Over the past two years, consumer and environmental advocates have been quietly meeting in an effort to identify opportunities to advance their mutual causes. The joint effort by the Regulatory Assistance Project, the Sierra Club, and National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) is the subject of a new paper presented at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Summer Study this year. Finding Common Ground Among Public Interest Advocates highlights how the groups worked toward common ground, identifies key issues ripe for joint engagement, and shares lessons learned over the span of the project.
“Our goal was to build trust, understanding, and respect for other advocates’ positions by exchanging information and perspectives in the quest for collaborative solutions,” said Janine Migden-Ostrander, RAP principal and coauthor of the paper. “We achieved that and much more. Participants developed relationships with each other and found ways to work together, even though they didn’t agree on everything.”
Energy efficiency, for example, is generally recognized as a least-cost resource by both groups. Environmental groups, conscious of global climate change, seek strong energy efficiency policies to displace fossil fuel consumption. However, consumer groups worry that the upfront costs will impact vulnerable populations that cannot afford their energy bills. Through this process, participants found agreement and worked in concert to support low-income weatherization programs, among other issues.
The report’s authors—Ms. Migden-Ostrander, Jennifer Miller (Sierra Club), and Olivia Wein (NCLC)—also facilitated the effort, and admit that the process wasn’t always easy, especially when the conversations moved into the details. They built momentum by starting with less controversial issues, working within a process agreed to by the participants, setting ground-rules, and maximizing the use of time during meetings. They also describe participants as dynamic, engaged, and invested in making progress, which contributed to the group’s positive momentum.
The authors believe that strong relationships and understanding among consumer and environmental advocates can enable swift, collaborative actions and minimize the ability of other stakeholders to put a wedge between consumer and environmental interests. “Ultimately, the goal of such collaboration is to build long-term relationships that result in a sustainable model for collective action and pave the way to meaningful victories that benefit consumers and the environment,” added Ms. Migden-Ostrander.