Keeping up with the Joneses promotes energy efficiency

Humans love to copy each other. From little toddlers mimicking the words of their parents to adults following the latest fashion trends, it seems that people have the need to do what everyone else is doing in order to feel accepted.

Combining the fields of psychology and environmental science, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has begun to use this need-to-conform concept to encourage its residents to become more energy efficient by sending bills — called “home energy reports” — that compare their own energy costs to those of their neighbors.

This new concept of using regular human tendencies to further energy efficiency is a creative approach that is necessary to combat the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than forcing people to save energy or bombarding them with neverending facts and figures, this simple method of showing citizens the possible benefits of becoming energy efficient gets the point across.

The home energy report also contains several simple tips and suggestions to the homeowner on how to become energy efficient. Comparisons in the report are also made based on home size and heating type, thereby comparing only similar types of homes.

The SMUD began this new program in April; now it claims that out of the 35,000 homes that received home energy reports, 75 percent have begun using energy-efficient methods to cut energy use, resulting in an average savings of $40 per household.

The California State Legislature, along with the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has signed SB 488 into law, which will have all California utility agencies create home energy report programs for its customers by July of next year.

Approximately 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity use in homes.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Alex Laskey, president and co-founder of the energy efficiency software firm OPOWER, claimed that if home energy reports were used nationally, the result would be the equivalent of taking 6 million cars off the road.

Where many energy-saving tactics have failed, this one might succeed with the simple application of psychology.

When people realize that some of their friends and neighbors are saving money by applying several easy energy cost cutting measures, it is only natural that others will begin to copy them.

This tendency is especially visible in today’s dismal economic situation, as many households are trying to save every possible dollar. Most people try to cut their spending on luxury items and other objects, but fail to realize they can also save money by simply regulating their energy use.

Although the start of such programs and the passage of SB 488 deserve to be praised, the use of home energy reports needs to be expanded to include not only individual homes but companies, universities and buildings as well. Companies that are not energy efficient might begin copying those companies that are in order to save money as well.

Universities such as USC can compare their energy use to that of other universities and therefore understand how environmentally friendly (or not) they truly are. Students have the potential to get involved in order to help create programs for student apartments in order to reduce their energy consumption.

Student-run environmental organizations can begin to take a more active and direct role in reducing carbon emissions in the lives of students on campus — students are prime targets, both in terms of individuals looking to save money and in terms of following “the need to conform” psychological principle. The environmental science and psychology departments in particular could join together and devise a plan similar to home energy reports for USC and its buildings.

Energy efficiency is in the best interest of every individual — both economically and environmentally speaking. Let’s start spreading the word.

Angad Singh is a sophomore majoring in international relations.