Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Encouraging the Individual

One of the primary themes of this blog involves the meta-trend of individuals actively participating in their energy consumption, generation and management. I recently came across an interesting post outlining some potential consumer-based activities that could save energy and help the environment. While I applaud the intentions behind this post, I thought I might comment on a different strategy here, which is based on my personal perspective of explicitly engaging the individual.

Environmental Defense - Eight Earth-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Replace my conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.
2. Calculate my carbon footprint and see what I can do to reduce it.
3. Make small changes at home.
4. Drive like the Earth depends on it.
5. Buy carbon offsets to help offset my emissions even further.
6. Choose seafood that’s good for me and the ocean.
7. Write my members of Congress demanding a strong global warming law.
8. Pass this list on to my friends and family.
Certainly the first three – changing to CFLs, calculating carbon footprint and making other small changes at home – are immensely important and relatively easy to do.

Where I challenge are the remaining five. Each is very much a relevant and useful environmental action, but I’m not sure if this is the best audience for these activities, or if these are the best tactics for that audience. And as the goal is ultimately to inspire and elicit action, I thought this a relevant critique.

Telling people (especially Americans) to change how they drive has never been very successful, unless it occurs through regulations (speed limits) or some form of incentives (or disincentive) such as peak congestion charges, car pool lanes, taxing gasoline, etc. Buying carbon offsets seems to conflict with the entire premise of the piece (which is reducing energy consumption). I’m not sure where # 6 comes from, and the last two are innocuous but sadly futile.

Instead, were I to make this list, I would have focused on empowerment and incentives. The individual consumer can do a great deal to encourage "right behavior" by leveraging one thing they have control over: his/her purchasing power. So, for example, rewarding environmentally friendly companies with spending and penalizing those that are the opposite.

Also, I might also think about areas where the consumer could take control in their home. Give the consumer tools to monitor the actual energy usage of their applicances. Encourage them to sign up for smart-metering (if available) or green power, or have them lobby their city to use companies such as RecycleBank.

Along those lines, I thought this, ("Green Plug looks to cut energy waste and cable clutter") both a cool little innovation and a wonderful technology to promote. Lou Grinzo seems less enthralled, but even if this isn't the exact right type of technology, it is a good example related to the above.


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Anonymous said...

Great way to start the year. I ended up getting my husband who is kind of an energy geek the Kill-a-wattfor xmas and I'm excited to see what it does to my energy bill this January!