity for people who have been locked out of the economy. We built upon the campaign’s outreach methods and applied them to drive growth in the clean energy economy and local marketplace.
It sounds like “La Boeme Goes Green.”
We were sweating bullets, all of us packed into a tiny room with no real jobs. I slept on a couch in the office. Now we have a 20-person staff and a $1.4 million budget.
What is the economic incentive to make it work?
The upgrades may cost a couple of thousand dollars but people will soon see 25-to-30 percent savings on their utility bills. On average, it pays for itself after about two years.
What is the green jobs connection?
We deliver projects to businesses so they can grow and then make sure they employ local residents, especially the chronically unemployed. We’ve created 37 jobs so far.
How have you been able to create so much interest?
We’ve changed the messenger. We use social media and hold neighborhood energy meetings that allow community leaders to play a validating role in going green, instead of relying upon traditional marketing campaigns run by utility companies and businesses in the past.
How do you get the word out?
We’ve changed the messenger by mobilizing social media and having community energy meetings instead of relying upon traditional marketing campaigns used by utility companies and contractors.
What comes next?
We are starting up “Groundswell” to replicate our model and focus on other cities that Need help.
Dessert Question: President Obama said “insulation is sexy?” Do you agree?
He made community organizing sexy, so I would have to trust him on that.