There’s been some buzz lately about the forthcoming Cash for Clunkers for Appliances program. The problem is, as the program is conceived now, it’s not really a Cash for Clunkers – it’s a rebate program. So a consumer can walk into a store, buy a new fridge, get a Federal rebate (on top of any utility, manufacturer or state rebates available), plop the pretty new appliance in the kitchen… and roll the old one out to the back porch and fill it with beer and Thanksgiving leftovers. In short, the new program doesn’t appear to actually do anything to get old energy sucking appliances off the grid – it just incents consumers to buy more efficient energy sucking appliances and add them to the grid.
Unfortunately, my experience with our legislators is that they assume consumers know more than they do and, failing that, that manufacturers and retailers will take care of consumer education. They’re wrong. Early results from our 2009 Energy Pulse study show that 66% of the population believes they’re using the same or less energy than they were five years ago. Further, repeatedly in focus groups we have seen complete cluelessness on the part of consumers around the fact that they plug more things in now than they did five years ago and the reality that all those devices suck juice even when they’re not in use.
So, if our government is counting on consumers to be savvy enough to destroy their old appliances when they buy new ones, the same way car dealers were required to destroy the clunkers traded in for fuel efficient cars, they’re sadly mistaken. And manufacturers and retailers have no reason or motivation to educate consumers on this issue – I certainly wouldn’t recommend that any of our clients spend their ad budgets convincing consumers to properly dispose of old appliances. Thus, it will be up to utilities to carry this ball. They’re the ones with skin in the game and consumption reduction goals to hit. Like it or not, it’s one more message utility ad budgets will need to communicate and one more program (appliance recycling) utilities will need to offer (and some are already ahead of this game).