Conservation as a contest: Group hopes rivalry will spark behavioral change (Boston Globe)   Leave a comment

Conservation as a contest: Group hopes rivalry will spark behavioral change

By Beth Daley, Globe Staff

What should motivate you to reduce your energy use?

By now, we’ve heard the reasons over and over again: You can save money and protecting the environment is simply the right thing to do.

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But that doesn’t always cut it in the real world. The financial savings from being more energy efficient are sometimes too small to motivate people to change behavior and there isn’t often a visual benefit to the environment from turning off the dryer and hanging your laundry on a clothesline.

But a Harvard master’s student, MIT research fellow and energy consultant think they have a motivating idea: Rivalry. Taking an idea from a successful MIT effort that pits dorms against each other to see which one can save the most energy, the group is hoping to start a series of online community contests that capitalizes on our innate competitive streaks.

The group has started a facebook group here to get a competition going and solicit ideas and comments. Communities who win competitions could pocket their savings – or donate it to a worthy cause.

“We are really tapping into human behavior,’’ said Pedzi Makumbe, of MIT, who is launching the idea with Ilana Greene, a Harvard student and Attila Forruchi, an energy consultant. “For some people, the savings would be a few dollars a month and (you) can’t even buy a beer with that. But let’s say…I’m really passionate about breast cancer and my energy change will go toward funding it. That may make me much more motivated,” Makumbe said.

The group hopes to hold competitions that last a minimum of three months to let behavioral changes take hold in people, whether it’s turning the dishwasher on at night when electricity is often less expensive or putting the computer on sleep mode after every use.

Non-profits could use the model to promote energy efficiency. Or, the group says, utilities could use it to meet regulatory goals for energy efficiency. Right now, Forruchi says, utilities tend to provide energy savings to customers through rebates for more energy efficient appliances or through home audits to point out easy ways to conserve. But the effort is expensive and has been criticized for not reaching some lower-income populations. Also, when incentives or rebates disappear, people often revert back to their original behavior.

Competition, the group says, can change all that.

“It takes a boring, mundane topic and turns it into a social cause,’’ said Greene.

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Posted April 2, 2011 by ilanamelissagreene in Uncategorized

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