Inspired by visual displays that help people count units consumed (gas, calories, electricity), reader Travis Walker proposes a nudge to help households reduce energy and water consumption. Instead of using an Ambient Orb or placing a smiley face on an utility bill, Walker thinks energy companies should tell consumers a story about their usage and the usage of others like them.
At the end of every month when a family receives their utility or water bill it should also include a short narrative at the bottom of each statement comparing the amount of energy or water they used relative to a household of comparable means (in terms of both square footage and the number of household members). For example, at the bottom of an electricity bill would be a short narrative like the following: “This month your household has used nearly 50 percent more electricity than the average four person household of comparable size (2,100 square feet). As a result, your bill is approximately 50 percent higher than the average household of comparable means.”
Or, alternatively, the narrative could state: “Your household has used 75 percent less electricity than the average four person household of comparable size (2,100 square feet). As a result, your bill is approximately 75 percent less than the average household of comparable means. You are an energy conservation champion, keep it up!”
Then at the end of each year every household would receive a statement ranking their respective energy and water consumption relative to those of comparable means. For example, “Based on your households overall energy use for 2007, you ranked 9,016th out of a total 10,050 households of comparable means with one being the largest energy user and 10,050 being the most conservative. Keep up the conservation, you’re doing great!” Maybe, just to appease our ego, the household that is ranked number 10,050 could receive a large yard sign indicating that they’re the “Energy Conservation Champion of the Year.”