James Brown Feels Good (About Weatherization)

One of the weirder things I’ve come across in the past year– apart from Soviet Cookiemonster, our second-most viewed post of 2020- was this video of James Brown promoting a blower door test. James Brown, be it said, feels good– about weatherization.

Tracking the Provenance of a Gem

It’s not clear when exactly the video is from. The blower door was invented and improved in a few iterations by a few different companies between 1980 and 1982. It’s probable that this video was made in 1989 or 1990. In late 1988, the then-foundering Mr. Dynamite was arrested in a quite bizarre incident involving PCP, an insurance office, and a shotgun. One might deduce that the video, then– serving this do-gooder role of, you know, saving people money and making their homes more comfortable- was part of a parole agreement for community service. The incident (as well as the video here) took place in South Carolina. So, the geographies and timelines match up.

Making The Energy Space Funky?

Apart from being a novelty, the video made me think of how completely un-sexy the energy efficiency space has been, historically. And how we often do a really lousy job of marketing ourselves. This is largely a product of a field populated by a lot of nerdy white guys. There’s a bit of a blurry boundary between the people who are sitting at a computer doing modeling all day and the people who are actually in the field doing the work. But there’s a definitive lack of people who are able to move between both spaces fluidly. I happen to work with one of them– but we are both, well, nerdy white guys.

In demographic terms of marketing, the sustainability field in general is pretty damn white– although there are probably more white women than white men. This demographic problem is a problem of representation. But it also becomes a functional problem, because of how deeply rooted the relationships are between class and race, race and capital access, or capital access and quality (energy efficiency) of housing. That may well be, as they say, a whole ‘nother story. I’m not sure what the right answer is as far as how to market this stuff. But, to quote the late, great, James Brown Himself? What’s ever we do, it’s got to be funky.

Thanks to Ben Dueweke of Walker-Miller Energy for letting me know about this crown jewel of American civilization.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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