Living the Good, Green Life
A Madison family takes on an eco challenge
PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN
Maudie Garrett and her husband Richard are homeowners on the South side of Madison. Maudie is working to complete her doctorate degree and has worked in the medical field as a financial professional for many years. Richard has been a Madison Metro bus driver for more than twenty years.
When the family’s pastor asked if they’d be interested in participating in the New Green Challenge, Maudie’s answer was an enthusiastic yes.
The Madison Gas and Electric-sponsored program, developed and launched in partnership with EnAct: Steps for Greener Living along with community partners La Movida, the Urban League, Centro Hispano and African American Council of Churches, challenges members of Madison’s African American and Latino communities to live greener lives for six months.
The program focuses on saving energy, eating well, reducing waste, conserving water and driving less. The current theme is “We Come from the Land.” Each month, twenty participating households learn from experts on energy, food, waste, water and transportation topics; set goals in each category; and share their experiences.
The concept surfaced from conversations between Annette Miller, emerging markets and community development manager at Madison Gas and Electric, and coworkers.
“We were talking about how sustainability initiatives are targeted toward a white audience,” says Miller. “We wanted a creative way to connect and engage with communities of color around those issues.
“We partnered with EnAct, because it offers the Steps to Greener Living guide,” she continues. “We talked about having meetings in neighborhoods for people of color, with people who look like them hosting.”
First her team piloted the program to see if it had merit, and then held monthly workshops covering six topics in six months for participating families, connecting with the community via Facebook. “Families in the challenge tell their stories. We recruited a very broad group of people—single, married, with and without kids, homeowners, renters, known and unknown people,” says Miller.
“Next we’ll evaluate if and how we can do this long-term,” she adds. “Even if we don’t continue this challenge, what we’ve learned about marketing to and communicating with these populations will be useful for other efforts. We’re learning a lot about what resonates—effective ways to talk about energy and sustainability.”
“As a collaborative project, we are all trying to figure out the level of interest among populations of color, and what we need to do differently to change and engage those groups,” says Miller. “We’re all learning together.”
Research shows African Americans and Latinos have a strong interest in sustainability. “But no one’s stopped to ask and listen to the response,” Miller notes. “Our messages are specifically crafted to resonate. These populations’ roots are very tied to the sustainability concepts of land, food, water, transportation and energy.”
Before beginning the New Green Challenge, Maudie Garrett and her family were unaware of how many tactics they could use to reduce their carbon footprint. “After attending the educational sessions, we were very informed about different things we could do,” she says. “Surprisingly, many of them didn’t require us to make dramatic changes to our lifestyles.”
Her objective going into the program was to reduce energy costs. “We weren’t successful in reducing our energy bill, but we did learn to control costs, and throughout the program maintained an average monthly cost we were comfortable with,” she says. “We changed all of the bulbs in our home to energy-efficient lighting and switched out our kitchen faucet to a low-flow aerator to conserve water.”
She addresses the misconception that the African American community isn’t interested in pursuing sustainability. “I think it’s mostly lack of interaction with the African American community. Most of its families aren’t know-ledgeable about how they can reduce their carbon footprints. Initially, we felt it would require dramatic changes to our lifestyles, but as it turns out, there are things we can easily do.”
Garrett believes more efforts should focus on educating the African American community about sustainability. “African Americans do care about the planet we live on and we want to make things better for those that will inhabit it after we’re gone,” she says.
The New Green Challenge is looking for ten African American households to participate in the six-month program for its 2014 season. If you’re interested, visit the group’s Facebook page at and send an inbox message.