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The Social Value of Energy Efficiency

May 21, 2024
People often focus on the money saved when households or businesses pursue energy-efficient options. That’s a valid advantage, but what about the associated social value?

What you’ll learn:

  • How energy efficiency benefits societies 
  • The role of targeted programs in increasing energy efficiency


People often embrace energy-efficient technologies in their homes and businesses because of their money-saving potential. However, such individuals frequently overlook the social aspect of such choices.

Making Energy Efficiency a More Equitable Possibility

Those who perpetually struggle to make ends meet and live paycheck to paycheck may find energy-efficient strategies appealing. However, they simultaneously view most suggested tips as infeasible for their current situations.

Public awareness campaigns often center on buying smart thermostats or new appliances to curb unnecessary energy consumption. They also typically urge consumers to get their HVAC systems serviced regularly so the equipment works as efficiently as possible throughout the year. Those tips should get meaningful results, but they are likely out of reach for most people with little income left over after paying their rent or mortgage, buying food and budgeting for other essentials.

  • Increasing Access to Energy-Efficient Homes

Efforts are underway to help low-income households and communities enjoy the benefits of energy-efficient upgrades. In May 2024, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Multifamily Housing Programs revealed a $750,000 grant program to increase the energy efficiency and climate resilience of housing for low-income older adults in rural Tennessee.

Elsewhere, a project in Trieste, Italy, involves demolishing eight 1950s-era buildings and replacing them with energy-efficient apartments. Estimates show approximately one-tenth of the city’s inhabitants live in residences managed by a social housing agency. Additionally, their annual incomes are less than €15,000 ($16,287 US), and many residents are older adults or single parents.

Those overseeing these upgrades will seek input from surrounding community members, ultimately using their feedback to make more extensive improvements benefiting the whole neighborhood.

A construction, development and property service company in the United Kingdom has pledged to retrofit most of the country’s social housing communities to meet net-zero targets. Some of the organization’s efforts will also connect eligible residents to appropriate funding resources, making the financial demands of retrofit projects more manageable.

The company launched its retrofitting plans in 2020. As of June 2022, it had made energy-efficient upgrades to 531 homes, with 856 more in progress and over 1,000 others in the assessment and design phase. 

Practical efforts like these are essential for making energy efficiency more accessible to all, not just those with the means to plan extensive home improvements. Research shows low-income communities experience climate change effects the most, meaning it is time to act now. Doing so could bring numerous societal benefits, such as improved food and water security and better protections for livelihoods adversely affected by a warming planet.

  • Offering Business Incentives for Energy-Efficient Upgrades

Company leaders can anticipate numerous benefits tied to energy-efficient improvements. Many sustainably minded workers will show loyalty to businesses that make socially responsible choices versus those that do not.

Such decisions could also position businesses as more appealing to job seekers. One study showed three-quarters of millennials would agree to earn less if working at socially and environmentally responsible companies. As sustainability and the planet’s future weigh more heavily on people’s minds, many become more invested in making conscious decisions. They like opportunities to align with companies that match their values.

  • Tapping Into Targeted Programs

Even when company leaders understand the benefits of energy-efficient improvements, they cannot always implement them feasibly. Fortunately, incentive-based initiatives can reduce or eliminate such barriers. 

In one example, two companies serving businesses in Kentucky and Virginia launched a rebate program to help participants make energy-efficient changes to new or existing buildings. A furniture store owner who benefited from the initiative said it saves his business hundreds of dollars in monthly electricity bills.

Additionally, a coffee shop with locations in two states used the program’s funds to install LEDs in all new and remodeled stores. The company’s owner explained how 20 locations operate more than 12 hours daily. All those energy savings add up and show how thoughtful changes can significantly affect outcomes.

When community members notice more businesses moving forward with energy-efficient upgrades, they are more likely to take pride in where they live and feel climate-conscious changes are on course. Some may also install solar panels or similar upgrades. That becomes even easier due to a 30% federal tax credit—or a $1,200 credit—for American households pursuing qualifying energy-efficient upgrades. 

Another societal benefit comes when energy-efficiency programs create jobs. Overall, solar energy creates 1.5 times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Estimates from a non-partisan business group suggest 210 large-scale renewable energy projects alone will create 403,000 jobs. The study related to the nation’s Inflation Reduction Act, which has numerous aspects to address climate change, energy efficiency and other infrastructure upgrades.

  • Supporting Improved Public Health

Ongoing research shows a strong link between healthier people and energy improvements, especially when they involve renewable sources. All residents benefit when authoritative parties — such as city planners and locally elected officials — invest in cleaner energy while reducing fossil fuel dependence.

Viewing Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as Public Health Boosters

When households achieve consistent savings from energy-efficient upgrades, they will have more budgeting flexibility to take care of themselves. Public health experts know people are more likely to delay or avoid health care visits when they barely make enough money to live. Relatedly, when individuals have insufficient or no insurance, they fear going bankrupt due to medical bills.

However, routine medical visits are instrumental to healthy communities since they allow health care providers to spot abnormalities early. Then, people are less likely to live with undiagnosed diabetes, untreated cancers and other issues that cause societal strains.

Evidence also suggests specific renewable energy investments cause further public health improvements. A 2022 study revealed how people could quadruple wind energy’s public health benefits by decreasing output from the most heavily polluting fossil-fuel-based power plants. That would cause $8.4 billion in nationwide health gains.

However, the researchers cautioned that this approach would have widespread benefits but not remove the ethnic and racial disparities that make some communities more susceptible to fossil fuel emissions and their adverse effects. That finding emphasizes the need to support marginalized and disadvantaged groups to achieve maximally inclusive outcomes.

Energy Efficiency Offers Far-Reaching Benefits 

These examples emphasize how societies benefit when communities invest in energy-efficient or renewable energy upgrades. The results will be most impactful when authorities carefully consider how to help everyone benefit.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is an industrial and tech journalist passionate about how technology is revolutionizing each sector. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than five years and is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized.

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