The Power of Personal Experience

The Power of Personal Experience

As anyone who lives in the Northeast and South knows, it’s boiling hot out there right now. Temperatures are pushing, and sometimes exceeding, 100 degrees. It’s been 98 degrees in Nashua, New Hampshire, 102 in Philly and 103 in NYC. Today in Knoxville, the forecast calls for temps around 96.

It’s miserable.

And to make matters worse, you can’t always count on air conditioning for relief. Brownouts and blackouts are in the news, and thousands of people are finding themselves with no AC, no fans, no running freezer to stick their heads in.

Earlier this week, public officials in New York expected record demand for power – exceeding the previous record by more than 400 megawatts. But what does that really mean? Consider this: the average coal-fired power plant in the state of New York produces about 100 megawatts, so the state could have been four power plants short of meeting projected demand.

Officials took to the airwaves to encourage conservation, urging people and businesses to cut back as much as possible, but those efforts couldn’t stop the blackouts.

Perhaps that’s because people assume that the blackouts will happen to someone else, there’s no personal relevance in conservation – but there is potential inconvenience and discomfort – and that means lights stay on, laptops stay plugged in, and thermostats remain at normal temperatures.

So the question is this:  will the people who went without AC during this blistering heat respond differently the next time officials ask for conservation to help prevent blackouts?

Likely, yes.  Typically, people who have personal experience and/or personal relevance to a topic are more likely to act. They understand what’s in it for them. They understand the consequences.

We’ve seen this phenomenon a couple of times in our studies. In our recent Green Living Pulse focus groups, we heard that the presence of allergies, asthma and other chronic health conditions in a family influenced the likelihood of higher green attitudes and purchases. We heard stories from Hispanic respondents about friends and relatives who had experienced water issues – contamination, shortages, etc. – first-hand and these respondents expressed belief in climate disruption.

Here’s my parting thought: marketing energy efficiency and sustainability has to get really personal to make a real difference. So we must demonstrate the impact of personal behavior instead of begging for help to do “the right thing” for the faceless masses. That’s the only way we’ll get participation to reach the critical mass it’s believed is needed to prevent serious issues.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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