Most of us would like to help save the world by taking green actions, but often it’s just too much trouble. We are busy and distracted and, beyond recycling and buying a fuel-efficient car, aren’t sure what to do next. And those who take the imposing step of looking into solar are faced with contradictory advice. Which company is best? What system is best? Should one lease or buy outright? What financing options should one take?
Enter Domino, a new energy concierge company that will help you construct a personal portfolio of ways to help the environment and reduce your fossil fuel usage. CEO Stephen Torres explains his initial impetus as a solar entrepreneur: “I wanted to get into it to change the world” by producing “cool solar technology.” In 2013 he launched Sunible to provide advice on acquiring home solar.
Torres explains the need. When researching solar, potential customers face “a lot of misinformation, it can take a consumer several months or years” to make a purchase. Armed with a database of companies and incentives around the country, Sunible had helped cut through some of the complexity, but Torres came to realize that solar alone is not enough.
In December of 2014 the newly forming Domino bought Sunible. This friendly acquisition broadened what Sunible was already doing by adding a broad range of actions beyond solar. Domino began its concierge service in April of this year.
The company is “the first ever one-stop shop turnkey place consumers can go to get help” says Rosana Francescato, Domino’s Director of Communications. The process is even free, since businesses recommended by Domino pay for the service.
Torres explains that, when a customer contacts Domino, the first step is “to find out about the homeowner, what we can and can’t do. Then we put together a Domino plan,” encompassing different environmental areas.
The company provides three levels of advice. The first is “free and easy things, reminders to reduce the carbon footprint at no cost,” says Torres. These include turning down one’s hot water heater or possibly drying clothes on a line once or twice a week. The second level is easy savings for a small investment, such as switching to LED bulbs or improving insulation.
The final level is big ticket items, primarily solar but also “heat pumps, whether air-to-air or geothermal,” says Torres. The consultant discusses the “pros and cons of leasing versus buying—here are all the ramifications, here’s what you’ll save on different actions,” explains Francescato.
For the 75 percent of homes for which solar is not the best option, and for those who rent rather than own, Dominos provides other solutions. One is to investigate a community plan for offsite solar. Should this not prove viable, consumers can still get their energy from a clean power company.
The consultant also discusses the benefits of bundling, that solar is even more effective in conjunction with an electric car, heat pump, and other steps to reduce carbon emissions. “Electric cars are expensive,” says Francescata, “but people don’t realize how doable and affordable” they can be.
Although Domino is based in California, the consultation process is handled by phone and is accessible in all states except for Alaska. The alpha version was for an internet-only service, but testing revealed that customers prefer the familiarity of ongoing telephone conversations with a single person.
Domino strengthens its scope and knowledge by working with numerous partners, such as the Sierra Club and the Rocky Mountain Institute, which “understands markets and technology,” says Torres. Rather than traditional advertising, they connect with customers through local organizations, such as churches concerned about climate change.
The company is able to avoid charging its customers through a fee received from businesses that its customers sign up for—say an LED bulb from Amazon or solar panels from a specific company. “By cutting through” consumer uncertainty and facilitating decisions that otherwise might not get made, “we can acquire customers at a lower cost,” explains Torres. “Companies like it that they can acquire customers.”
Still, Domino is a “third party unbiased observer that doesn’t care about one company or the other,” but just wants to “help get solar on roof or other things to save money” says Torres. Because it is a Public Benefit B Corporation it is not legally required to put profit first. Francescato describes this as a “legal structure where we are allowed to value people and the planet,” although still seeking a profit.
Domino’s advice therefore encompasses a range of actions aside from the monetary, including, for instance, reduced driving, composting or changing diet. “Some things we have we won’t make money on,” says Francescato, including recommending companies that Domino doesn’t have a contract with. “The goal is just to get some people to take action.”
Overall, Domino combines social concern with a strong business model. Its founders have identified a need, to guide people through complex actions, and are diligently working to fill that need. The company started because “people are concerned” about the environment “but can get really overwhelmed,” says Francescato. “We show people that they can take individual actions that will add up to something big, add up to a domino effect.”