The LEAFHouse communications team (COMET) scored first place on October 16, 2007 pushing the Maryland team into the first place overall that day.
A robust communications and outreach program is critical for the Solar Decathlon to have the impact it deserves at a critical moment for the development of U.S. solar energy. As the “hometown team,” we have taken on several tasks meant to magnify the impact not only of our entry in the contest, but of all the teams’ efforts. Our communications and outreach program is showcasing the contest’s broader goals, as well as the LEAFHouse, in the Washington, D.C. media market and in Congress—and in the Maryland State Legislature, the major research university that hosts us, and our community of suppliers and supporters.
As the “hometown team,” we are organizing a Lobby Week from Sept. 10-14 during which team members will meet with Members of Congress and staff members to describe the Solar Decathlon and educate them about the value of solar energy. During that week, on Sept. 11, we will also provide a pre-Mall tour of our entry for members of the Maryland State Legislature, in the form of a “send-off party.” Then on Thursday, Oct. 18, after closing hour on the Mall, we will hold a VIP reception for major donors and suppliers, university leaders, and congressional staff, featuring a “100-mile dinner” that will consist of Maryland food and beverages all obtained within 100 miles of the National Mall, and prepared at the house. We previously held a well-attended opening kickoff party last fall at the Community Forklift, a local supplier of recycled building materials; and, a “ground-raising” ceremony to launch construction this spring. Both were covered by local newspapers, radio, and TV.
The above events have been promoted to local media as opportunities to cover the students’ community service, the novel features of solar houses and the LEAF House in particular, and the broader goals of energy independence and reducing pollution. Our most recent media “hit” was a feature in July on the evening news program of the local CBS affiliate, WUSA-TV, mentioning our “edible” soy insulation, the interior dessicant waterfall, and other elements, and interviewing several team members and mentors. We have partnered with a local green PR firm, Kelley Campaigns (the DC representative of the RenewComm renewable energy communications practice), to obtain professional coaching and University of Maryland communications interns who produce press materials and call the media on our behalf.
Our commitment to a broader impact is shown by our flyer for the Mall, which includes a postcard for house visitors to mail to their member of Congress in support of solar energy—and a tearoff slip that describes other pledges of energy savings at their own homes. The color flyer shows an exploded view of the house and explains the main systems, as well as illustrating other LEAF House configurations as an urban villa, a townhouse, a garden flat, or larger solar homes of up to 2,400 square feet. It is being printed at cost by a local union printer on recycled stock that is Rainforest Alliance- and FSC- certified.
Video interview series
A series of short videos of team members are appearing on our website and on YouTube from Labor Day through the contest period. The video shorts portray team members’ motivations, explain their favorite house features, and describe breakthroughs during the process of design, construction, and outreach. Team volunteers are editing the videos into slightly longer versions to be shown on the television in the Maryland house while it is on the Mall, to take every opportunity to entertain and educate visitors about the people behind the house and unique features that might not be readily apparent.
Interpretive signage features “nutrition labeling” in the style of shipping labels attached to the various items in the house, showing their energy savings and respective payback periods, as well as a running series of signs on the deck (to make the most of waiting time), and the house walls and fixtures. In addition, house visitors will be invited to use their cell phones to hear a recorded message at any time, day or night, explaining the Decathlon and the Maryland entry, for those who miss one of our regularly organized tours or prefer a self-guided tour.
We are coordinating tour guide recruitment efforts on campus with the leaders of the University of Maryland “First Year Book” program, who this year have asked that all freshmen read the book Ravaging Tide, by local author and organizer Mike Tidwell, about the potential impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on America’s coastlines. (Maryland is the second state most at risk, after Louisiana.) Fresh from reading the book, freshmen are being invited to form a team of tour guides to be extensively trained to give tours on the Mall and supplement the core team of house builders. Additional campus visibility efforts have been coordinated through a class of undergraduate communications students who took on the Maryland entry as a semester-long project in planning a promotion campaign.
We have recruited and provided message and media training to a panel of knowledgeable team members and mentors who can represent the goals of solar power and sustainability to the Washington media and in group presentations. Their names and contact information appear on our website as a solar house speakers bureau, and bookings are being obtained.
A “retro metro” look has been selected for our house furnishings and incidental items to illustrate its appeal to the initial target audience we identified for the initial 800-square foot model of LEAF House: downsizing baby boomers, and affluent twenty- or thirty-somethings buying their first home or just starting their family. Further marketing materials are adopting this look and feel, as well, to make the house as appealing as possible to its core target market. Team branding and messaging The leaf motif of the Maryland team’s logo and house name connotes nature’s perfect solar collector, the leaf—as well as being an acronym for the number one project goal that emerged early during our branding process, namely, “Leading Everyone to an Abundant Future.” The leaf is used in our logo and throughout our house and materials. Message-rich team T-shirts convey the bright future of “pure energy” from the sun, and tour guide uniform shirts are made from a sustainable bamboo fabric that is soft to the touch. Support from the University’s First Year Book program has enabled all our tour guides to wear these shirts on the Mall, and help us convey the Decathlon’s messages to the widest possible audience.
The Department of Communications at the University of Maryland joined the Colleges of Engineering and Architecture as a partner in incorporating the 2007 Solar Decathlon into the undergraduate academic curriculum. A senior Communications class adopted LEAFHouse as its "client" for a capstone experience in designing and implementing a communications campaign.