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 Lyza

Jim is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.