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Conservation education a bright spot for Sparks firm

JOHN SEELMEYER

A growing number of state regulators require power and water companies to educate their customers about conservation, and that’s good news for Sparks-based Resource Action Programs.

The company assembles kits of conservation hardware low-flow showerheads, compact fluorescent light bulbs and the like that are distributed in brightly colored boxes along with workbooks and other educational material to schoolchildren across the nation.

In some instances, Resource Action Programs works directly with adults. It contracted, for instance, with the Oklahoma Department of Housing Services to provide education and energy-saving products to low-income consumers.

Despite a 70,000-square-foot warehouse filled with boxes, printed material and energy-saving products, two intangibles data and relationships provide the company’s competitive advantage, says Jim Heier, vice president of sales and marketing for the privately held company.

Through much of its 18-year history, Resource Action Programs has been carefully surveying participants in its programs the families of schoolchildren who participate in its classroom program as well adults who participate directly.

It’s able to report, for instance, that participants in RAP programs nationwide last year saved more than 51 million kilowatts of electricity and 914 million gallons of water after installing the hardware and following the tips in the company’s kits.

That’s obviously important information to utility executives who need to tell their shareholders and regulators that their investment in educational programs pays off, says Heier.

But the data is taking more importance, says RAP President Joseph Thrasher, as state regulators and utility executives increasingly demand quantifiable information as one of the terms of their contract with RAP.

In fact, the company’s new marketing campaign carries the tagline “Change Inspired,” an effort to reflect its results-oriented focus.

A key to a successful program, Heier says, is the work the company has undertaken to develop relationships with the teachers whose enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm can be carried home by their students.

RAP helps teachers fit the four- to 10-hour energy-conservation programs into existing curriculum, lines up educational experts to ensure that its hands-on lessons make sense to kids and helps teachers understand how conservation can improve the lives of their students’ families.

Most of the school programs target fifth- and sixth-grade classes. RAP figures its school programs touch the lives of roughly 500,000 families a year.

Thrasher says the company’s growth demands close attention to hiring the right people for positions that range from warehousing and kit-assembly to information technology.

RAP employs about 50 today.

Along with its sister company, ETL, a maker of showerheads and wall vaults, RAP moved to its location on United Circle in Sparks from Modesto in late 2009.

Some veterans of the company chose to stay in the Modesto area when the company moved, Thrasher says, and the company has been recruiting new workers in northern Nevada with the ability to learn its systems.

That’s not as easy as it looks. RAP figures the learning curve for most positions is about 18 months because its business is so different from most and surprisingly complex. Another complicating factor, says Larry Weight, vice president of operations, arises because almost every contract landed by RAP is different from the last.

And the company is slowly moving in-house some of the functions such as printing that it previously contracted to outside suppliers.