Coping with the pesky “rebound effect”

Coping with the pesky “rebound effect”

When consumers do the right things, they often give themselves the moral license to backslide. By identifying the phenomenon, we can help consumers retain the savings they paid for.

We see this behavior in different contexts:

  1. A shopper brings her eco-bags into the supermarket. Feeling that she’s done something good for the environment, she treats herself to a Reese’s Cup at checkout.
  2. A family invests in insulation, air-tight windows and an energy-efficient HVAC system. Feeling good about all that energy efficiency, they figure they can set the thermostat a little cooler in the summer heat.

Let’s give it a name.

We call this “moral licensing.” That is, after doing a good thing, consumers give themselves a license to do a not-so-good thing.

We also call it the “rebound effect,” as in dieters sticking to their plan for a few days, then figuring they’ve done well enough that they can grab a piece of cake – or two.

It comes down to a fact of human nature: There are limits to self-discipline. We can only be good for so long before we allow ourselves to do something bad.

The problem for utilities, appliance retailers and contractors comes when these all-too-human behaviors lead to disappointment and malaise. As in, “We did all that, and our bill is as high as ever. What’s the use?”

Nearly half the respondents to our Energy Pulse™ ‘13 study blame meager reductions in their power bills on rate increases by the utility, with another quarter blaming the fact that the promised savings were exaggerated in the first place.

So, what to do?

In marketing improvements and appliances, we should:

  • Set correct expectations – in dollars
  • Show customers how to get the most out of their improvements or appliances
  • Offer product stickers and training, where appropriate, to hammer home the instructions
  • Name and identify the (all-too-common) pitfalls
  • Emphasize that the best results come from a combination of improvements and using them correctly

Posted on

August 12, 2013

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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