How do you get people to want to be more energy efficient? This topic was discussed in detail at a recent EnergySmart Conference hosted by energy management and demand response company EnerNOC in Boston. The speakers primarily addressed how corporate environmental or energy efficiency officers can inspire their companies to adopt energy-saving plans, though the strategies and ideas can be applied to both the business sectors and engaging consumers and homeowners.
1. Stress the Bottom Line. Show what impact their behaviors have on the bottom line, says Richard Goode, head of global sustainability at Alcatel-Lucent. That means how much money is wasted by leaving on servers, lights, computer stations in commercial buildings or data centers unnecessarily. Quantifying this is a lot harder in homes, but average statistics indicate that as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of a home’s electric bill results from wasteful standby or vampire power, for instance.
2. Feedback = Knowledge. Measure energy use, either via energy monitoring systems connected to an electrical panel or by placing small handheld monitors like Kill-a-Watts around a home or small business. Studies show that just by having immediate feedback on their energy use, people save 5 percent to 15 percent on their utility bills. “Any car that has an mpg readout allows you to see how efficiently you’re driving,” says Rajesh Nair, founder and CTO of AdaptivCOOL.
3. Use Social Psychology. As anyone in business knows, competition is a powerful motivator. Opower has had success working with utilities on providing customers social comparisons to show how their energy use relates to others, and has proved that the desire to be normal works in getting people to adjust their energy usage. University dorms have competed in trying to be the most energy efficient, and so can departments or branches of businesses. Next up in social engagement: setting energy goals. Goal setting is a powerful tool used by successful organizations like Weight Watchers. People announce their goals and feel compelled to meet them.
4. Mix Stories and Data. Storytelling is a very powerful form of communication. It is why we love movies and good books and TV sit-coms. It is why a good salesperson tells anecdotes and jokes. People relate to stories. Mix your energy-saving stories with plausible data, and you have a compelling case to be more energy-efficient, whether your audience is a corporate boardroom or a homeowner. Stories appeal to our emotions and make us want to do something, while data gives us the reason to do it. (Current research shows the we often make decisions emotionally and rationalize them with reason.)
5. Make a Good Business Case. What’s the ROI (return on investment)? Show the short-term and long-term benefits of investing in energy-efficiency technologies, whether for a home or business. Again, this is a lot harder to do for homeowners; in many cases, the ROI is just not there. But the ROI not hard to figure out in replacing old light fixtures with LEDs, which are as much as 80 percent to 90 percent more efficient than old incandescent bulbs. The ROI on this is much clearer in commercial environments or places where lights are on 24/7, like parking garages. “Money talks … and that will lower your hurdle rate,” says Goode.
6. Cite Authorities. If you can, find out who the decision maker thinks is a good leader, and cite that person as an authority. Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, for instance, is a big supporter of green technologies and energy efficiency. The United States military is using alternative fuels and energy-efficient technologies in the field to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The Defense Department considers green technology to be vital to our national security. Bill Gates and conservative icon T. Boone Pickens support green technologies and energy efficiency. So do many Fortune 500 companies and venture capitalist investments.
7. Share Authorship. Success when it comes out of groups is even more powerful, says Kathrin Winkler, vice president of corporate sustainability for EMC. Share the building of an energy efficiency program through a company or with a homeowner, and others will be more engaged in the process and have a stake in its success.