Polling our way to a better future?

One of the signs of a changing weltaunschauung when it comes to Global Warming is the ever growing advertising and marketing agency focus on ‘green’ issues.  And, with this, ever more polling about consumer attitudes, providing information about what the “average Joe” thinks about ecology, energy, green, etc issues.  And, some of this is turning Frank Luntz on his head, scoping out strengths and weaknesses of specific words and phrases in ways that can help us move forward to a better energy future.

EcoAlign, launched just a month ago, issued their first report: The Green Gap: Communications and Language (pdf).   This work is of value and import for those, like me, who are seeking paths to communicate complicated energy issues to help foster a move toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society.

The authors had an article derived from this in the latest EnergyPulse.

What are key findings?

Most consumers can’t articulate the difference between the phrases “energy conservation” and “energy efficiency,” while only 13% of respondents think energy efficiency has to do with saving money or cutting down on fuel costs.

Hard to believe, isn’t it, that 87% percent don’t link energy efficiency with the potential for saving money.

To conserve energy, a quarter of consumers try to buy energy efficient products, and 19% lower their thermostats, with women more likely to take actions around conserving energy.

Women make greater efforts to conserve energy, okay. But, why, if just 13% associate energy efficiency with saving money? Huh?

Only about one third, 30%, of Americans understand the term “smart energy” and about the same amount, 32%, say they are not doing enough in terms of “smart energy.”

First off, writ large, that only 32 percent say that they are not doing enough in terms of smart energy shows the relative ignorance of the issue. I promise you (and berate myself) that I am “not doing enough in terms of “smart energy””. And, probably, the more you know, the less likely you are to be fully satisfied with what you’re doing.

Oh, by the way, a reasonable Smart Energy definition: “The term Smart-Energy comes from the philosophy of always using the most cost effective long term approach to meeting your energy needs, while maintaining the lowest environmental impact.”  

One third of respondents do not know what “clean energy” signifies.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, as according to the Canadian government: “Although there appears to be no strict definition, clean energy is any energy that causes little or no harm to the environment.” That description makes sense, but note the “no strict definition”.

41% of consumers polled don’t know what “demand response” is, but nonetheless find it unpopular (44%), annoying (42%) and unhelpful (40%).

This last is a good example. 41% don’t know what “demand response” is yet they describe this thing, that they don’t know, in highly negative terms.  In fact, I was surprised at the summary finding that implied that 59% knew what “demand response” was, which would have astounded me. In fact, far fewer seem to:

Demand Response does not mean anything to most people. Twenty-six percent of respondents could not or did not answer the question, while another 15% answered “nothing.” So to 41% of the population, it has no meaning or relevance.

Thirty-seven percent answered that it meant a response was needed or there was a need to take action, while only 8% answered that it was a company’s response to consumer demands or the ability to provide service when demand is high. When asked what people were doing in terms of demand response, 39% said “nothing” and 32% either didn’t know or didn’t answer.

In other words, it isn’t 41% who don’t know, but 92% basically did not know what “demand response” is when it comes to energy services.

What is a full definition of Demand Response?

Demand response refers to the reduction of customer energy usage at times of peak usage in order to help address system reliability, reflect market conditions and pricing, and support infrastructure optimization or deferral.  Demand response programs may include dynamic pricing/tariffs, price-responsive demand bidding, contractually obligated and voluntary curtailment, and direct load control/cycling.

Demand Response is a path to help manage peak power usage, to lower or control demands, to avoid brown-outs or black-outs. And, if integrated into a strong energy efficiency plan, a good demand response path can help reduce overall power infrastructure requirements (fewer coal-fired electricity plants) and ease introduction of renewable power into the power system.  But, what do we learn from EcoAlign, “Demand Response” is definitely not a term to use without explanation since it generates negative responses to start with and, well, with inadequate (or poorly phrased) explanations, it will generate opposition.

Does it matter at all?

Really, do the words matter? That people are energy illiterate have any real meaning.  Ecoalign thiks so …

changes do not have to be on a large scale. But consumers may not understand this. Only small percentages in this study are aware of, or purchasing energy efficient appliances or light bulbs or using alternative fuel sources. It is EcoAlign’s position that the lack of understanding and education leads to consumer paralysis

“Consumer paralysis …” means not buying Energy Star when the refrigerator is replace.  “Consumer paralysis” due to lack of understanding means buying more incandescent light bulbs.  “Consumer paralysis” means continuation of old, unsustainable, and more expensive patterns that undercut our ability to move toward an Energy Smart future.  “Consumer paralysis” is an obstacle to our efforts to Energize America.

Making those efforts to a clean energy future are, clearly, a multifaceted campaign. A multifaceted campaign in which, as EcoAlign reminds us, language matters.

We can all help make

Energy Smart. 

Ask yourself:  
Are you doing your part to



The authors had an article derived from this in the latest EnergyPulse.


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