Not Green Enough for You? Not My Fault
With the election behind us, let’s talk about something else for a minute, like this lingering question in the green energy movement about what’s really behind a lack of change in user behavior. The current administration has laid out clear—albeit contentious and heavily debated—green policies toward energy consumption, production, and conservation. (Many of these initiatives could end up on the cutting room floor as Congress and the President wade through our finances.)
Many notable polls, blogs, and op-ed pieces from prominent media have indicated that the rising cost of energy, and how energy is mismanaged, can be blamed on Big Oil and Government. Utilities rank lower on the list, but who really is to blame for our energy behavior? (Got a mirror handy?)
The fact is, we don’t blame ourselves. Only about 12 percent of us cite our own habits and demand as reasons energy costs are high, while the rest of us actually think we use less energy than we really do.
To be specific, 80 percent of us think we use the same or less energy in our homes and businesses than we did last year, aided in part by our hunger for technology. The reality is, we know this isn’t true. But as consumers, we feel it’s out of our hands to control. To make matters worse, when we consciously try to be better about our energy use, but don’t perceive a benefit, we feel like we failed. And this is what leads us to believe it is in the hands Utilities, Big Oil, and Government. If our motivation for energy control is financial—meaning our operating costs go down thanks to savings on our energy bills—and we don’t see a net gain, then we see no reason to continue and try to change our behavior.
About 40 percent of Americans who incorporated energy-efficient initiatives in their homes or offices, such as lowering the thermostat or installing energy-efficient light bulbs, saw no benefit in their utility bills. This causes a situation called “learned helplessness,” in which a person or company fails in an attempt to do something, thereby creating a feeling that the effort is outside their control. (The opposite is true of success, which we usually attribute to our own actions, rather than those of others.)
In our role as the “others,” what can we—the technology people—do to help? First and foremost, utilities must advance efforts to increase adoption of things like smart meters and other energy-monitoring devices. AV system designers and integrators, working with their building technology (HVAC and lighting) counterparts, need to provide real-time data to businesses and home owners about their actual energy consumption, using control systems and resource-management solutions. This increase in consumer engagement and education will have a positive effect on behavior.
Knowledge is power and empowerment is the name of the game when it relates to energy usage. In our industry, we can make a real contribution. Talk with your clients about strategies beyond just what a building does. Find out how they perceive their efforts to be more sustainable. Educate them on how technology can help show them success in their efforts. Even something as simple as a public display of energy usage will help change behavior.
Show them how to manage their technology to reduce operating costs. Help them find rebates or other financial incentives that can offset the cost of equipment. Lastly, give them a path to deal with their technology when it has reached the end of its useful life. You will have saved them from learned helplessness and empowered them to make a difference in their own lives and the environments.