Climate Hero Marcus Ryan

A former Obama campaigner helps neighbors find talented green workers to make their homes climate-friendly.
Marcus Ryan, DC Project

Photo by Kristen Psaki.


How do you harness the grassroots energy and community organizing tactics that propelled Barack Obama into the White House and use them to make a city climate-friendly? That's the task Marcus Ryan is taking on in the nation's capital, as cofounder of the DC Project.

Led by a team of former Obama campaign staffers, the DC Project is acting as a green jobs matchmaker, getting Washington, D.C., homeowners enthusiastic about making their houses energy-efficient, and then matching them with newly trained home weatherization experts who can do the work. Their approach resembles the door-to-door, volunteer-based organizing that the Obama campaign popularized, designed to educate and empower citizens.

Volunteers and staffers canvass neighborhoods to find homeowners looking to retrofit their homes with energy-saving insulation, heating systems, and other similar upgrades. By bundling projects together, they can bring 10 houses to a contractor rather than just one and secure lower prices on the retrofits. They're also working with contractors who have committed to hiring graduates of new green-job training programs.

How is the DC Project creating demand for green jobs?

The first thing we wanted to do was create an actual pathway out of poverty. Getting trained in weatherization and smart-meter installation, green construction, is the first step toward a green job. But we realized there's still not going to be anybody to hire the folks who are trained in these new skills if there's no demand.

Demand for energy efficiency in homes is driven by education and awareness. It requires not only political will, but residential will. We want city-scale weatherization and retrofit, and that's going to require a lot of things along the supply chain. So we're trying to tap the residential weatherization market, bundle those contracts, and then give those to contractors who are willing to hire our people. Before the federal green jobs money is even handed out, we’re coordinating a pathway between different local organizations so that we can include underserved populations in training programs.

What made you decide to go door to door?

Everybody thinks there's going to be some all-encompassing remedy for creating green jobs. But the reality is it's a whole lot of conversations and convincing people that this is in their best interest. Volunteerism is the most powerful force in America. We saw that during the campaign. We use an Obama model to reach out, neighbor to neighbor, a field model that can get people interested in these subsectors of the economy that are emerging and immature but have great potential for growth.

We go door-to-door, identifying consumer demand and hooking homeowners up with energy captains who can take them through the process. People are interested in weatherizing their homes, investing, and saving money; they have the disposable income to do it. We're overcoming a huge market barrier just by telling homeowners how to do it and making it simpler for them.

Why have you chosen to start this project in Washington, D.C.?

If we can't do it in D.C., we can't do it anywhere. The city has 100,000 people working in nonprofits. Twenty-seven percent of the population works in government. But a mile and a half away, one out of five kids is living below the poverty line. Some parts of the city have 40, upwards of 50 percent unemployment. It's unreasonable. Washington, D.C., needs to be able to solve its local problems if it’s going to then be able to solve the nation’s and the world's problems. Change begins in your community.


Meet all our Climate Heroes: