Are Energy Efficiency and Earth Day a Bad Mix?

April 21, 2011
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Residents in a Massachusetts survey take steps to save energy, but they don't link it to the environment.

There was a time when Earth Day meant clearing a stream of garbage or picking up some roadside trash. Today it can about recycling or carbon footprints or even more abstract—it can be about energy efficiency.

The concepts of energy conservation, energy savings and energy efficiency have made great ground in the last couple of years. Many people have come to accept saving energy as a good thing, largely because we can save money by being more efficient. Furthermore, we’ve been so incredibly wasteful with our energy that it’s easy pickings to save a few dollars here or there.

According to studies, 60 percent to 70 percent of Americans want energy efficient homes,  more than 70 percent are concerned about their rising energy bills and most of them want technology to help reduce their energy costs. This is all good news for energy efficiency advocates and marketers.

Because of the monetary benefits, energy efficiency has even managed to separate itself from the overall “green” movement. Buying an LED lamp or installing an energy monitor is no longer perceived as waving a big green environmental flag and preaching about saving the Earth. Energy efficiency is quickly becoming viewed—dare I say—as a virtue. And one that should be copied, as in “Look, he’s saving money and why aren’t I?”

No More Green Police?

Energy efficiency’s separation from “green” is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it frees energy efficiency advocates and marketers from the baggage (perceived and real) of the overall green movement: Al Gore, green police, preachy environmentalists, people telling me how to live my life, too much effort, too expensive, too much change. Though like its green relations, energy efficiency still struggles with the perceptions of effort and expense.

Thank goodness the energy-efficiency movement isn’t encumbered by the associations of Al Gore and the green police.

There is a bad side to this successful separation from the green movement, however. Energy efficiency isn’t considered by many to be something they do to help the environment. A recent study of Massachusetts residents found that people in that state are taking steps to conserve energy regardless of their beliefs in global warming.

The study, “The 80 Percent Challenge: A survey of climate change opinion and action in Massachusetts” and conducted by independent think tank MassInc, is in a state that has been most receptive to energy efficiency and clean energy technologies and reducing carbon emissions. As the survey title reveals, the state even has the ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050.

The study found that a majority of Massachusetts residents believe in man-made global warming, that something should be done about it, and are engaging in energy saving behavior. Yet they don’t link energy efficiency to global warming.

From the study:

  • 59 percent of Massachusetts residents see global warming as both occurring and at least partially caused by human pollution.
  • About half (54 percent) of residents say the effects of global warming are noticeable, and another 4 percent think they will be detectable within a few years.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Massachusetts residents disagree with the statement, “It’s too late to reduce global warming, we should focus instead on adapting to climate change.”

Yet, says the study:

A majority of residents do not think global warming has very serious implications. Only 42 percent of Massachusetts residents say global warming will have very serious consequences for Massachusetts if left unaddressed.

And this is a state whose coastal areas and commercial hub of Boston could experience serious flooding were ice caps to melt, for example.

The study offers this stark analysis:

Many residents are taking personal action to conserve energy, such as moderating home heating usage. However, there is no relationship between belief in global warming and personal conservation. Belief in the reality and seriousness of global warming does not appear to be sufficient motivation to reduce energy consumption.

Wow. And this in what is widely regarded as the most politically liberal state and second-most “clean and green” state (to California) in the nation.

Yet, regardless of whether you believe in global warming and climate change, energy efficiency is widely regarded by experts as the quickest and most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions right now—and well into the future as we wait for clean energy technologies to mature.

My conclusion: Keep selling and marketing energy efficiency as something done to save money. Only the true hybrid-car driving greenies may grasp the connection between energy efficiency and helping the environment. The link between efficiency and the environment may someday be made, but that is still apparently developing. More education on this needs to be done.

Check back for more analysis of this fascinating study and insights on selling energy efficiency.

Also see:

Why a Thriving Energy Efficiency Market is Here to Stay

11 Reasons Energy Management Will be Big in 2011

Must-Dos for Your Energy Management Biz in 2011

What Form Will Home Energy Management Take?

5 Biggest Drivers for Energy Management

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