Once upon a time, somebody somewhere decided that the value proposition for energy efficiency was “save money.” And now it’s ubiquitous: utilities market their energy efficiency programs almost exclusively with Save Money messages, and appliance manufacturers, retailers and government agencies do the same.
The problem is, Americans don’t really believe it anymore.
Our Pulse® research
reveals two trends: 1) fewer Americans are embracing energy efficiency initiatives because … 2) they are not realizing the cost savings. And 44% of the people who say they’ve done a few things to make their homes more energy efficient say their utility bills went UP, not down.
We can debate whether they’re right, whether they’re normalizing their bills for weather (they’re not), or whether they’re actually using their energy-efficient purchase as “moral license” to use more energy (some of them are). But bottom line: most people don’t have an actual experience of saving money, so the message simply doesn’t work anymore.
A message that will work? Health.
In the past few years, more research has come out on the health impacts of energy efficiency. A study on home energy efficiency and respiratory health
published earlier this month reveals that people living in homes with high ventilation (due to poor insulation and air sealing) have higher rates of respiratory health issues, such as asthma. In fact, ACEEE published a similar report on energy efficiency and air quality
just last year, stating that more than 30,000 asthma attacks could be prevented each year through improved energy efficiency – particularly in major cities with pollution.
There’s long been a concept in the sustainability arena called “In me, on me, around me” that basically posits that people are most concerned about the health impacts of products they ingest, followed by products that come in direct contact with their skin and then maybe if they had some energy left to worry, they’d be concerned about the health impacts of products around them. In our 2018 Energy Pulse study we dug into this and found, in fact, health is the primary driver for greener product purchases for food, skin care AND home improvement products. And the message “the product is chemical free” (which isn’t actually a possible thing) and “the product doesn’t produce chemical smells (VOCs)” were the messages that had the highest impact on product purchase for in me, on me and around me products, well outpacing other sustainability messaging we tested.
This makes total sense. Protecting your health and your family’s health is a WAY more emotionally motivating message. Will you write a check for EE home improvements because you believe it might help your daughter’s allergy or asthma problems? If you can find the money, you bet (and you’ll likely put in some effort to find the money). Will you spend money on EE home improvements to save money, when you’ve actually already screwed in a few LED lightbulbs and haven’t seen the savings you were promised? No way.
If you want to actually motivate people to save energy in their homes, stop screaming “save money.” And start promoting a benefit that matters more and resonates more deeply.