Want People to Embrace Efficiency Technology? Make It Sexy

Why don't energy efficiency technologies and strategies get people as excited as a Tesla roadster? On the face of it, duh. But it's the brains of it that make this a headscratcher.
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Why don't energy efficiency technologies and strategies get people as excited as a Tesla roadster? On the face of it, duh. It's the brains of it that make this a headscratcher.

An American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked the U.S. among the least energy efficient of the world's largest economies--13th out of 16--in its most recent international scorecard. (Get the details in Climate Central's summary.) That's too bad, because "energy efficiency investments can provide up to one-half of the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions most scientists say are needed between now and the year 2050,″ according to earlier ACEEE research. The research, based on economic data and the historical record, also found that "investments in more energy-productive technologies can also lead to a substantial net energy bill savings for the consumer and for the nation's businesses."

In other words, energy efficiency is probably the single most effective greenhouse gas reduction strategy we have--and it saves you money. What's not to get excited about?

The granny panties of the green economy

Unfortunately, energy efficiency just isn't sexy. Climate pundits have been lamenting this for some time: energy efficiency is the granny panties of the green economy. Many see the solution in language, and are lobbying for a new term, something less evocative of slide rules and more inspirational. I'm all for optimal naming, but we need to look at the total package.

Energy efficiency faces two obstacles more serious than its nerdy name: invisibility and implausibility. The beauty and the downfall of many energy efficiency measures is that they work in the background, without anyone being aware that they're happening. And the potential savings from these measures often inspire skepticism more than any other reaction--people think that if a solution like that really were effective, it would already be standard practice.

But think about that: do we always do the thing, in business or in life, that makes the most sense? Right. Energy efficiency technologies can be brilliant and cost-effective, and still fail to thrive. They typically fall victim to the powerful forces of inertia and the culture of heedless consumption: most Americans haven't worried much about saving energy because we haven't had to.

Make it alluring

The classic "show, don't tell" strategy works--but only if you make the technology look good. People need to see energy efficiency in action, and what they see has to be alluring, mesmerizing or at minimum moderately cool. There are many paths to achieving this effect. The Nest thermostat is a great example of sexiness through design. The opposite of Nest's chic minimalism could also be a winning strategy: show the energy efficiency happening through web interfaces, tickers, texts from your tires, whatever. Energy efficiency messengers and messages are also crying out to be amped up--we need to make these technologies sound desirable, not dutiful.

Will energy efficiency ever make our spines tingle? Maybe not (barring an electrical accident). But it can at least be made visible--and worth looking at.

For the second conversation in our Purpose@Work series -- a discussion designed to explore how we can infuse a deep sense of purpose into our work -- we're going to focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.

How are you using technology to elevate purpose in your organization, community, or project? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #PurposeAtWork.

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