Oakland County PROSPER, May 16, 2012. You’ve heard of the Adopt-a-Highway Program, right? Drive for any length of time down any expressway and you’re sure to see one of the official signs designating a corporate or private sponsor of a particular stretch of road. It’s a way for companies to demonstrate their commitment to the communities they serve 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Adopt-a-Highway ensures the maintenance of the sponsored road on behalf of the sponsor, while permanent signage with the sponsor’s logo is visible to every single person who drives by.
Adopt-a-Watt functions in much the same way. Instead of sponsoring the maintenance of highways, corporate sponsors fund energy efficient and green technologies. “We utilize marketing budgets to fund clean tech devices for cash-strapped agencies,” explains Thomas Wither, founding member and CEO of the National Adopt-a-Watt Program. “We’re mimicking Adopt-a-Highway but instead we give recognition for supporting and sponsoring solar energy, energy-efficient lighting, electric vehicles and infrastructure in high-profile locations.”
What this means is that Adopt-a-Watt provides such clean tech devices as electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and energy efficient lighting in dated parking structures on behalf of corporate sponsors who in turn receive permanent brand recognition for the clean tech they are supporting. “It’s a way for all to participate in demonstrating corporate social philanthropy.” Signage, much like the signage used in Adopt-a-Highway, is placed a highly visible location, and all of it costs cash-strapped agencies (think Departments of Transportation, hospitals, airports) and taxpayers absolutely nothing. For corporate entities, it is all part of marketing and social philanthropy efforts; for agencies, it is an opportunity for costly but necessary upgrades; for citizens, it means accessibility to green technologies in an increasingly eco-conscious society. Even the environment benefits!
Wither notes, “Organizations are really trying very hard to show the public and consumers that they are trying to be good neighbors and players but the public isn’t picking up on that.” He references multinational computer technology corporation Dell, consistently rated by Newsweek as one of the top greenest companies in the country, but in a poll most consumers knew nothing of that. “Adopt-a-Watt is an easy connect-the-dots for the public and consumers to see,” he states. “[This is] a tremendous opportunity for brands to be socially responsible.” (Incidentally, Dell is one of Adopt-a-Watt’s charter sponsors, sponsoring the Philadelphia International Airport.)
Adopt-a-Watt is a Royal Oak, Michigan-based company but it launched immediately as a national brand. Formed in 2006 and rolled out in three distinct phases (developing grassroots and agency support; identifying host locations in cities, airports, hospitals, sports venues and the like; then finally seeking sponsors), Adopt-a-Watt really only became visible last year with support in 21 states and 20 charter sponsors already on board. The city of Dearborn was the first agency partner in Michigan, with Adopt-a-Watt installing EV charging stations and retrofitting energy efficient lights at various sites. Royal Oak and Ferndale will be next, and Wither hopes to have President Barack Obama at the high-profile kick-off ceremony for the Royal Oak launch, whose personal commitment to seeing 20 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is in keeping with Adopt-a-Watt’s mission.
Adopt-a-Watt has support from Michigan and Oakland County political figures including Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, State Representative Jim Townsend, and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Wither emphasizes that despite political support, Adopt-a-Watt is a non-political program that easily draws support from all sides. “This is a community effort to fund clean tech and reduce cash-strapped public agencies of energy costs at no cost to taxpayers.”
Wither himself has over two decades of experience in researching and developing clean technologies, having patented his first invention – a “bi-directional vertical access wind turbine” – in 1993. “I referred to myself as an ‘armchair environmentalist’ before that, then I came out!” he laughs. Since then he has been featured on CNN and Good Morning America, has won awards and has patented a number of different inventions by “just trying to help.” The idea for Adopt-a-Watt came to him as he was driving down the highway and saw a sign for Adopt-a-Highway. He describes that moment as the proverbial “lightbulb” going off in his mind – pun intended.
Ultimately Adopt-a-Watt’s mission is to help reduce the nation’s dependence on burning coal. “We think we can make a tremendous impact,” Wither states. Another aspect of the program will be to offset the $5,000 premium on electric vehicles so that cities can purchase them at the same price as gas vehicles. “We feel we can really help Detroit automakers make the transition [to EV] across the nation. This is a national initiative.”
By acting as the facilitator of these projects, Adopt-a-Watt relieves significant burden from public agencies while giving corporations a rare opportunity to show their social commitment to their communities, all while promoting a national transition to green technologies. Adopt-a-Watt is also one of only two Michigan Certified B Corporations, a “new breed of corporation that believes in using the power of business to solve social, economic as well as environmental problems and are obligated to consider people and the planet along with profits.” This is one bright idea that truly does work towards the greater good.