All that low-lying, energy efficiency fruit we always talk about? It’s gone. At least, that’s the verdict handed down by the Shelton Group’s Energy Pulse survey. After polling over 500 American consumers in an attempt to “profile US households by energy conservation perceptions, motivations, and actions,” the Shelton group has uncovered some disheartening results: With early adopters already on board, those of us interested in promoting and encouraging the adoption of energy efficiency standards and practices will have to move beyond business as usual. That’s because the old marketing and motivating techniques no longer apply.
With early adopters out of the way, the next phase for energy-efficient marketers involves convincing the holdouts (energy users who are mostly indifferent to energy conservation) and the uninformed consumers (who are overestimating the effect of their energy efficiency attempts and/or are not correctly using their new energy-efficient products or programs) to step up their game.
“The early adopters have mostly completed their to-do lists,” says the report, “so energy efficiency marketers are in for an uphill battle as they try to sell energy-efficient products and home improvements to an increasingly less enthusiastic audience.”
As a result, energy efficiency marketers must “start targeting those who haven't embraced energy efficiency as a personal value, those who have less interest in the topic, and those who have serious barriers to overcome to be able to act.”
Additionally, the dependable adage that “saving energy will save you money” no longer applies, partly because of rising electrical rates and diminishing supplies of traditional energy sources (i.e., fossil fuels). But there are other factors that diminish the power of the money-saving message. For consumers who are relatively well off, for example, the Shelton group suggests a campaign that focuses on waste rather than budgeting.
“If you're living in a McMansion, you're not conservation-oriented, and your energy bill is such a small percentage of your monthly overhead it’s an annoyance rather than a front-burner issue.”
For lower- to middle-income consumers, the desire to improve efficiency may exist, but its implementation may seem financially prohibitive.
“These folks have changed behaviors and done the low-expense items, but they simply can’t afford to add insulation, upgrade their furnace, or put in new windows. So for these guys, it’s not about a marketing message, it’s about rebates and financing.”
The survey—which targeted individual consumers rather than commercial or industrial large-scale energy users—includes some interesting information about the public’s perception of energy efficiency in general and their own energy efficiency implementation:
* When asked to rate the energy efficiency of their own home, 35% of respondents rated it as “efficient,” while 14% rated it as “very efficient” (14%). Another 37% said it’s “neither inefficient nor efficient,” while 11% rated it “inefficient,” and 3% said it’s “very inefficient.”
* Forty-nine percent of residential consumers have installed extra insulation in their homes.
* Fifty-one percent of residential consumers have installed a more efficient heating or cooling system.
* Fifty-nine percent of residential consumers have purchased an Energy Star-qualified appliance.
* Forty-nine percent of residential consumers have installed high-efficiency windows.
* When people do take steps to reduce their energy consumption, the chief reason (cited by 32%) is “to save money”—nearly double the number who said they do so “to protect our environment and save natural resources” (17%).
* Sixty-four percent said their home-energy bills have gone up.
* In a question that asked respondents to choose among making their home “more energy efficient,” “more comfortable,” or “more beautiful,” barely half (52%) chose energy efficiency. Thirty-three percent picked comfort, and 15% opted for beauty.
So what do you think? Can information on the attitudes and actions of individual and residential consumers help us develop a “big picture” of energy use on a variety of levels? When it comes to onsite power, is it helpful to be aware that it’s not enough to install a fuel cell, generator, or solar panel—we must also ensure that those products are used correctly once they are purchased and installed? And finally, does it make sense to tailor energy efficiency outreach to appeal to different types of consumers—residential versus commercial for example—who are motivated by different efficiency needs and have disparate challenges and expectations that must be met and overcome?