Crowdsourcing the Most Energy-Efficient Life

compact fluorescent lightbulbs bright ideas photo

ISO bright ideas. Photo by Paul Keller via Flickr.

If you want to get people to boost their personal energy efficiency, you should appeal to their vanity, their inner couch potato, their wallets, and their competitive nature. That's the strategy that came out of a cocktail party hosted by the online magazine Slate as part of an ongoing attempt to "harvest the collective intelligence of [its] readers for the good of society" -- starting with figuring out how best to save money and use less energy at home.Last month, Slate announced its effort to tap the hive mind with the launch of "The Efficient Life," the first in a series of projects dubbed, naturally, "The Hive." A dozen finalists and one winner will be picked from among the proposals for increasing energy efficiency that readers suggest and discuss online -- and will then be publicized and presented to policy makers. Some will also be tested out by columnist Daniel Gross, who will report back on the results.

'Make It Trendy,' 'Make It Easy'
Within just a few weeks, some 500 ideas have been submitted. And on Wednesday, more than 200 readers met up in Washington, D.C., to hear Gross and a panel of experts -- including a Department of Energy staffer, an efficiency manager from Con Ed, and a building-efficiency expert from the Natural Resources Defense Council -- discuss the efficiency issue and then brainstorm more creative solutions over a drink or two -- "crowdsourcing live, and with alcohol," as Slate put it.

The groups made dozens of suggestions ranging from technological (wire your house so all appliances turn off when you lock the front door), to psychological (put smiley or frowny faces on utility bills, depending on how high the energy usage), to humorous (have a "Kill a Watt" competition among neighbors).

The magazine broke down the ideas generated into seven different categories: "Make It About Money" (e.g. offer tax incentives or other rewards for lowering energy use), "Make It Easy" (e.g. "remove the burden from consumers and homeowners by creating tougher national standards for manufacturers and contractors"), "Make It Competitive" (e.g. have local governments sponsor contests to see who can use the least energy), "Make People Feel Guilty" (e.g. track energy use through Facebook so people can see how they compare to their peers), "Make It Trendy" (e.g. with green-themed home TV shows), "Make It Novel" (e.g. wire gym equipment to generate electricity) and "Make the Government Lead by Example."

'Why Spend More Than I Have To?'
"Most of us have no desire to forswear energy use entirely, like No Impact Man. But we all have the incentive of basic home economics," Gross wrote in his introduction to the project. "For me, reducing energy use is less a question of global warming (though I'd like my kids to be able to see the snows of Kilimanjaro one day), or national security (though I'd like to stop enriching petro-tyrants) than one of accounting. Why spend more on electricity, heating oil, and propane than I have to -- especially if government policy and new technology allows me to maintain the same quality of life while using less energy?"

More about energy efficiency:
Redefining Sexy: Energy Efficiency's Seductive Appeal
Obama Mandates Federal Energy Efficiency Improvements & Agency Emission Reduction Targets
Nation's First TV Energy Efficiency Standards Will Cut CO2 By 3.5 Million Tons
Empire State Building Goes Green: Major Energy Efficiency Improvement Retrofit Announced
Raising Energy Efficiency in a New Materials Economy, Part I
Beating the Energy Efficiency Paradox (Part I)
Resolve for Energy Efficiency

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