Utility Bill Smackdown!

Neighbor-vs-neighbor compeition can motivate conservation.

This is interesting:  the New York Times is reporting on a great way to motivate people to trim their energy and water consumption:  tell them how much their neighbors use.  See, for example, the research of University of Arizona professor Robert Cialdini:

In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.

That’s right:  keeping up with the Joneses can be more effective in motivating conservation than appealing to our better selves.

Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to harness this competitive instinct:  put information about neighbors’ energy and water consumption right on people’s utility bills!  A company called Positive Energy already has the software tools to do this, and apparently it’s being tested out in cities around the US.  Puget Sound Energy is already running a pilot program in suburban Seattle.  Any other takers?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user MatteoSP under a Creative Commons license

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  1. Christian says:

    I like the idea of even mandating energy scores for homes but this sounds a little big brother-ish with hundreds of millions of dollars in private financing and vague corporate-speak like:”Positive Energy employs a unique mix of expertise in technology, direct marketing and behavioral science to dramatically drive up customer engagement.”Where is the goal? Sustainability? I have only heard on one “truly sustainable” goal discussion for for the average American household with targets. (http://www.riot4austerity.org/blog/?page_id=13) Other ideas?

  2. erin says:

    conservationists and friends of the environment are finally using the same social marketing practices that have been so successful in other realms like tobacco and vehicles. if truly met with success, does this resulting (potential) energy conservation legitimize the move to more rivalry-inducing/predatory/fear tactics? Yes, people might conserve, but their motivation to do so is not for the communal well-being of the earth and fellow animals, but rather to beat out their neighbor. Should I compost? (glance at neighbor’s waste bins)…should I get a new energy-efficient car? (glance over in your neighbor’s driveway). It might cause people to turn off their lights when they leave or switch to energy efficient bulbs and might curb their household contribution to global warming, but could fostering this atmosphere of competition and unintentionally compromise other campaigns motivated by similar goals?….not to mention that there may be a dramatic backlash, ie. ‘my neighbor doesn’t compost, so I don’t need to.’ You would need to live in community with at least a few environmentally-conscious households in order to catalyze change in the right direction….hmmm…

  3. e-dog says:

    I’ve noticed that since we got a micro garbage “can” (the plastic box that fits conveniently under the sink) neighbors are, one by one, doing the same.Unfortunately, hanging out the laundry to dry doesn’t seem to have the same viral force, though it would like save more $ and energy waste. Even the climatologists and environmental activists in the nabe seem to stick with their dryers—even in a dry Seattle summer. What does that say about human nature?

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