Monday, April 28, 2008
The Green Movement and the power of information and shame
Just an idea I've been kicking around and I wanted to set it down in writing. It comes from our family's recent obsession with the gas mileage in our car, which reports the mileage in real time. It has completely changed our driving behavior. Taking off from a light too fast now makes me wince when I see the graph for that minute down in the 10s, and cruising on battery from Pulaski all the way to the garage makes me feel virtuous as the graph tops out at 60 (only because there's no infinity on the y-axis). Even more motivating is the desire to raise the average mileage during my turn to drive the car. I drove it downtown this weekend to take my mom to a show. Highway driving is not good for the mileage, and the average was several tenths lower by the time my husband next drove it. I was embarrassed and privately vowed to do better next time.
So, information about our own habits, our electricity usage and trash output and wasted water and sloppy recycling habits, delivered in real time in an unavoidable way, could potentially do more to change wasteful and destructive behavior than all the Al Gore movies and public service announcements and scientific papers combined. Imagine having your daily or hourly utility usage on a (low-wattage) screen where you'll see it frequently. The urge to keep those numbers down, to make Tuesday night less wasteful than Monday night, will come naturally. Seeing how many kilowatt-hours you used while everyone was at work or asleep would be pretty shocking. Even more motivating, imagine having your usage numbers available to your neighbors. Do you want to be the house that sucks up the most electricity or dumps the most water on your lawn? I didn't think so!
The beauty of real-time reporting of gas and water and electricity is that the data already exist (well, not always; our water isn't metered) if only the utilities would make it available. To alter other behaviors, we'll have to rely on glares from our nosy neighbors, and intra-household guilt.