Functionality vs. Energy Efficiency: What to Promote

November 17, 2009
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Which would you rather have: functionality or energy efficiency? Yep, most consumers opt for functionality over energy efficiency in their products. And can you blame them? After all, buying a better TV or more powerful computer isn’t worth it if the efficiency measures don’t make them better or more powerful.

Even the brainiacs at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who study ways to make our technologies more efficient balk at sacrificing performance. “We don’t want to tell people that they should lose some functionality from these things,” says Bruce Nordman, who works on LBL’s Energy Efficient Digital Network initiative. “If we put energy at the forefront, we won’t do functionality well.”

Nordman cites the call for people to shut off their computers at night. Computers are one of the biggest users of energy among electronics, and Nordman believes they pose the greatest opportunity for energy savings. But many people don’t shut off their computers at night because the computers are either connected to a network or they don’t want to wait for lengthy start-up times. In a word, shutting down a computer, even a single home PC, can be a big inconvenience.

“People want to have network connectivity,” Nordman says. “We can give them a convenient sleep mode or inconvenient off mode.” He believes more people are inclined to put their computers in a sleep or hibernation mode, rather than an inconvenient off, and that this can save more energy because more are inclined to do that.

It’s a good point—even if turning off computers and cutting power to them altogether can save even more energy.

We need to think in terms of functionality and simplicity when we are talking to potential green tech clients and discerning what green consumers want.

Stress the functionality along with the energy efficiency. Stress the functionality of energy efficiency. If they tend to be interested in green, stress the energy savings. If not green, stress the energy waste.

“There’s a tremendous desire among people to have devices that use no energy when off. But people shouldn’t be straightjacketed by that,” Nordman says. “Energy efficiency should be about giving you greater functionality.”

In his book, The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget (2009, Stewart, Tabori & Chang), author Josh Dorfman writes that his first book, The Lazy Environmentalist (2007, Stewart, Tabori & Chang) “avoided environmental guilt trips and allusions to doom and gloom. I’ve found that those tactics are ineffective at motivating people to participate in long-term change.”

In other words, most consumers, unless they are truly green, need to take baby steps toward energy efficiency.

After all, says Nordman, “is energy the focus of people’s lives, or is functionality?”

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