The “Charge Ahead Durham” initiative increased community awareness and involvement in sustainable activity by engaging the public in weekly online challenges, or “charges.” This program provides value to other communities in the southeast because it established a successful framework for online community engagement that can be replicated with little cost by other communities. Using an independent web application developed for the initiative (www.chargeaheaddurham.org), the sustainability office posted energy reduction, waste reduction, water conservation, and water quality actions, as well as outdoor activities anybody could participate in. These charges were posted at a rate of three per week, over the course of six months. In addition, there was one longer charge issued per month.
Members of the community were invited to create profiles that allowed them to share the actions they took and the results they experienced, including photos and video testimony. Durham participants who logged responses to challenges were eligible to win prizes donated by local companies and organizations.
In all, participants completed 1,810 charges with the largest portion of actions in the energy sector with 33% of the total actions. 52% of the actions taken were new activities participants had never taken before. This large number of collective actions towards sustainable outcomes demonstrates that motivating behavior is possible with the right levers for change. Through this program participants were successfully educated to a point of taking new actions.
A priority for this innovation was to create a public engagement platform that could be easily shared and replicated by other communities. To achieve that goal, the Durham City/County Sustainability Office made the website code available for other government organizations to modify and utilize in their own communities. Memphis and Shelby County have already leveraged this opportunity by replicating this program in Tennessee.