The days of advertising and marketing professionals are filled with figuring out (or trying to, anyway) how to change people’s behavior. Their habits. Their perceptions. Their decision-making processes and the way they feel about everything from technology to toothpaste. Every topic comes with a unique set of barriers to overcome, but I believe I may have met the mother of all behavior change challenges—energy conservation.
Admittedly, energy conservation is not exactly new and there is a long, varied list of stakeholders taking on the issue. But I recently had my first close encounter. It seems straightforward enough: Investing in the energy efficiency of your home will lower your energy bills, and making more energy-conscious decisions will reduce your impact on the environment. As will driving a hybrid vehicle or commuting to work via public transportation or even a bicycle. But benefits aside, people still vehemently resist change.
It’s not unlike other notorious areas of behavior change. You know, things like eating better, getting more exercise, and quitting smoking. But what I believe sets it apart is that energy combines the toughest aspects of these nasty behavior change topics into a single, incredibly stubborn monster. Think about it:
- Change is slow. Far slower even than losing weight. Instead of weeks or months, it will take decades for us to see and feel the results of the changes we make today. A tough sell in a culture partial to instant gratification.
- Change is uncomfortable. Like smoking for most smokers, energy waste is built into our daily routines. We know it’s not good for our planet and future generations, but we’re addicted to 72 degrees all year round and can’t move on from our love affair with the SUV. Depriving ourselves of these things will cause discomfort, and no one likes being uncomfortable.
- Change requires real effort. Bottom line, changing our energy habits takes work. Think of it as beginning an exercise program: it requires daily dedication and long-term commitment to achieve your goals. Start to slip up and it’s easy to get discouraged. Stop altogether and it’s tough to get moving again.
- Change is big and we are small. Global warming is typically discussed on an incomprehensible scale. How in the world is turning off the lights when I leave a room going to save polar bears? Honestly, it probably won’t. But it’s far too easy and convenient to dismiss individual actions as insignificant—just ask those tasked with persuading people to come out and vote.
These are simple observations from a single behavior change-ologist; a theory attempting to dissect one of the industry’s (and the world’s) greatest challenges to date. Is energy conservation the Frankenstein of behavior change? Maybe. Is getting people to change their habits and use less energy impossible? Absolutely not. The key is treating it like any other challenge and getting to the root of what motivates different groups of people. Understanding how people think and feel about energy. And ultimately developing messaging that speaks to both hearts and minds.
Have a behavior change challenge that trumps energy conservation? We’d love to hear your take.