You may be thinking Jane Austen- as much as I love her, not this time.

I was forwarded a brief blog referencing an article in The New York Times about a program put in place last April by a utility in Sacramento that showed some very interesting results that play into the idea of shame versus reward or “keeping up with the Jones'” and using this for the forces of good and not evil.

35,000 customers were rated on their energy use compared to homes of similar sizes and with 20 neighbours who were especially efficient. Customers scoring high would receive smiley faces. Those who didn’t quite measure up received frowns. The funniest part was the revelation that they had to stop using the frowns after some of the customers got upset.

It’s not like a scarlet letter was branded on your house but people were upset enough to complain that their feelings were hurt…Boohoo, energy hogs!

Am I mean for thinking that is funny?

If I were them, I would be embarrassed (initially) and be spurred on to do something to get that happy face- yes, I was one of those kids who responded very well to getting gold stars at school.

And the select group, as a whole, also responded positively.

After six months, energy consumption of those who received personalized statements was reduced by 2% more than customers with standard statements. I would love a more detailed look at the breakdown of the stats but very interesting nonetheless.

So simple and yet so effective.

Humans are competitive by nature and we are very aware of where we stand among our peers. Energy conservation is something people are grudgingly becoming more aware of- I would love to know how my energy use compares with other. It would give me a target.

This social experiment program was developed by an expert in persuasion- I didn’t even know there was such a thing! There are a couple links for more information about the creator of this program, Robert Cialdini and his work on influence. I haven’t had a chance to explore the links yet but I will do so after I pick up some more compact fluorescent bulbs at Crappy Tire.


~ by angryegg on February 1, 2009.

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