How Greater Efficiency Leads to Greater Waste, Or Jevons Paradox in the Mens' Room

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I have always been dubious about the rebound effect, or Jevons Paradox. It's the theory that suggests that as things become more efficient, we use more of them, say building a bigger house or driving a bigger car as the fuel economy improves. I never thought that it really applied, because in Jevons' day, coal was getting cheaper every day, which promoted the development of more ways to use the stuff. Today, our energy sources are mostly getting more expensive over time, so we should logically be using the greater efficiency to basically stay in the same place.

Then I used the loo at lunch at Noce, and saw that the simple frames with ads that used to be over urinals in Toronto are now LED video screens. That the technology has become cheap and ubiquitous enough that we can essentially have a TV running all day to sell advertising, complete with, according to Newad, "Full stereo motion-activated sound that grabs the consumer’s attention." (which fortunately wasn't running while I was there)


IDS11: IKEA Model Kitchen Demonstrates Jevons Paradox

Perhaps I was wrong about Jevons after all. We may not buy fridges that are twice the size or drive our Priuses twice as far, but we are certainly finding crazy new ways to waste energy. When I wrote about another, similarly stupid waste of energy last year at the Interior Design Show, commenter Anthony nailed it:

The Jevons Paradox definitely is important- as efficiency rises, the cost of consuming a product or service falls, so we consume more of it. So efficiency can't happen in a vacuum. It needs to be combined with either rising energy prices (by taxes or decreasing supply) or by a culture that embraces efficiency as a value in itself. That's all it means. Efficiency is still an essential component: it allows us to consume less without having to give something up.

I think I fall into the culture that embraces efficiency as a value in itself, and think that this is just an appalling trend.

Tags: Advertising | Energy Efficiency | Toronto