CEED connects with Southeast Asian community members to reduce energy burden

April 2023

“Although there are efforts in the Metro to reach diverse communities around energy education and programs, low-income, immigrant, and refugee Southeast Asian households are still underserved.”

Say Yang, former Senior Program Advisor, CEED

To meet this need, the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) continues to conduct important outreach centered on energy education to the Southeast Asian community. CEED began their community energy outreach and education program in 2021. To this date, they’ve reached over 350 households in the Metro region.

This program has been effective because CEED meets community members where they are. To conduct the outreach, CEED partners with Phitz Nantharath, a Lao community influencer. This partnership allows the project to serve the communities of Lao, Hmong, Cambodian, Karen, Thai, Vietnamese, and Bhutanese descent. The large Southeast Asian population in Minneapolis and surrounding areas made ideal locations for targeted outreach efforts. 

People handing out energy education packets

Photo courtesy of CEED.

Phitz and CEED focus this energy education outreach to the Southeast Asian community to address the lack of tailored information on energy burden. Often culture, language, and multi-generational living situations call for specific explanations of energy use, energy savings, and how to access financial aid.

“By focusing our outreach efforts on this community, we can help improve energy affordability and sustainability while also promoting environmental justice.”

Phitz Nantharath, Community Influencer

The energy education project is conducted through one-on-one outreach at community events, small group learning sessions, and social media engagement. Overall, they found that community events were the easiest way to connect with folks, providing a casual and fun atmosphere where people are more willing to engage. They also found that small group learning sessions are very effective in building relationships and trust within the community. This trust is crucial to the success of the outreach efforts. Social media outreach is also helpful in reaching a wider audience and promoting the project.

The community events are free and open to the public. The outreach is typically done as a booth at cultural events. Phitz remarks that it isn’t always easy asking someone to talk just about energy with you. For this reason, it’s helpful to frame the conversation around physical and financial health. In many SE Asian households, the women make the family’s financial and health decisions so it’s important to reach them at events worth their time. One example is the "Hmong Community Explore Your Parks" event hosted on July 16, 2022, at Centennial Park, Brooklyn Center.

People at the Hmong Community Explore Your Parks event

Photo courtesy of CEED: Four people – three community members and Phitz Nantharath – standing in front of a health check-up vehicle at Centennial Park. A community member and Phitz each hold up an energy savings starter pack as part of energy education outreach at the Hmong Community Explore Your Parks event in Brooklyn Center.

Connection and understanding are important cornerstones of CEED’s work in underserved communities. This project gave CEED the opportunity to better understand the energy vulnerabilities that Southeast Asian communities are experiencing through connections and meaningful conversations. Energy vulnerability refers to the condition of being at risk for experiencing high energy costs and other negative impacts related to energy access, such as health issues and environmental concerns. This vulnerability can be influenced by factors such as income level, housing quality, and energy efficiency of appliances and systems. In some cases, vulnerable populations may lack access to resources and information needed to manage their energy consumption and costs, leading to increased financial burden and potential health hazards.

Through energy outreach conversations, Phitz provides printed and digital fact sheets about energy usage and savings. She and CEED want to ensure that alongside the energy education, community members receive tools to immediately begin implementing cost and energy saving changes in their homes. Participating community members receive home energy savings starter packs that include LED light bulbs, window insulation shrink kits, and surge protector power strips.

These starter packs and other incentives like gift cards are offered to folks who take an energy survey. Through these surveys, CEED finds that many participants are not aware of their energy burden. Some are unsure about the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs. Others report spending anywhere from 3% to as high as 15%. More than half of participants report they have challenges paying electric and gas bills.

Phitz is known affectionately as the ‘LED Light Bulb Lady.’ When she sees community members she’s met during outreach events, she always follows up with them. She often finds that the participants who took the energy kits home and replaced light bulbs or insulated windows are excited to report that they did see a difference in their energy bills. Phitz knows this is just the beginning of energy education for some folks and that each connection provides more understanding about their energy journey.

Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) - Energy Education

Clean Energy Focus: Energy education and energy saving items for Southeast Asian households

Metro CERT Seed Grant: $5,000

Other Funds Leveraged: Union of Concerned Scientists

Energy Saved Each Year: 9,750 kWh and 23 therms

Money Saved Each Year: $1,090

People Involved and Reached: 316

The future of this outreach project is bright, and CEED hopes to continue their efforts to improve energy affordability and sustainability within the Southeast Asian community in Minnesota. To sustain this project, they are looking for continued funding for staff time and effort, and incentives to the community, particularly those who may have financial struggles and are in need of free energy-saving supplies.

Moving forward, they plan to expand outreach efforts to reach even more households and to develop partnerships with community organizations to further promote energy efficiency and sustainability. With continued support and investment, they believe that this project can have a positive and lasting impact on the community, while also advancing environmental justice and equity in the energy sector.

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