Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
Businesses that air condition the sidewalk are on alert with a new crowdsourced campaign.
It’s a common sight in the summertime: a shop door propped open, streaming conditioned air onto a sweltering sidewalk.
Retailers do it to lure in customers, believing a chilled, open entry means steadier spending. Sweaty pedestrians might appreciate the brief reprieve.
But it’s also wasteful, especially in a season when electricity grids are working on overdrive to keep cities cool. According to ConEdison, a 10,000-square-foot business—think of a large Gap store—that keeps a door open with the AC running will spend an extra $1,000 on electricity over the course of a summer. It would also drink up nearly five barrels of oil, and pump 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s like an putting an extra car on the road for six months.
“It’s an obvious form of energy litter,” says Nate McFarland, the director of communications at Generation 180, a young nonprofit devoted to changing social norms around energy use. With its first campaign, McFarland’s group hopes to use the power of social pressure to shut doors. Launched this week and lasting through September, “Keep It Cool” is crowdsourcing reports of AC-wasting businesses and tagging them to a common map.
With cities now taking it upon themselves to deliver massive greenhouse gas cuts promised by the U.S. in the Paris accord, “this is also something we can have a direct impact on with CO2 emissions,” says McFarland.
Conscientious observers anywhere in the U.S. can anonymously send in a retailer’s name and location via Facebook messenger; reports of closed and open doors are equally welcome. If it’s the latter, a special bot built by Generation 180 searches the web for an email address attached to the business, and sends a note nudging the owners to pull it shut. If they reply within a week, the store gets a green pin on a collective map, marking its door closed. If they don’t, the pin is yellow. (Watch an instructional video here.)
To convert “offending” businesses to green, Generation 180 sends extra emails packed with evidence in support of a closed-door policy. Large retailers in the U.K., for example, have reported no impact on sales stemming from a similar campaign. Young shoppers in particular like to know that they’re patronizing environmentally friendly establishments. And letting AC pour out of open doors and windows is already illegal in New York City, where blackout risks are on the rise. Last summer, the city expanded a law fining businesses $250 for the practice, and ramped up inspections and patrols.
Generation 180 won’t be policing businesses themselves, or following up with green pins to make sure doors stay shut. The campaign is simply designed to draw attention to a highly avoidable carbon suck. If enough word spreads that a critical mass of yellow and green builds in a couple of cities on the map, that’ll be a successful season. “To us, each pin represents a business and a person that cared enough to notice this practice,” says McFarland. At the start of another super-hot summer, those habits need all the attention they can get.