You’ve heard of, “Keeping up with the Joneses,” right? Or maybe you’ve heard of the more modern, “Keeping up with the Kardashians?” In its basic form, the phrase refers to the natural process of comparing yourself to others. Coined during the post WWII consumerism explosion, the phrase referred to buying things to be viewed as more financially secure than your neighbors. We wanted to, “Keep up with the Joneses,” because they had everything.
So, what does this have to do with being “green”?
By using this theory, we can challenge organizations to lower energy consumption. Just last month, Bruner was awarded 2nd place for its energy conservation program. Turns out, we saved our clients 2.9 GWH of energy in 2013. This energy savings puts us in the top 10% when compared to other energy contractors in the area. Through this Business Incentives program, AEP Ohio encourages businesses to compete with each other for the most energy savings, which in turn helps clients/consumers reduce operating costs and helps reduce consumption overall.
Two weeks ago, Bruner’s Energy Engineer, Stephanie Drenten spoke to students at The Ohio State University about this topic and phenomenon. As a guest lecturer for the College of Engineering’s Sustainability Seminar course, Drenten spoke about creating a sustainable world by conserving energy. She started the conversation by sharing global statistics on energy consumption from the Energy Information Administration, which states that global energy consumption will increase 56% by 2040.
Now, think of the Joneses.
In our world today, we have developed nations and developing nations. The developed nations continue to use the majority of energy resources available, while the developing nations, or third-world, is left behind. These nations are trying to keep up with modern niceties. Drenten explained that as they develop, the energy needs of these nations will skyrocket. The world will be consuming more energy than it can produce. We might need more planets to accommodate the growing population and its energy demands1.
In lieu of packing up our belongings and heading to Mars, Drenten shared a different idea. Why don’t we use behavioral science to urge others to keep up with the green movement? In the TED Talks video “How Behavioral Science Can Lower Your Energy Bill” Alex Laskey, founder/president of Opower, uses this “Keeping up with Joneses” technique to save utility customers more than $250 million and 2 terawatt hours (Twh) of energy in one year—enough to power two moderately sized cities! To do this, he told utility users how they were matching up when compared to their neighbors, in terms of energy consumption.
There’s nothing better than a little friendly competition. Laskey said, “If something is inconvenient, even if we believe in it, moral suasion, financial incentives, don’t do much to move us — but social pressure, that’s powerful stuff.” By using this social mindset energy conservation efforts will be more effective. Drenten shared metrics comparing the United States to its neighbors. In the last twelve years, the United States has dropped energy consumption by 18%, but it’s no match for Germany and France, each of which use about 45% less energy per capita than the United States.
After sharing that statistic, Drenten challenged the engineering students to identify solutions for this growing energy problem and they had great ideas on how to bridge the gap. Some of the ideas included cutting oil consumption, limiting the transportation and use of coal, more incentives for residential energy reduction, and recycling efforts. “It was refreshing to see the students so engaged and empowered,” said Drenten.
Now the real question: Do you use more energy than your neighbor?