September 13, 2010

How To Promote Energy Conservation

recyclemen.jpg
won't help


1.  "A 2000 W dishwasher typically uses 2000 units of energy in one hour.  How many units of energy do you think each of the following devices typically uses in one hour?"


  • central air conditioner
  • electric clothes dryer
  • laptop computer

Repeat your answers so you don't change them later.


2.  "How many units of energy would each of the following changes save?"

  • Drying clothes on a line for one load (i.e. not using the dryer for one load)
  • Changing washer temperature from hot wash/warm rinse to warm wash/cold rinse for one load
  • In the winter, turning down the thermostat (make home colder) by 5 degrees

Repeat your answers so you don't change them later.


II.


Please forgive the odd phrasing: I copied it exactly from the survey.  The study, Public Perceptions of Energy Consumption and Savings, in PNAS, asks two questions.  The first is, "what are the public's perceptions?"  The second is, "why do they have these perceptions?"

Here are the results of the study of 500 people:

energy usage.PNG

Ignore the X-axis, look at only the y-axis, "Perception."  As you can see, the perception was that most objects used about 300Wh (between 100 and 600.)

Look at your answers, above.  My guess is your guesses were in the 1000+ Wh range, which if true is important because:

  • There is a 5-10x difference between you and the people surveyed
  • You were more accurate

So what accounts for this?  Run the possibilities.  Are you smarter?  Are they idiots?


II.

The anchor: I told you about a 2000W dishwasher; the original survey said:

A 100W light bulb uses 100 units of energy in one hour.  How many units of energy do you think each of the following devices typically uses in one hour?

One clue that you're in the presence of anchoring bias is when lots of people get the answer wrong in the same direction by the same amount.   As in the graph below, nearly all appliances were underestimated-- because they were sucked towards a 100W bulb as an anchor.

Additionally, they had more appliances to rate, which themselves form anchors.  The gravitational pull of stereo, laptop, and light bulb overwhelm the unknown quantities of dishwasher.
 
If you wanted people to guess more accurately, you could try to teach them about each machine; but its probably easier to simply give them one better, larger, anchor.

II.

The anchoring bias is everywhere, described formally in 1974 by Tversky.  This was his example:  Guess the answer in 5 seconds:

8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x1 = ?  

vs.


1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 = ?

The median guess was 2250 for the first descending sequence, and 512 for the ascending-- half the people guessed a number smaller than this.  The answer is 40320.

Neither does the anchor need to have anything to do with the question.  Tversky describes asking subjects the percentage of African countries in the UN, but first they watched a wheel randomly pick a number.  For the groups that saw the wheel pick 10, their median guess was 25.  For those who saw the wheel pick 65, their median guess was 45.

III.


The main problem with promoting energy efficiency or energy use reduction is that these are solutions to a problem most people do not feel they actually have.   "Meh.  I try to turn off the lights, but it doesn't seem to affect my bill."

Secondarily, energy conservation is presented as an ethical problem.  I probably don't need to explain why this fails.

All social policies-- the most rigorously considered to ill-conceived-- are ultimately dispatched by marketing. 

In any new product launch, a market is served or a market is created, but in either case the appeal is to the individual, not the market.  You can argue that Lilly created the market for antidepressants or it served an existing market.  Either way, the success of Prozac was due to it appealing to each individual user of Prozac.  Not: "Come on America, you all need Prozac!"  but "you, woman in her mid thirties feeling lost and depleted, need Prozac."

Energy efficiency/conservation fails as a marketing strategy, because it appeals to all of us as a society.  We hate that.  "What's in it for me?"  Well, I'm glad you asked...

But follow the analogy to the end: when Pharma sells the drugs, the customer is the doctor, not the patient.  The patient can't really affect the market because they don't really know the alternatives.   "Oh, I should take Prozac?  Ok.  Should I be buying Blu-ray or HD-DVD?  I heard HD-DVD is better?"  

Ultimately, a society can't possibly conserve as much as a more efficient machines can save.

The prescribers of energy consumption are the companies that make the products, and Pharma is the government.  If you want GE and GM to make energy efficient products, you have to incentivize them to do so.

In the end, we'll buy whatever the ads tell us to buy.  

---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych











Comments

In the end, we'll buy wh... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 11:53 AM | Posted by Alex-5: | Reply

In the end, we'll buy whatever the ads tell us to buy.

The end is near...

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"You were more accurate<br ... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 11:58 AM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

"You were more accurate
So what accounts for this? Run the possibilities. Are you smarter? Are they idiots?"
No, I just read the Economist's Science & Tech section religiously. (That's not meant as a dis that you might have been intrigued by the study reported there. Unless inspiration is divine, it's from somebody else. Kudos for sniffing the respectable media-a$$es.)

"Energy efficiency/conservation fails as a marketing strategy, because it appeals to all of us as a society."
Ditto disarmament, filing honest tax returns, and white collar crime. It's not just social programs that rely on marketing; it applies to any situation where the benefits are more concentrated than the costs (or vice versa, or when they're just perceived to be so). The concentrated side of the equation will almost always trump the diffuse side.


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"...you have to incentivize... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 12:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"...you have to incentivize."

Unfortunately, many environmentalists prefer coercion, force, or guilt-trips to achieve their goals.

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I thought when you talked a... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 1:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I thought when you talked about units you meant kilowatt hours, which seemed like an awful lot for a dishwasher and skewed my results. Maybe anchoring bias is not the problem.

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Energy efficiency/conser... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 1:49 PM | Posted by Pastabagel: | Reply

Energy efficiency/conservation fails as a marketing strategy, because it appeals to all of us as a society. We hate that. "What's in it for me?" Well, I'm glad you asked...

This is wrong in a very very subtle but monumentally important way. Energy efficiency works because it sells an experience or an identity. In the marketing sense this is classic ego involvement.

But what makes it remarkable is that it is marketing which simultaneously sells a thing and its opposite. Because by marketing energy efficiency on an energy-hungry appliance, the product ALONG WITH ITS OPPOSITE is sold to the consumer. If you buy an energy efficient appliance, you are essentially acquiring an identity, specifically a "green" or eco-friendly identity, and in so doing buys into a myth that the act of consumption is a political act of altruism or charity.

Like anything else that is sold to you along with the promise that some portion of the proceeds of the purchase will be donated to a charity that itself is necessitated by the very exploitation inherent in the production of the actual product you are buying (fair-trade coffee, unhealthy foods which donate to cancer, etc), the idea is to convince the consumer that the act of consuming this particular brand cures the exploitation or harm cause by the entire class of products, including the brand you are buying.


In the specific case we are discussing in this post, the appeal of "green marketing" is that the appliances themselves are causing the problem that the "green" identity is opposed to. We need green appliances because appliances (i.e. excessive energy consumption) consume too much electricity which in turn contributes to greenhouse emissions, etc. What is obscured from the consumer in the overt act of explicitly marketing the antithesis of the underlying product is that the green brand of appliance he is buying contributes to the problem as well.

The truly ethical message would be "Don't buy a washer." But that isn't going to fly in consumer society (and cynically we all know this), so the consumer is effectively sold the postmodern equivalent of a medieval indulgence. Furthermore, he buys forgiveness from the very party least in a position to sell it - the manufacturer of high-energy-consumption products.

He does this to assuage his guilt over the coupled facts (the paradox, perhaps) that he knows the product he is buying is contributing to a real problem but he doesn't want to radically alter his lifestyle to avoid adding to the problem. That the producer knows this dilemma exists in the consumers consciousness, and their willingness to engage it directly and in a way that subverts the underlying real problem is what I find remarkable.

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Not quite sure if this appl... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 3:10 PM | Posted by syntaxfree: | Reply

Not quite sure if this applies, but isn't this another case of the rule of thumb -- confirmed for visual/auditory perception and well-regarded for the magnitude of numbers -- that people compress information logarithmically? I have a clear feeling of $10 as opposed to $20, but have no fucking idea of how $20 billion feel in comparison to $10 billion. Also, ISO 400 film is not four times as bright as ISO 100 film at the same exposure. (Those in the trade call it a "two-stop difference").

Look at the graph. I may be well aware of how much my lightbulbs spend, but the clotheswasher and the microwave oven are "man, too much, whatever". People get in debt because of this.

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The first thing I noticed i... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 4:14 PM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

The first thing I noticed is that there's no span unit on the thermostat question, unlike the others ("one load"). Are we talking about a day? The whole season?

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Alone's response: I'm no... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 4:19 PM | Posted, in reply to Pastabagel's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Alone's response: I'm not sure we are saying anything differently. My point was that you can't appeal to the person-as-member-of-society, because it isn't anything more than an image for him. Your further explanation of _why_ a person might choose an energy efficient washer is absolutely right.

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"... the overt act of expli... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 5:01 PM | Posted, in reply to Pastabagel's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"... the overt act of explicitly marketing the antithesis of the underlying product."

It's not the antithesis of the product, but rather an improvement along a spectrum. What is so remarkable about making a product that doesn't address the fundamental problem, but makes an improvement over an existing product? Low-fat ice cream. Hybrid cars. Having less children. All of these simply lower the impact, not eliminate it, and are not particularly interesting to think about...certainly not remarkable.

If you decide to eat well ONLY 2 days a week, no need to analyze yourself...it's better than 0 days a week. Maybe next year it will be 3 days. In the meantime, enjoy the "green" technology we currently have, wait for the next wave of improvements, and relax your sphincter.


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Man is different from the o... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 5:49 PM | Posted by Mark p.s.2: | Reply

Man is different from the other animals on the planet cause we are tool users.
The most fun tool wins. Monkey see fun, monkey try also.
From a Corona beer on the beach to the fast shiny car advert.

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when Pharma sells the dr... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 10:16 PM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

when Pharma sells the drugs, the customer is the doctor, not the patient. The patient can't really affect the market because they don't really know the alternatives

That's partially true.

When patients have painful symptoms (anxiety, depression, sinus headache), Pharma directs ads to patients (DTC advertising) suggesting they see their doctor and ask if "X" would work for them. Doctor either gives patient a script for "X", some other product, or tells patient why she won't. Much more work for doctor.

In totalitarian countries, Pharma sells only to doctors. I like the patient playing a role in decision-making. Regulators don't.

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Eh. I'll take sex over read... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 10:32 PM | Posted by America: | Reply

Eh. I'll take sex over reading this entry.

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There's a difference betwee... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2010 10:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

There's a difference between an informed decision and asking your doctor for the purple pill. This is hardly "patients playing a role in decision making", it's merely advertising in place of medicine. Nice try at peddling snake oil though. I hear it now comes in a purple pill.

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"Post includes sexy picture... (Below threshold)

September 14, 2010 1:40 AM | Posted by Zo: | Reply

"Post includes sexy picture (appeal to individuality)" I quote from your tweet.

And then I explain, a picture of a sexy *woman* doth not appeal to all ... and in my book, only (narcissistic) chauvinist pigs talk that way. Cause there ain't nobody but them. Only there are.

If that last phrase was meant to say this, sorry, it didn't.

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The "green" people have an ... (Below threshold)

September 14, 2010 8:52 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

The "green" people have an added incentive: being green is their religion - it is how they practice virtue. That is why common sense and data do not matter - it is a matter of faith. It just is annoying having to listen to them proselytize all the time.

PasstheBagel's post gets at this: indulgences.

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oh christ this is depressin... (Below threshold)

September 14, 2010 9:39 AM | Posted by joycejames: | Reply

oh christ this is depressing. what if some of us actually do find the betterment of society appealing. Show me a director of marketing and I'll show you one of the most cynical assholes on earth. I want to punch the free market in the face.

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I suppose there's something... (Below threshold)

September 14, 2010 11:09 AM | Posted by MH: | Reply

I suppose there's something to be said about thinking you know things that you do not. I don't actually know how watts, amps, volts, joules, or any of that REALLY work. I don't know the equations, or anything like that. I also got all A's in college science. I also don't feel bad not knowing, because as a jazz musician, I don't really care. But what I realized a long time ago, when selling pianos, was that everybody has an opinion on everything, even if they have no knowledge of it. Everyone had a different opinion on Yamaha products. "Oh I heard of those, but they're Japanese, so it's not quite a Steinway yet." From the mouth of someone who's never played a piano in his life.

Jack Bauer always knows the answer to everything - I'm amazed at how, under extreme duress, he can remember a phone number for hours after only hearing it once. Pretty good memory. Perhaps being a know-it-all is narcissism...

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Man is different from th... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2010 6:38 PM | Posted, in reply to Mark p.s.2's comment, by Reader: | Reply

Man is different from the other animals on the planet cause we are tool users.
So are crows. And otters. And chimps. And...

We aren't different. We just have bigger and better ways to sell stupid, useless tools.

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Stephen Daedelus said: "wha... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 9:02 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

Stephen Daedelus said: "what if some of us actually do find the betterment of society appealing?"

--Some of us do. It is just foolish to believe that running out and buying everything advertised as "green" on TV (i.e., practicing virtue more and more) will save souls or the planet.

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The truly ethical messag... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 9:31 AM | Posted, in reply to Pastabagel's comment, by der Sherpa: | Reply

The truly ethical message would be "Don't buy a washer."

This is wrong in a somewhat subtle and somewhat important way.

The conservation of energy is not the only factor that must be considered when buying or not buying an appliance, and when buying a particular appliance.

The dishwasher, for example, performs the rather important task of ensuring the regularity that dishes are suitably sanitized is higher than when one hand-washes.

What is the opportunity cost for doing laundry by hand? Standing around and running clothing through a set of rollers (presuming one doesn't have space to air dry)?

The green movement, or at least that version of a "truly ethical" green movement, will fail because people understand such sacrifices necessarily mean a reversion in our society's progress. Mainly, our movement away from being anchored to monotonous repetitive chores that cost us our ability to pursue other more rigorous activities.

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I know this wasn't really a... (Below threshold)

September 18, 2010 2:30 AM | Posted by Iris: | Reply

I know this wasn't really about energy consumption, but are those numbers simply power draw per application per hour? I use the drier maybe 6-10 hours and the microwave oven 3-4 hours a month, while a bulb may be on 100+ hours in the winter. What if a family needs to have several bulbs on at the same time? I don't have a central air conditioner, but doesn't that thing run 24/7? When I'm in the middle of a computer game, the computer may be on for 200-250 hours a month (yikes!).

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The argument that buying a ... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2010 12:19 AM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

The argument that buying a dish washer for sanitary reasons is justified, is completely and irrevocably insane. You and people like you are the reason why crohn's disease enjoys its current popularity and why antibiotics lose effectiveness every year.

This obsession with squeaky-clean, surgically disinfected everything is stupid, self destructive, and a sign of systemic species-oriented self loathing.

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I should also mention that ... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2010 12:24 AM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

I should also mention that dish washers actually do a terrible job; even the newest models leave nasty residue (unless one repeats the rinse cycle a few times) which is mostly the cleaning compound used... and pseudo-industrial detergent isn't something a sane human being wants to be ingesting day after day in trace quantities.

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There is some way in which ... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2010 9:09 PM | Posted, in reply to America's comment, by Zo: | Reply

There is some way in which this blog threatens the male ego, the male reader feels he must posture in response ... making it very boring for everyone else.

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I'm female. I wasn't postu... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2010 10:00 PM | Posted, in reply to Zo's comment, by America: | Reply

I'm female. I wasn't posturing, just rating the post; it wasn't very good. Hence, I would rather have (great) sex than read it. If the post had been mind-blowingly interesting, then I wouldn't have minded putting off sex to read it. I can see how you thought I was male.

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<a href="http://www.... (Below threshold)

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