Technology isn’t the answer to sustainability issues.

Technology isn’t the answer to sustainability issues.

We tend to look to technology as a sort of savior. But it wasn’t that long ago that, for the majority, videoconferencing and email didn’t exist. Now most of us have this capability on both our computers and smartphones. We can collaborate on projects more effectively, make changes more rapidly, and present projects remotely. Technology has advanced so far that it has essentially become an extension of us, with one exception: We sometimes look to technology to solve our problems rather than taking responsibility for them ourselves.

Whether it’s pollution, the cost of energy, or any blight on the human experience, we often anticipate that technology will come to the rescue. As far back as 2006, our Energy Pulse™ study indicated that nearly half (45%) the respondents expect new technology to solve energy supply issues in the near future. In addition, we constantly hear participants in our focus groups say “Oh well, technology will fix that at some point.”

Sorry, but no matter how much faith we have in technology to save us, it won’t – particularly when it comes to sustainability. We know from our studies that 35-50% of the people with programmable thermostats haven’t programmed them – even though new technology has made this even easier, allowing homeowners to program their thermostat using a smartphone.

In fact, technology can have an adverse affect on sustainability. We find consumers who purchase energy-efficient HVAC units sometimes rationalize setting the AC a little lower in the summer, since the more efficient unit is saving them money. The increased comfort results in no reduction in energy use or cost savings – which leads to frustrated customers who don’t understand why the unit didn’t deliver on their expectations. (We’ll explore and quantify this issue in our 2013 Utility Pulse™ survey in the coming months.)

Even as this technology continues to advance, people have to be motivated to put the effort forth to change their behavior. And for those that need external motivations (such as rewards or recognition), the specific messaging used with each technology offer an opportunity to reinforce behavior change.

Technology may be a pathway to a more sustainable future, but behavior change will still be the driver.

About the Author

Jim Lyza

Jim is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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