Keeping down with the Joneses

I’m always on the lookout for non-coercive ways to encourage resource conservation and I’ve just learned about a doozie.

Psychological research into what motivates people to save has made great strides, in, of all places, hotel rooms. Hotel guests have become familiar with cards that encourage re-use of towels, or that suggest not asking for fresh bedding every day. It turns out that if they ask guests to conserve, only a few do it. But if the card says “37 percent of guests who have stayed in this room in the past month chose to re-use towels and linens,” (or whatever the number is), compliance goes way up. People like to be normal. They like to do what others do. They are inclined to keep up with the Joneses and even “show the Joneses” by doing a little better.

Enter Positive Energy, a California company that has developed software that lets electric utilities tell their customers about the average bill in their neighborhood. According to a report in the current issue of The Atlantic, “people who received personalized ‘compared with your neighbors’ data on their statements reduced their energy use by more than 2 percent over the course of a year.”

Now the company is expanding to provide the service via utilities across the U.S. and is looking at how the method can be applied to water bills as well. This dovetails perfectly with my effort to find ways to encourage water and energy conservation here in WNC. Let’s do it!

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