How we assess the impact of our mission

“Slipstream champions and delivers innovative energy initiatives that produce enduring economic and environmental benefits for all.” 

Slipstream’s mission statement drives the organization’s work and guides everything from long-term strategic planning to day-to-day operations. For 40 years, we maintained our focus on this objective by designing and delivering research, financing, training, marketing, and incentive programs that help individuals, businesses, and communities use energy more efficiently and sustainably. 

Staff work diligently and are personally invested to ensure the programs we implement and the projects we complete meet the objectives of our clients. But, how do we measure the impact of this work toward achieving the organization’s mission? 

In 2019, following the merger that created Slipstream, the company’s newly formed board of directors asked how we would measure the effects of our work.  

Reflecting our identity as a results-driven company that believes in science and data, the board identified four focus areas within the organization’s mission and asked that staff regularly assess, and report the effects of, our work in each of these areas: 

  • Environmental benefits
  • Improvements in health and social equity
  • Lasting economic impacts
  • Program delivery and technological innovations 

Some of Slipstream’s impact can be directly calculated by translating the energy savings from the organization’s work into the number of metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) that were NOT emitted into the atmosphere, as a result of the improved performance of buildings. For these calculations, we can leverage well-established references, such as the EPA’s Emission Factors for Greenhouse Gas Inventories publication. 

For decades, we have calculated and reported savings to clients in terms of kilowatt hours, therms, and dollars. As clients sharpened their focus on climate change, we incorporated CO2e reductions into their program status reports. These savings are important as they achieve the objectives of our clients and support the organization’s mission. However, Slipstream’s mission extends beyond calculations of kWh, therms, and CO2e. 

The world economy undervalues the costs of the negative environmental and health externalities of burning fossil fuels. By applying an artificially low cost to pollution, the economy correspondingly underestimates the value of using energy efficiency and renewable energy to reduce pollution. 

One reason the economy underrepresents the value of the positive externalities of reducing fossil fuel consumption is a lack of convention on quantifying the non-environmental benefits of reducing pollution. These include: 

  • Health and wellbeing increases resulting from improved air quality.  
  • Greater equity in communities due to lower energy burdens faced by low- and moderate-income households. 
  • Job growth due to clean energy investments and greater economic stability. 

For example, how do we quantify the effect of weatherizing a drafty mobile home in Michigan? The home now uses less energy, which means fewer fossil fuels will be combusted to meet its energy needs, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter in the air. The occupants reduce their monthly energy bills, which enhances their ability to meet basic needs and build economic security. Reduced air infiltration and proper ventilation improve the home’s indoor air quality, which decreases asthma attacks and avoids development of chronic respiratory conditions. 

We believe that insulating and air sealing a home accrues broader benefits, but how do we measure those impacts over time, at scale, throughout the population, and across a diverse array of programs and projects?

The Challenge
Doug Ahl, Slipstream’s vice president of research and innovation, convened the Mission Impact Group, a cross section of interested and curious staff, to respond to the board’s question.

The group observed that some impacts are immediate, while others are realized statistically over many years. We wondered what metrics best gauge impact in each area and what tools Slipstream has to measure those metrics? We discussed how we could quantify both the impacts of individual projects and the ripple effects of these projects around communities. 

Slipstream is not the first organization to try to better understand the broader impacts of increased energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, so the group started with an investigation of existing research in these areas. 
Outside of the direct environmental impacts of the energy savings, we discovered a slim body of research, which did not support a clear path toward measuring the impact of clean energy use on health, equity, and economy. 

The Project
Slipstream believes that the impact of clean energy extends beyond the direct environmental benefits of reduced fossil fuel consumption. Slipstream also anticipates that, in addition to enabling the organization to measure its success in achieving its mission, the wider community will benefit from better understanding how energy is connected to health, equity, and local economies. So, we are undertaking additional research and analysis to investigate these questions. We are looking at available data and third-party research that could inform these protocols. We will also consider opportunities to gain insights on these questions by gathering additional data from the programs that Slipstream implements.

In 2020, the working group will propose initial metrics and protocols for measuring impact in each area of the mission, to be reviewed and approved by the board of directors. Once approved, metrics for 2019 will be calculated and serve as the baseline from which future goals will be defined. Slipstream’s President and CEO, Frank Greb, will oversee regular reporting to the board on our progress.  

In 2020, we will continue to refine the methodologies used for measuring impact. We do not expect that these initial inquiries will produce final answers. Instead, we look forward to sharing our hypotheses with our peers and with the community and answering challenging questions along the way. 

Please watch this blog in 2020 to see where we land and to share feedback. Also, we would love to receive suggestions of existing research in these areas and innovative ways to explore these questions. Please share your thoughts with us