Back in the day, going green was a big deal. TreeHugger’s founder Graham Hill was on magazine covers. There was a Planet Green TV network. A clothesline was a symbol of pride. But over the last few years, interest in all things green has dropped significantly. I always thought it was due to the Great Recession, and the change in peoples focus to economic worries.
In a new study, The Shelton Group,”the nation’s leading marketing communications agency focused exclusively on energy and the environment,” dates Peak Green in about 2010, when close to 90 percent of the population were changing habits to save energy; it is now down to half that. In fact, just about everything is in decline except, apparently, unplugging chargers when not in use.
The big problem has been the focus on saving money on energy; when energy costs are low (and even when they were high) people have realized that the payback time can be measured in generations, not years. The salesmen with most aggressive pitches, the biggest promises, and the most expensive items (like windows and ground source heat pumps) had the longest paybacks.
When you look at the results of the Shelton survey,”to protect our environment” scored only 22 percent, and the grandkids? Forget about them, who cares.
When you look at what people think is the biggest problem, they do get that car and truck emissions are important but after that, it is somebody else’s problem. (Our buildings are either first or second, depending on how you measure).
The Shelton Group writes "Our data show clearly that Americans are concerned about protecting the environment, and that they believe their own habits can make a difference. They just don’t realize their homes are such a big part of the equation." They think that we can fix this by changing our messaging from saving energy to saving the planet; I thought we tried that and got laughed off the stage, but they are looking on the bright side of life. They really do think that people care. Perhaps I am misunderstanding their numbers.
Lead with the environment. There’s a clear need for a wake-up call about home energy use and its relationship to climate change. But you must sound that warning thoughtfully. Instead of pointing a nagging finger at people’s shortcomings, show them how making their homes more efficient can transform the environment they live in – the air they breathe, the water they drink – as well as the larger planet we all share. Give them permission to feel like superheroes. Make them feel a weight has been lifted – the weight of tons of carbon emissions they’re no longer contributing. Use humor, affirmation and encouragement to keep the association positive.
It’s hard, in this era of EPA cutbacks and Clean Air Act rollbacks, at a time where conservative websites want to bring back incandescent bulbs, to take this all in. I thought the planet card had been played out long ago, that people didn't care about things that were down the road a few blocks. Their finding that so few people care about the quality of life for future generations kind of makes this point. That's why I have been stressing comfort, security, air quality and health, it seemed a better approach than either saving energy or the planet.
But perhaps they are right, people don’t come here to get depressed. It’s time to accentuate the positive, and I am going outside and stringing up that clothesline again.
Get your own copy of the report and put on a happy face.