By Ally Harris
Feb. 6, 2014
Imagine opening your mail and being told your neighbours are using half as much electricity as you are.
This was the reality in San Marcos, Calif., when a social experiment was conducted to see if people’s energy consumption could be influenced by the people around them.
This behavioural science was the topic of discussion at the Holland College Green Machine’s first Lunch and Learn of 2014.
The Green Machine recently launched its new Use Your Brains campaign, which Green Machine member Sara Underwood says is a more general campaign than in the past.
“It’s more about general awareness of how to conserve energy.”
Kim Griffin, manager of corporate communications and public affairs at Maritime Electric, was the guest speaker at the presentation. She said this behavioural science is evident in P.E.I.
Maritime Electric’s winter challenge, which encouraged customers to save on their energy bills, inspired people to go neighbour to neighbour to brainstorm various ways to save.
The company also went to Island elementary schools to tell kids about the importance of saving energy.
“People say, ‘Kids don’t pay their power bill.’ No, they don’t, but they do have a lot of influence at home,” Griffin said.
Griffin also talked about various ways of saving energy around the house.
“There’s still a huge opportunity for saving in people’s houses.”
She said there were multiple questions to ask when trying to find ways to save energy, such as how you heat your home, how many appliances you have, how you dry your clothes, and whether you use energy-efficient light bulbs or not.
She said the company had seen many examples of customers leaving their TV sets on all day for their pets. Even switching to using a radio over the TV can be a big saver.
Everyone knows clogged lint traps in dryers can be fire hazards, but they can also be big energy wasters, using 30 per cent more energy than a clean lint trap.
Some customers even went to extremes such as putting egg timers in their bathrooms to stop teenagers from taking long showers.
But how did the company motivate their customers to start saving?
Griffin said the key was to make it simple for customers.
“You can create a challenge with people without having to give a lot of money.”
Maritime Electric used initiatives such as giving customers the opportunity to win free electricity for a year, and giving customers $5 cash back for bringing in their old Christmas lights.
Griffin also said customers should switch to LED light bulbs at Christmas, as one incandescent light bulb uses the same amount of energy as 140 LED ones.
She then demonstrated the energy calculator, which can be found on Maritime Electric’s website.
“It’s a really helpful tool,” she said.
Griffin said we must work together as a community to reduce the energy we use.
“It has to be more of a social norm not to waste,” she said.