Utilities and manufacturers who want to motivate consumers to buy and use green products sometimes turn to Suzanne Shelton. Her Knoxville, Tenn., advertising company, the Shelton Group, works "to bring sustainability to the masses."
Many Americans think they've done plenty to make their homes more energy-efficient but are frustrated that they're not seeing the results in lower utility bills, according to Shelton's sixth annual Energy Pulse survey. What's more, she said, homeowners think they've gone about as far as they can to improve their homes' energy efficiency.
She talked about what we'll do — and won't do — for our homes:
Your research shows that people think they've done plenty to improve their home-energy footprint, yet you think they're fooling themselves. Why?
There's a gross misperception that Americans think they've done a lot more than they have. Ninety percent of the population says they've changed their habits to be more energy-efficient, and 77% of them say they've changed most of their incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights or CFLs. But we know that's overstated. If it were true that people had changed their behavior, energy consumption would have gone down, but it hasn't.
Do their actions go beyond changing their light bulbs?
When we look at the profiles of Americans who we know are most inclined to do these kinds of things — they have the disposable income, they've upgraded their heating/cooling/air conditioning to be more energy-efficient, they've purchased Energy Star products, etc. — they say, "Thank you very much, I'm done now." They think they've done enough for their part.
One-third of people who have made those improvements say they haven't seen the improvements [in their utility bills] that they expected. And they say, "I've done a lot and I didn't see any savings from it, why should I bother?"
Is that dearth of savings because utility rates are going up?
That's part of it. They're also using more electricity — with cellphones, HDTVs, laptops and computers, they're using more devices than ever before, and they don't realize it.
People think that because they've installed CFLs, they can leave the lights on all the time. If they've bought [an energy-efficient] water heater, they can take long showers.
What would you consider to be the mainstream attitude about conservation today?
There isn't one attitude that dominates. If you paint with a very broad brush, you can divide the country into four general attitudes.
The first is called the actives. They're avid recyclers and very attuned to waste and energy conservation. They actively seek out green products.
The seekers are the people that manufacturers most want to reach because they haven't really established any brand loyalty. They're middle-income, with kids at home. Seekers are trying to figure all this stuff out. They feel a little guilty about some of their choices, but they're not sure what to do.
The skeptics are the largest group, compared to the other three. Their defining characteristic is that global warming isn't happening or they're on the fence about it. They'll do energy-efficient things, but for economic reasons. They think, "Why would you spend more money with the utility company than you have to?"
The indifferents aren't doing anything to conserve energy or anything green because their whole life is colored by their financial goals — just trying to put food on the table. They don't have the freedom to even think about climate change.
Is it worthwhile for someone trying to sell a home to tout its green features?
It's getting there. A growing number of Multiple Listing Services are starting to add green features to their lists of home attributes. Some people don't want to buy a green home because they think they're going to pay more for it and don't think green features will improve their real estate values. By listing those features in the MLS, it begins to provide a feeling of value for them.
In the 1970s, you'd see people offering their utility bills [to prospective buyers] to show them what kind of value they'd be getting with the house. In the '80s, we stopped worrying about it. Now we do care again. I hope that this will stick around and that you'll see people who are buying homes asking for utility bills to see what they're buying into.
Umberger writes for the Chicago Tribune.