What Really Motivates People to Save Energy?

electric meterWould you unplug some of your appliances to save a few dollars? According to a recent study, maybe not. But if you knew how much doing so would improve public health, there’s a good chance you’d reach for the cord.
When it comes to climate solutions, people are motivated by many things besides saving money – including protecting their family, being a moral person, and keeping up with the neighbors. An experiment by researchers at UCLA found that when people were told how much money they could save by conserving electricity, their energy usage didn’t change. But when they were told how much pollution they were producing, and how that pollution contributes to diseases like childhood asthma and cancer, they cut their usage substantially.
Health is a high-priority issue for all Americans, especially those with young children. Yet, though doctors have noticed an increase in climate-related illnesses, most Americans still aren’t aware of the link between climate change and health. The study’s message was effective because it made that connection clear and personally meaningful, while appealing to people’s desire to create a healthier environment for their families and society as a whole.
This doesn’t mean cost savings aren’t important, but the savings need to seem worth the effort. As the Los Angeles Times points out below, most of the households in the study would save only $4 to $6 a month by conserving energy – an amount that wasn’t high enough to be motivating on its own. So while we should continue touting the economic benefits of climate solutions, we should also remember that there is no one-size-fits-all way to generate support. Sometimes health benefits and the rewards of being a good citizen are what matter most.

Environment, Not Cash, Encourages L.A. Residents to Save Electricity

By Monte Morin, Contributor to the Los Angeles Times
What does it take to get the average Angeleno to shut off the lights, or unplug a few power-swilling appliances and e-gadgets?
According to UCLA researchers, the least effective way to get a Los Angeles family to save electricity is by telling them how much they’ll save in the process – mostly because it’s not a whole lot.
Instead, researchers said it was far more persuasive to tell energy consumers just how many pounds of pollution their power usage generated, and how that pollution has been linked to diseases like cancer and childhood asthma.
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Image credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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