BECC 2011   |   November 30 - December 2, 2011   |   Washington, DC

Latest BECC News!

Dec. 1, 2011

Move Over Hypermiling, It's Time for Ecodriving

By Mark Golden

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Several programs around the world have been launched to motivate and teach drivers to consume less gas and emit less pollution in ways that go beyond squeezing every mile out of a gallon of gas.

Higher gas prices the past five years spawned the “hypermiling” movement, in which properly maintaining a car, coasting up to red lights and not accelerating quickly have provided car owners with efficiencies at least 20 percent better than their model’s officially rated miles per gallon. Now, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases and smog, several agencies around the world are pushing what some people call “ecodriving,” which includes efficient driving and then adds some really powerful mileage boosters such as, well, walking.

“Even if everybody owned electric vehicles and drove very carefully, we’d still have a lot of problems with emissions,” said Kevin Luten, an executive of UrbanTrans, which is implementing sustainable transport programs in several cities in Australia. In developed economies, transportation accounts for about a third of carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions, but even electric vehicles get much of their juice from power plants that burn coal.

Participants in one of UrbanTrans’ early sustainable transport programs in Adelaide reduced their driving by 18 percent, Luten said Thursday at the annual Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference.

In the United States, similar efforts are underway in northern California and in the Boston area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which covers the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay area, has identified what driving habits are easiest to change while still having a significant impact on CO2 emissions.

“Smart driving actions are viewed as comparatively easy to take. Shifting the mode of transportation (from driving to taking public transportation or riding a bike) are perceived as the most difficult, though walking may be an exception,” said Ursula Vogler, an MTC spokesperson.

Perhaps surprisingly, saving money at the pump does not seem to be a top motivator for people who express interest in driving smarter and less, according to both Luten and Vogler, who spoke on the same panel at the behavioral conference here. Instead, the MTC has found that people are willing to change for altruistic reasons, primarily reducing pollution, but also because they see an opportunity to improve their health.

Even college students, who would seem likely to be motivated by the monetary savings of ecodriving, showed little interest in participating in a recent study at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Like changing any habits having to do with energy use, efficiency gains in transportation face many barriers. In northern California, for example, people outside of the San Francisco metropolitan area do not consider public transportation suitable to forgo driving to work. Also, at least in the United States, cars are often a major part of a person’s sense of identity, so people are emotionally reluctant to drive less.

The key to progress, according to Luten, is one-on-one coaching with those who agree to try, rather than big marketing campaigns. Reluctant participants need to start with one very small, “almost laughable,” change. In the case of ecodriving, that could be walking instead of driving on one short trip a week.

“Behavior drives attitude, not the other way around,” Luten said. “Even a small success changes how you feel and builds confidence, and that builds momentum.”

The Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference is convened by Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the University of California’s California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

(Mark Golden is a communications/energy writer at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.)

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Media Contact: Mark Golden, (650) 724-1629, mark.golden@stanford.edu

Nov. 30, 2011

When a Lower Utility Bill Is Not Enough

By Mark Golden

WASHINGTON, D.C.--It’s hard out here for an energy efficiency expert.

Getting people to lower their thermostats a little or turn off lights when leaving a room takes more than reduced utility bills. Executives from for-profit energy efficiency firms and academic researchers debated Wednesday at the annual Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference what tools best motivate consumers -- additional financial incentives, neighborly competition, reduction goals or the use of negative messages about the impacts of global warming.

“Energy is a non-issue for people until they see a high bill. What people actually want is instant gratification for doing something that doesn’t require a lot of time or money,” said Tom Scaramellino, founder and chief executive of Efficiency 2.0, which implements energy reduction programs for electric and natural gas utilities.

The cornerstone of Efficiency 2.0’s program is to offer reward points much like airline frequent flyer programs. Utility customers who reduce energy use can redeem points for big discounts at retailers such as Staples, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Zales jewelers. The company has been called “the Groupon of energy efficiency,” a description to which Scaramellino does not object.

Offering additional monetary incentives differs from the approach of veteran energy-efficiency company Opower, which focuses on telling utility customers how their consumption of gas and power compares with that of their neighbors.

“People care about what other people are doing,” said Opower’s director of product management, Wayne Lin. He cited a well-regarded study from 2007, which showed that telling people most of their neighbors turn down their air conditioners at night and instead use a fan gets consumers to reduce summer electricity use by 6% on average. Still, for the more than 60 utility companies that have contracted Opower, participating customers have not met that study’s promise, cutting energy use by 1.5% to 3.5%. The company’s total reduction of a half-billion kilowatt-hours is impressive, but still does not approach the percentage targets needed to alter the course of climate change.

Rival firm Efficiency 2.0 claims reductions of about 4% or more from its consistent curtailer programs. “About 99% of people don’t care how much energy they use or how they compare with their neighbors,” Scaramellino said. “They do care if 100 reward points get them 10% off at Staples just before school starts.”

But Stanford University economist Matthew Harding questioned whether reward programs garner such results realistically. Consumers often are rewarded handsomely, he said, for even minor reductions in energy use. Instead, setting goals may be more effective than rewards or comparisons with neighbors.

“When we want people to conserve energy it’s very important for them to have set goals. Not ‘save 10%,’ but specific actions that they will take,” he explained.

In a Harding study sponsored by the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, even assigning goals for reduction randomly to customers in Massachusetts outstripped comparing reductions with neighbors, providing reduction suggestions and ranking customers’ efficiency achievements - another popular approach - even though the goals included no additional incentives beyond lower utility bills. And the results of an Efficiency 2.0 program in Chicago showed declining effectiveness, calling into question whether reward program results are sustainable, Harding said.

Also, he suggested, advocates of energy efficiency too easily dismiss the potential power of negative messaging, such as explaining the impacts of climate change if energy use continues unaltered. “I wonder if we should be so afraid. Look at the anti-smoking campaign, which uses negative messages and is extremely effective,” he said. “I’m not advocating scaring people to death, but we’re making our lives very hard by restricting ourselves to only positive messages.”

The executives of Opower and Efficiency 2.0, however, were certain that any messaging about global warming is not productive in getting people to reduce energy use. Efficiency campaigns cannot use the term “climate change” now, said Opower’s Lin.

“Sometimes the best way to address climate change is to not mention climate change,” added Scaramellino. “Every single person says they are joining the program because they want to help the environment, but when we look at what they are actually doing it’s about the benefits. They want to be perceived by other people as caring about the environment, but when nobody is watching they don’t care about the environment.”

The Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference is convened by Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the University of California’s California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

(Mark Golden is a communications/energy writer at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.)

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Media Contact: Mark Golden, (650) 724-1629, mark.golden@stanford.edu

Nov. 30, 2011

Neighborhood Teams Seen Critical to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Mark Golden

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The key to saving the planet from climate change is to do it one block at a time, social change innovator David Gershon said Wednesday at the annual Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference.

With almost no immediate prospects for legislation or technological innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, getting people to change voluntarily how they use energy is “the last frontier,” Gershon said. If voluntary behavior change does not happen, Gershon does not see much hope for avoiding an environmental disaster.

“Behavior change is a very demanding thing to do,” he said. “It is a very complex task to change a lifestyle and a lifetime of embedded habits.”

Nevertheless, Gershon is confident that it can be done, especially when people connect current actions with saving the future environment for their children. Neighborhood-based programs that his group has worked on for some 20 years have achieved high rates of participation and environmental improvement with lasting results. For example, 300 communities in the city of Portland, Oregon got 41% of households on average to participate in Gershon’s “Low Carbon Diet” project. Those participants reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 22%. In addition, the teams that formed for the pilot program have spawned teams on other blocks without prompting, Gershon said.

Though daunting when considering that this sort of behavior change is required around the world to alter the current course of climate change, Gershon said it takes only about 15% of a population to reach a tipping point, after which innovation moves much more quickly.

“It takes on its own momentum,” he explained. “So don’t be afraid to preach to the choir at conferences like this one. To get there you have to preach to the choir, because the choir has to sing loud enough to get other people in the church.”

Gershon’s Empowerment Institute will launch its most ambitious climate-change project next year. The goal will be to get three U.S. cities and three Brazilian cities to get a minimum of 25% of their citizens to reduce their carbon footprint 25% on average over three years. The project will launch next June, and results will be announced at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

The Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference is convened by Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the University of California’s California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

(Mark Golden is a communications/energy writer at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.)

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Media Contact: Mark Golden, (650) 724-1629, mark.golden@stanford.edu