Bridging the Apathy Gap

Bridging the Apathy Gap

We have long preached that screaming “save money!” at consumers isn’t enough to get them to make energy efficient upgrades to their homes. We’ve spoken of deeper, emotional drivers – and advised you to tap into those to get them to move. In our forthcoming Energy Pulse® study, we’ve discovered another reason why screaming “save money” doesn’t work, and we’re calling it The Apathy Gap.

Here’s how it works: when we asked consumers how much their bill would have to go up in order to force them to undertake energy efficient renovations, the average answer matched last year, exactly – $129.00. This would be a 69% increase over average reported winter heating bills ($185.58) and a 76% increase over average reported summer cooling bills ($169.20). In other words, consumers are willing to waste more than $1,500 a year, or more than $4 a day to do nothing. That’s The Apathy Gap – the price people are willing to pay to do nothing. For that same amount of money, the average homeowner could install additional insulation, or purchase one or two new Energy Star appliances and replace all incandescent light bulbs in his/her home with CFLs.

We think The Apathy Gap is caused by concern over out of pocket expense and prioritzation. Consumer spending trends are down, savings trends are up and repaying debt continues to be a concern in most households. Ultimately, most U.S. households have limited discretionary dollars for major purchases and many are more focused on saving and trying to pay off what they’ve already financed than taking on new purchases. Thus, they’re willing to keep the status quo and pay their monthly utility bill, as it’s currently built into their monthly budget – even knowing the bill could be reduced with energy efficient home improvements. Plus, energy costs represent a smaller percentage of income for the higher income households that could best afford improvements. Reducing energy bills isn’t a priority for many of them.

So how do you make it a higher priority? We think it’s about making consumers aware of the waste. They didn’t come right out and tell us they were willing to waste $4/day – that’s just how the math works out. We think most consumers would likely feel pretty financially irresponsible/stupid if informed of the numbers above – after all, $1,500 is nothing to sneeze at, even if you make $100,000 a year. And when we asked, “What’s the number one reason to participate in energy conservation activities or buy an energy-efficient product or servce” the number four answer (which was a new one we tested this year) was “to be responsible and not waste resources.” That answer beat out “protecting our nation’s econcomy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil” and to get more control over personal energy consumption and costs,” which seem like pretty compelling reasons.

Given that our Mammas all told us “waste not want not,” we think a little shame around wasting money (particularly in this economy) could go a long way towards bridging The Apathy Gap.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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