June 15, 2012
The new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll on energy issues, funded by the Joyce Foundation, indicates Americans are skeptical about the impacts of small actions (like turning off lights) and, at the same time, the majority of respondents say it is too difficult to make the changes that they identify as more meaningful, like adding insulation or carpooling.
As the church lady would have said decades ago, “How convenient!”
Essentially, the US public is perfecting a rationale for doing nothing. The excuses remind me of an out-of-shape friend who believes using the stairs over the elevator this one time will not make that much difference while, at the same time, arguing that giving up his daily doughnut habit is too difficult to consider.
And the analogy does not end there. The AP-NORC survey also found that, of the 90% of Americans who believe the government needs to do more to address energy issues, 58% think the focus should be on providing better energy-saving options versus 38% who think the focus needs to be on getting people to make better choices.
My friend is also waiting for a magic pill that will make him healthy and fit without any effort on his part.
The likelihood that he can get fit without effort is about the same as the likelihood that US can eliminate wasted energy without engaging people and their behaviors.
The bottom line is that energy use is not just about technology; it is about the people using the technology. Refrigerators are a good example; the electric usage of a refrigerator today is less than half that of a comparable model in 1978. Unfortunately, a growing number of households have two or more refrigerators and the size of the typical refrigerator sold continues to grow.
Reducing energy usage is about people and the choices they make. People like you and me.
Cool Choices knows that, in reality, little actions matter and they add up, especially across communities. A single action like turning off game consoles when not in use can save $100/year with some models–which adds up to billions across the millions of households with these devices. We have seen instances where hundreds of households can save more than $100,000 annually via small actions. And we know that lots of people find other benefits in these small steps toward environmental sustainability—a saner commute to work, more time with family members, etc.
Still we do not expect to persuade people with fact sheets and fancy charts showing how the savings add up. Cool Choices implements behavior change programs that use gamification techniques to leverage social norms because we know that while humans like to use rational arguments to explain their actions, much of what humans do is influenced by their social setting—often to a greater extent than any of us realize. (Translation: In general, peer pressure is as real at 45 as it was at 15 except we are better at rationalizing our behaviors at 45.)
Social norms matter. When your friends start doing more to save energy then it becomes uncomfortable to be the one who is still wasting energy. You’ll want to keep-up. When people you like and respect rave about how fun and easy it was to change their habits, you think about your own habits. And when Cool Choices throws game mechanics into the mix—giving you kudos for the good stuff you do and creating a way for you to benchmark your achievements against your peers—well, then you might reconsider things you once thought were too hard to do.
It is the concept behind numerous fitness initiatives and it is the premise of our employee engagement game: creating a fun, social, and easy way to measure and celebrate progress makes difficult tasks less difficult and creates community around what was once solitary activities. We believe it will move people beyond the excuses to action and that, cumulatively, those actions will matter.
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