Informing Consumers About Energy Efficiency: Viral Communication

Lynne Kiesling

Informing individuals about the resource use and environmental consequences of their energy consumption can be surprisingly difficult. Do you ever read the little flyers that your utility or your energy retailer puts in your bill? Nope, I don’t either. But in general we’re pretty clueless about our energy consumption, because we do not have timely information that shows us how much we’re using, and how much we’re spending, so we have little incentive to go out and find information about energy efficiency. Even my students, undergrads and MBAs at one of the best universities in the world, don’t generally realize that, for example, 90% of the energy used in an incandescent light bulb produces waste heat, not lumens.

In part the challenge is that it’s an information push, and it’s an information push in an over-informed world. Consumers rarely go out looking for ways to save energy (although $4 gas and possible recession have increased that information pull!).

Traditional groups like the Alliance to Save Energy produce PSA commercials, like this one about energy hogs in the refrigerator. But, without a widespread (and expensive) TV and online ad campaign, few people will get energy efficiency information this way. Even I had to have someone else email it to me to know about these PSAs!

Into this challenging problem steps Google, a well-known technology company with reduced energy consumption and reduced greenhouse gas emissions as a high-priority objective. They have created a timely little Halloween energy use web application, which frames the energy use in your home in terms of vampires, ghosts, zombies, monsters, and demons. The application calculates how much energy, money, and carbon dioxide you can save by changing some parts of your energy use behavior. Like most things Google, it’s cute, simple, clear, and engaging.

How I found out about it stresses the importance of viral communication in creating energy efficiency awareness. I found out about this Google app from a Lifehacker post (I am a total Lifehacker junkie), which credits a post at the official Google blog, which I don’t read. But the meshed communication characteristics of the Internet means that I get that information that wouldn’t otherwise reach me through a more traditional information-push top-down strategy.

Google’s list of advanced tips makes good suggestions, and also includes links to other organizations that work on energy efficiency.

2 thoughts on “Informing Consumers About Energy Efficiency: Viral Communication

  1. When you consider the less than 30% resource energy efficiency of electric power generation, transmission and distribution, it becomes obvious that less than 3% of the primary energy produced to generate the electricity actually ends up as lumens.

    I wonder how many of your students realize that electricity does not emerge from the wall outlet at 100% efficiency.

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