Going Green: A Hard Sell For Consumers?

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Environmental marketers are looking for different ways to connect with consumers now that the obvious and effective message of rising gas prices is in the past (at least for today).  NPR discusses the ramifications of this and how people are turning to social marketing to find alternative ways to motivate consumers into action and towards energy efficiency measures and conservation.

Posted Dec. 15, 2008
By Christopher Joyce, NPR

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President-elect Barack Obama wants America to kick its addiction to
foreign oil. He also wants the energy industry to go "green" and reduce
the amount of carbon dioxide it produces — CO2 that causes global
warming.

Cutting back is easy enough when energy and oil prices are sky-high. But as Obama said on a recent CBS News 60 Minutes program, our memories are short.

"This
has been our pattern: We go from shock to trance. Oil prices go up,
everybody goes into a flurry of activity, and then the prices go back
down and suddenly we act like it's not important and we start filling
up our SUVs again." As a result, Obama added, "We never make any
progress."

People who promote energy efficiency are starting to
realize that it may take more than high prices to get consumers to
change their habits. The recent drop in gas prices drove home that
realization.

Instead, they say they need something more
fundamental to motivate people. So efficiency boosters are turning to
social marketers to find out how to change energy consumption habits.
Social marketing is the use of public media to get people to make the
right choices for society.

But what works? One effective
tactic: fear of death. Social marketers give themselves high marks for
getting people to stop smoking. But energy is different. As social
marketer Merrill Shugoll of Shugoll Research explains, Big Oil is not
the same as Big Tobacco. People need energy, she says — they don't need
cigarettes.

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"Fear doesn't always work," Shugoll says. Clear,
consistent information about where energy comes from and how its use
affects the environment is what people need more of, she notes. But
that means knowing more than how many kilowatt hours a refrigerator
uses in a year.

"People buy on emotion, and they justify with
the facts," says Maria Vargas, a director of the Environmental
Protection Agency's Energy Star program.

Energy
Star certifies and labels energy-efficient appliances, and the program
uses information from social marketers to craft its message. According
to Vargas, if you want to change consumers' behavior, you have to
appeal to their hearts. She says the Energy Star program not only
quantifies how much you can save in dollars and cents with an efficient
refrigerator, but it also tells consumers that each individual can, in
fact, help protect the environment by using less energy.

Rozanne
Weissman of the Alliance to Save Energy, an efficiency advocacy group,
says people also want to feel that they're making an intelligent choice
in addition to saving money. The Alliance's Drive $marter Challenge campaign offers such tips as inflating your tires properly and avoiding jack-rabbit starts to get people to save gas.

"People
want to be smart about their choices," Weissman says. "They want to
know more, and they want dollar signs attached to [driving] tips so
they can make a determination to their own bottom line."

Social
marketers say there are some things to avoid when you're trying to make
people change their energy appetites. A big one is the idea of
sacrifice. President Jimmy Carter tried that when he put on a sweater
and told Americans to turn down the thermostat. It didn't work.

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