The scene was a car dealership a couple of years ago. My wife and I were about to take a Honda Civic hybrid for a test drive, and the affable young salesman beamed a wide grin. “I have one myself. I love it!”
It turned out that we didn’t love the Civic hybrid. We preferred the more responsive ride of the Honda Insight hybrid, for a variety of reasons, and while test-driving that vehicle I turned to my wife and said, “Think the sales guy will claim he has one of these as well?”
He didn’t make that gaffe. But we’ve all heard the “I have one myself” line from a sales person when we appear interested in buying something. And the reason we hear this is because it works. (Okay, maybe not in the case of our buying a car, but it certainly works in many cases.) I can recall being swayed to buy audio components, computer gear and suits by the all-powerful “I have one myself” line. And this can work especially well when convincing people to be more energy-efficient and invest in energy-efficient technologies.
Why? Is it the personal testimonial that a product is good and tested? That’s certainly a part of the appeal, but there appears to be far more to it, especially when dealing with hard-to-move issues like energy efficiency. According to a Boston Globe article:
Researchers say there’s a workaround that produces lasting change, but doesn’t call for somehow reprogramming people’s inner values. What it does seem to require is changing their perception of what everyone else thinks.
This is where the early green movement got it wrong. The way to create lasting cultural change isn’t to preach or reason with people. That can come across as being … well … too preachy. The trick to convince people that others are engaging in a behavior like energy efficiency as well. The Globe article, which actually addressed changing a sex-entitled culture among hockey players at a university, goes on:
To really change how a group of people thinks and behaves, it turns out, you don’t need to change what’s inside of them, or appeal to their inner sense of virtue. You just have to convince them that everybody else is doing it.
“The inner conformist is stronger than the inner activist,” said Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the role of culture in decision-making.
Conformity in Efficiency
This is the social psychology that is used by Opower, which works with utilities to send report cards to customers that show them how their energy compares to others in their community. Opower has demonstrated about a 3 percent savings among participants. (Energy monitoring and home automation have the potential to save even more—and imagine if these are combined.)
This tactic is also used by energy monitors, such as the Powerhouse Dynamics eMonitor that I use in my own home (I have one myself!), which shows on its web interface a carbon footprint for your home versus a state average. As much as I like to think I don’t “run with the pack,” the footprint comparison is always, always the first thing I look at when I log in.
This stuff works—and it works because people want to be normal. Or above average. They don’t want to be the slouches who are wasting energy.
Some monitoring companies also use social media like Facebook and Twitter to broadcast energy reports and comparisons, though I’m not convinced of the effectiveness of this tactic.
This kind of peer pressure can also work among the wealthy, who often build big-ass green houses, as I call them, not necessarily to be “green” but because they have a stature in the community and want to position themselves as doing the right thing, especially if they’re building a humungous conspicuous-consumption house. And what happens? They show off their big green house to their other rich friends, who may want a big green house of their own. Status sells.
The moral here is to pitch energy efficiency and energy savings as the new normal. And maybe not even new, but just as normal. After all, most people today want to energy efficient, but for different reasons.
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