When we talk about reducing energy use around the house, it’s frequently in the context of saving money on monthly utility bills. It makes sense — money plays a role in so many decisions that we make, from where we work to what kind of car we drive to where we go shopping. But it turns out that people are actually more motived to save energy because it’s better for the environment and their health than because of money, according to a recent study by the University of California Los Angeles. The result is contrary to the expectations of even the test participants themselves.
Money vs. Pollution, Health
The study broke up households into two categories — one of which received weekly reminders about how much money they could be saving by cutting back on their energy usage, while the other was told about all the air pollution they were creating, and how it could play a role in children contracting asthma and cancer. The researchers gave both groups analytical tools to track how and when they used the most electricity, as well as comparisons to their neighbors to give them benchmarks to shoot for.
In the end, the group that was nagged about money failed to change their habits to include any efficiency measures. The health and environment group, on the other hand, slashed their energy usage by an average of 8 percent — and families with children cut back by 19 percent.
Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
Before the study, participants were asked what message they thought would be effective in persuading them to cut back on their electricity usage, and most of them said that money would be the prime motivating factor. The results proved otherwise.
“We’re finding that you have to bundle the public good with the private good,” said Magali Delmas, the study’s principal investigator and an environmental economist at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, said in a press release. “Our message about health and the environment reminds people that environmentalism is also about them and their kids.”
Researchers speculated that the amount of money at stake simply wasn’t high enough to prompt people to act, but when homeowners were motived by a combination of benefiting their own families and being good citizens, they did take action.
“The message reminds you that you’re hurting people and the planet,” one of the study participants reported afterward. “It made me more conscious of the energy I was using.”
Go Beyond the Pocketbook
The study can be a lesson for officials and utility companies who seek to encourage people to cut down on their energy consumption. While everybody likes saving money, sometimes you need to appeal to more than just their pocketbooks to get people to act.
Why not take advantage of all three benefits? By taking simple steps to lower your energy usage, you can cut back on your bills, help the environment and protect public health all at once. If you aren’t sure how to get started, call an expert to give your home an energy audit and put you on the path to a cleaner, healthier and more frugal lifestyle.