This is interesting: the New York Times is reporting on a great way to motivate people to trim their energy and water consumption: tell them how much their neighbors use. See, for example, the research of University of Arizona professor Robert Cialdini:
In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.
That’s right: keeping up with the Joneses can be more effective in motivating conservation than appealing to our better selves.
Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to harness this competitive instinct: put information about neighbors’ energy and water consumption right on people’s utility bills! A company called Positive Energy already has the software tools to do this, and apparently it’s being tested out in cities around the US. Puget Sound Energy is already running a pilot program in suburban Seattle. Any other takers?