Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bigger Lowfoot means smaller footprint

The Ontario election is over, and neither of the parties promising a lower electricity price won. Now the news reports rates will increase a little on Nov 1, and a lot over the next 20 years. But you can still lower your own electricity costs right now. Back in the spring I told you about, a company that pays you to save electricity. Since then they have grown by leaps and bounds, and moved on to their second phase of operations – selling negawatts.
You have probably heard of megawatts, a unit of energy. “Negawatts” are a unit of energy saved – a negative watt. The cheapest electricity, with the least ecological harm, is what you never produce, because it’s not needed. Economic studies continue to show negawatts (conservation or efficiency) cost less than any new electricity supply: renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.

But since governments and utilities have been slow to adopt this concept, private companies are starting to fill the niche. Toronto’s Lowfoot, launched in 2010, is a pioneer. They access your smart meter records to see how much electricity you normally use. Then, if you meet monthly conservation targets below this baseline, they pay you! You win when you use less electricity overall or shift your use from peak times to off-peak. Either way, you’re saving the province the cost of building new generation, lowering your own bill, and pocketing a tip.

But who’s paying? That’s the new part. Since this summer, they have been selling these “negawatts”, or saved electricity, to sponsors concerned about their own footprint. After reducing their own energy demand, sponsors offset remaining use by paying you to use less. Your diligent efforts to shrink your footprint earn you cash rewards. It’s like saving money twice by saving electricity once.

Sponsors so far have included software outfit Bluenotion, marketing company Hypenotic, law firm Baker & McKenzie, and enviro-job service WorkCabin. Each has bought negawatt savings from Lowfoot members like me.

There’s nothing to lose by signing up – no cost to join, and no penalty if you don’t make your target. But when you do save, you profit.

Another Toronto outfit called the Climate Shop has a similar program, except you earn either Aeroplan miles or donations to the United Way in your name. Myself, I’ll take the cash.

Lowfoot has rapidly expanded their market, from the initial 2.4 million eligible households in Ontario to over 5 million in northern California, over 6 million in Texas, even thousands in Alberta (a.k.a. Texas north), and soon millions more in BC. You could be the next client to do well by doing good through this Canadian innovation. Help the Earth, save money, get paid – get to it!

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Reduce your use and get paid in the process"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician.


  1. Lowfoot founders talk a big game but they are a pretty penny ante operation. After more than a year in existence they may have only as many as 150 meter connected members. The problem is members who wish to get rewards have to give up all their privacy regarding their accounts giving it to Lowfoot to control. Then because they are not funded very well they do not advertise and rely on members to either spam two friends per month to get rewards or pimp out their FaceBook and Twitter accounts to advertise their status on Lowfoot.

    My friend in Ontario Canada signed up for Lowfoot back on June 25/2011. Since joining Lowfoot have lied to him and stolen rewards from him. Immediately he had a problem as Lowfoots low tech system could not reward him for his 100% peak reduction. Simply put he was off the power grid for the twelve hours in Ontario's TOU peak periods and with Lowfoot you had to consume peak power to calculate peak reduction credits. Lowfoot said they would fix it and months went by with no solution.

    The other part of the rewards is capacity and carbon reduction which was based on how many KWH you saved based on your year or more of history of consumption prior to joining. The more KWH you saved below your target was counted as Generated KWH. From June 2011 To September 2011 they were supposed to pay $0.02 per KWH generated for Capacity and $0.0025 per KWH generated for Carbon. My friend generated 779 KWH in July but noticed when he received his July rewards statement that his credits were low by 9290 which at 1000 credits = $1.00 shorted him $9.29. He then checked June’s statement and again found in the one week he was short 1700 credits for $1.70 and again that was one week only.

    He contacted Lowfoot about these errors. Of course the problem was this was intentional manipulation of the rewards and it happened to other members as well but no one else caught it and a member had to notify within a month. Lowfoot said they would correct his rewards and pay him the difference when they were able to calculate his peak reductions. See the email and further comment below:

    RE: Miscalculated Credits And Payments
    Friday, September 2, 2011 8:16 PM
    From: "Lowfoot Member Services"
    To: "Tom"
    A busy month here in the Member Service department makes us a bit grumpy! Sorry about that!
    We are almost fixed, one last thing to overcome. We never anticpated zero usage so we have a divide by zero issue in a formula which we will be fixing today and hopefully have live Monday.
    Once fixed, we will clear all of your earning since you joined, re-calculate them and then issue a payment for the different.

    We’ll be in touch soon.

    The Lowfoot Member Services Team

    What happened was Lowfoot continued their pattern of manipulating members rewards and giving smaller payouts. In fact my friend had miscalculated credits every month. When they couldn`t figure out how to calculate the peak rewards they just manually flat rated it instead. When He asked for the 44450 credits and $18.00 they owed June To September, they said they were not going to pay it. That showed Lowfoot in a new light of dishonesty and misrepresentation.

  2. Lowfoot will not deny they stole my rewards of 14445 credits totaling $18.00 because they know I have evidence of the earnings. I also have the email from them recognizing the errors saying they would re-calculate my credits and pay me the difference. They then refused to honour their word and none of this is dispute.

    The fact that you the author of this article are a Lowfoot member and completely biased and unacceptable of the reality that Lowfoot lies about member totals. Recently Lowfoot stated in the public feed forum in response to a member who asked how many members they had the reply was over 2000 and over 500 connected. Even you should have the intelligence to know that the members profile numbers were only at 1868 as that is seen when you click on a member. See for yourself. It took awhile but we went through every profile and found over 90% were basically unused. As far as connected members well that was easy to count. Back at the end of September they introduced badges and every connected member received a meter badge published in the public feed. I counted them and compiled a list and they were at less than 150. I stated that number several times to Lowfoot and it was never denied. I am sure you have the ability to count and even now two months later they are still less than maybe 175 connected members. Since you believe everything they say ask them for a list of verified connected members. They had the nerve to say in an email to try and get members to connect and stated "join the thousands using Lowfoot everyday to understand their energy use and get rewards when they do". If you have any sense of honesty you should recognize that they are clearly misrepresenting themselves to members and sponsors and the public at large. Are you so worried that if you investigate the reality of how Lowfoot operates that you will lose your rewards as I did and they will delete your account as well? Why not have a discussion with me instead of being in denial?

  3. C or "Tom", I'm not sure if you're describing the experience of yourself or your friend or both, but whatever is the case, you need to chill. Lowfoot is not "stealing rewards", or anything else, from anyone. You don't put forward any money or other investment into the process, and the "credits" that Lowfoot calculates exist only in Lowfoot's own system - they aren't something you could sell to someone else. Lowfoot creates them, calculates them, and pays you for them. It's their market. Is it possible that they miscalculated, or that your understanding of the earning & payment for credits differs from theirs? Certainly. That doesn't justify your bitterness. If you don't like their credit system, then you can switch to some other service that will pay you cash for using less electricity - if you can find one! (The other analogous services I know of either just award bragging rights, or pay airmiles or similar rewards, or give money to charity in your name - not cash to you).

    I don't believe you have any kind of contract with Lowfoot that binds them to calculate credits to a specific formula, or pay you a set rate. They have created the system and they can amend it periodically. Their credits are essentially a ranking system that helps them decide how to divide sponsorship money among members. That's all.

    Saying "members who wish to get rewards have to give up all their privacy regarding their accounts giving it to Lowfoot to control" is an exaggeration. When you sign up, all they learn is your email, electric account number and hourly usage. They don't even learn your address! There is not much private information in how much electricity you use at any given time of day, since they have no way of knowing what you're using it for. And their privacy policy prevents them from sharing even that minimal information with anyone else (except in aggregate). So obviously they can't give me a list of verified connected members (even if I wanted it, which I don't).

    My only bias in being a Lowfoot member is that I want others to know that they, too, can be paid for doing what many do just for the general good - save electricity. (And that's on top of lower power bills.) I don't get any reward for sharing this, either through my blog or my Twitter or Facebook feeds. Letting people know what you're up to hour-by-hour is the raison d'etre of FB and Twitter - it's not "pimping"! And I don't fear losing out if I "investigate". Lowfoot has provided me what they promised, and I'm happy with it.

    Do they have hundreds or thousands of members? I don't know, nor do I care. Nor am I concerned with the accuracy of vague numbers implied in promotional campaigns. It's not a prospectus! They said that if I saved electricity they'd pay me; I saved electricity; they paid me. I would not call them dishonest or misrepresentative.

    I'm sorry that you don't find the program as rewarding. If you believe it should be so easy to set it up and run it to your standards, then maybe there's an opportunity for you to create a competing business and show them and their "low-tech, penny ante system" how to do it better. Good luck!

  4. Did you not read my comments? First of all it is the sponsors that are paying for member rewards in return for promoting them. They obviously expect that the members are not being cheated by Lowfoot so do not spout off about it being free when members have to either spam 2 friends a month or advertise for Lowfoot on Facebook or Twitter.

    My God their email to Tom clearly stated they would correct their calculations and pay the difference. So what do you call it when they refused to pay the $18.00 for the energy conservation efforts by Tom? Also, they ripped off other members in varying degrees between June and September as Tom was messaged by members before Lowfoot deleted his account for speaking the truth.

    You appear to be drinking the Lowfoot kool-aid and not thinking for yourself. Obviously the lack of integrity of a company does not count for anything with you. They misrepresent themselves to members and sponsors alike by lying about their member totals and you ethically think that is fine?

    Tom inquired months ago about how many members they have and they said they do not release that info. Recently another member asked the same thing and they stated over 2000 with over 500 connected which is a blatant lie. The member profiles at the time were only at 1868 and if you bothered to count the member connected badges in the public forum they totaled less than 150. Tom went through the 1800 profiles before Lowfoot deleted his account and found that 90 percent of the accounts were not being used or they were no longer allocated due to members quitting.

    The spammer that has reduced their public forum to what it is now was payback for everything they have done to lie and cheat members.


  5. Hey C / Tom / Biker et al.,

    Yeah, I read your comments. Last I checked, Twitter and Facebook are both still free, so just what are you spouting off about? Or did someone sucker you into paying for your Twit-Face accounts?

    Any "rip offs" or "cheating" are basically you disputing a calculation or payment schedule. Although if you're this rude with them, then I can see why they'd delete your free account.

    You still don't seem to understand the concept of lying. Did they put false numbers in a prospectus or contract? No. They put vague numbers in promotional material. It's called "advertising". I presume they don't contract with sponsors based on number of members, but on amount of reductions in electricity use and carbon emissions - the number they track on their website. Just because you are fixated on membership numbers does not mean it has any validity to the sponsors who are paying for your credits. Sponsors aren't buying advertising, per se, but offsets.

    Lowfoot's customers are web advertisers and the sponsors who pay them for aggregate reductions. They don't seem to feel they are being cheated. Members or clients (like myself) are being rewarded with real cash for imputed carbon reductions, as promised.

    Sorry, I'm not going to take up your cause because you feel you didn't get enough free money, or got your account deleted. That doesn't make me a "kool-aid drinker" or whatever other insult you feel like tossing. With the scale of real corporate crime being perpetrated out there, I must admit to being amazed by the mountain you want to make out of this molehill.

    1. You clearly are biased towards Lowfoot because you are being paid so you will never be objective. They lied to new members and sponsors about their connected members totals being in the thousands. Greensaver who according to Lowfoot were going to sponsor December rewards backed out when I told them the truth about how members including you by the way, were ripped off from June to September. The truth about the actual connected members that even now two years into this rewards program are less than 225 but Lowfoot decided to lie and told a member there were 500 connected and this was back in November. You keep spouting off that is free so I guess you think it is fine for Lowfoot to violate the contract they have with members to pay them all the rewards they earn than take them away when it suits them. Clearly Lowfoot has no scruples and the way you are defending their actions you apparently do not either. But hey you're getting paid so why rock the boat right? So much for truth in journalism.

    2. I'm afraid your unsupported accusations just don't cut it, "C".

      Can you produce this "contract" which you say was violated?

      Can you prove that you didn't eventually receive whatever credits you feel you deserve, or even more? Certainly I don't feel that I was "ripped off" in any way, so don't go trying to say that I (or anyone else) was. You don't speak for me or anyone else.

      Your assertions of Lowfoot lying are simply unsupported. Your count of connections and memberships is off by far. (I know the real numbers but am not at liberty to share them). Your method of counting "medals" was inaccurate because you overlook the privacy settings which allow many members to connect without sharing/posting "medals", as I have.

      I'm sorry that you didn't find the program sufficiently rewarding for you. But that is no justification to turn your own dispute into a campaign to cast the whole company in disrepute. One disgruntled customer does not a travesty make, nor do you define "truth in journalism". I'm not biased, I'm simply writing based on the facts I've actually witnessed through my own experience with Lowfoot.

      If all you offer are unfounded insults, I'll delete any of your further comments.

  6. Let's set the record straight here:

    Tom / C ,

    You were removed from Lowfoot for violating our Terms of Use. Nothing more. Nothing Less.

    These violations include, but not limited to:

    1. Abusive messages to other members and on the public feed.
    2. Using False information to sign up
    3. Signing up multiple accounts, using false information.
    4. Spamming our feed.

    Lowfoot is a private, for members only, club. You violated the rules of that club and therefore were banished.