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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
inviting format, it must be made easily understandable, it must be specific to the desired end, it should be timed so that action by the consumer is convenient and possible soon after the information is received, and it should be distributed by sources that command the energy user’s attention (Ester and Winett, 1982; Stern and Gardner, 1981). Energy information programs have not generally followed these principles: energy information is often available only in monochromatic, small-print pamphlets distributed upon request by the Government Printing Office. Although much of the information is valuable, the format is neither eye-catching, simple, nor convenient, and the distribution system is unknown to most people. Even the best-recognized energy information program, the fuel economy labels on new cars, has been presented for nine years in a dull format (see Figure 7, above). Other communication-based programs have been too general to be effective—for example, a billboard that shows the national gas tank reading nearly empty, with the legend, “Don’t be fuelish.”
Dozens of controlled experiments have been conducted using various sorts of communications to get people to take actions that reduce use of energy or other resources. Reviewers have generally concluded (Ester and Winett, 1982; Shippee, 1980; Winett and Neale, 1979) that the experiments have produced very little energy savings. But like many government programs, most of these studies have failed to use the most effective available communication techniques (Ester and Winett, 1982). The evidence from this group of studies supports the knowledge of communication theory, emphasizing the effectiveness of messages that are specific, repeated, and very close in time to the desired behavior (Ester and Winett, 1982).12
Not all information programs have been ignorant of communications principles. There has been some noticeable success in presenting information in simple and understandable form. Some programs have distilled energy-efficiency information into simple numbers—miles-per-gallon, energy efficiency ratios for air conditioners, and payback estimates.13 Other programs have created a simple category, such as when utilities have certified certain buildings as energy efficient, thus providing simple and valuable information to prospective purchasers or renters (Stern et al., 1981).
The miles-per-gallon number has proven especially useful, judging from the frequent emphasis on it in automobile and motor oil advertising and in casual discussions among motorists. Miles-per-gallon is an especially meaningful unit for energy users, being a ratio of two measurements that are meaningful and generally used (Kempton and Montgomery, 1982). Energy-efficiency numbers for appliances and payback-period estimates are probably a step in the right direction, since they simplify information processing. However, because they do not build on familiar and intuitively meaningful concepts, they are likely to be less potent than the miles-per-gallon concept.