It’s Time to Start Connecting Environmental Impact to Home Energy Efficiency

by Oct 5, 2016

I’m about to make an about-face.

For years, I’ve been telling you, “Look, I get it that making one’s home more energy efficient is the best, most important step anybody can take to curb their impact on the environment … but saving the planet just isn’t the driver behind home improvements.

You’ll stand a better chance of getting people to make energy-efficient home improvements – which will reduce their impact on the environment, so you still get the desired result – if you focus on the real drivers: comfort, peace of mind, control, health and safety, feeling smart.”

So all of that’s still true – the real drivers behind why people make energy-efficient (EE) home improvements are about solving a comfort problem, gaining control over energy bills, improving the health of one’s home, and increasing resale value (though most folks don’t believe EE home improvements do increase resale value). But the reality is, we’re not making nearly as much progress as we should be with these messages. Only about 1% of America’s housing stock has gone through a deep energy efficiency retrofit. And, according to the latest 2013 American Housing Survey, published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, two-thirds of America’s housing stock was built before 1980. Given how old our houses are – and the comfort and air quality problems inherent in many of them – you’d think we could have made more progress on the EE front.

We don’t have it all figured out yet, but we’re starting to connect some dots in our data, and I think it might be time to begin introducing environmental impact as a reason to make EE home improvements. Will this get us off slow-motion mode in the EE home improvement arena? I honestly don’t know yet. We’ll do a lot of testing in our research in the coming year, and A-B message testing in our digital ad campaigns in the coming year, and I’ll let you know what we learn. What we know for now from our 2016 Eco Pulse and Energy Pulse surveys is:

  • We have the highest agreement that climate change is real and caused by man that we’ve seen in 11 years of polling (64% of us agree).
  • 51% of us say we’re “anxious” about climate change – “we need to be reducing our carbon emissions.”
  • Not surprisingly, then, 76% of us feel at least moderately responsible to change our purchase habits and practices to more positively impact the environment.
  • Encouragingly, we’ve seen a big jump in this: nearly half of us now say that buying eco-friendly products is an important part of our personal image – many of us want to be seen as environmental “good guys.”
  • 68% of us think that personal energy conservation habits can make a real difference in preventing climate change.

Here comes the big “however.” When Americans think about “personal habits to prevent climate change,” they’re primarily thinking of the cars they drive and big companies – not their homes.

  • Only 6% of us think that the number one man-made cause of climate change is the energy we use in our homes (vs. 21% who think it’s car and truck emissions and 20% who think it’s “manufacturing/industry”).
  • In this year’s Energy Pulse study (which will be released in about 6 weeks), less than half of Americans selected “reduce household energy use” as one of the top three things you should do if you want to minimize your environmental impact (compared to 76% who said “recycle”).

The bottom line is this: of the Americans who are most concerned about climate change and their part in it, the very Americans actually taking action, they’re not taking action in their homes. They are doing things to be friendlier to the environment, they’re just not doing the highest impact things.

That’s why we think it’s time to hit those folks with a V8 moment – help the most environmentally conscious and concerned Americans “get it” that they should be focused on their homes … and we should do that by literally connecting the dots for them that their homes are making the biggest negative impact on the environment and they should focus their attention there.

We’ll publish a big report on this later this year and, as I said, we’ll begin testing actual messaging in real-world contexts so we can help you understand how to do this most effectively. Stay tuned …

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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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