Going Green: A Hard Sell For Consumers? People who promote energy efficiency are starting to realize that it may take more than high prices to get consumers to change their habits. As a result, they are turning to "social marketers" to get people to consume energy more conservatively.

Going Green: A Hard Sell For Consumers?

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Mr. Obama says America needs to break its addiction to foreign oil and cut the amount of carbon dioxide it produces. One way to do both is to use energy more efficiently. When gas and electricity prices are high, people do use less. But getting people to save energy will require more than just high prices, as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Social marketing is a fancy term for persuading people to do the right thing for society. Even government agencies are turning to social marketers to get people to use less energy, regardless of its price. Social marketing worked well for anti-smoking groups. The American Legacy Foundation used scare tactics on smokers in this television spot. It shows a busy city street, lots of speeding cars, and pedestrians getting run over.


MONTAGNE: Every day 3,000 Americans start smoking. A third of them will die from it.


JOYCE: But move away from smoking or other harmful habits, and it gets harder to change what people do.

MERRILL SHUGOLL: Fear sometimes works, but it doesn't usually work.

JOYCE: Merrill Shugoll is president of the marketing firm Shugoll Research. She says Big Oil isn't like Big Tobacco. After all, people actually need energy and they don't see it as dangerous. Shugoll surveys consumers, and she says many don't know where energy comes from or how using it affects the environment. And when experts try to explain, they can be wonky and confusing.

SHUGOLL: People are - they throw up their hands. They go, well, today it's a crisis and tomorrow we don't have to worry about it. And they get mixed signals.

JOYCE: One national program that has succeeded in convincing consumers to use less energy is the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. It certifies and labels the most efficient appliances - refrigerators, dishwashers, even whole houses. But it does more than that. Maria Vargas is an Energy Star director. She says information on kilowatt hours isn't quite enough to get consumers to commit.

MARIA VARGAS: People buy on emotion, and they justify it with the facts. And for a while we were just so fact-driven. And I think we realized, fairly early on, that there has to be more to it than that.

JOYCE: To reach the heart, the Energy Star program also tells people their decisions can help protect the planet from environmental damage. But Vargas adds consumers also want to see some pocketbook advantages. I put that theory to the test at ApplianceLand in Annapolis, Maryland, where store manager Jerry Walker(ph) roams down aisles of shiny new refrigerators.

JERRY WALKER: If you compare this one, this is not an Energy Star unit, so you're using about 479 kilowatts, about $51 a year estimated.

JOYCE: Fifty-one dollars to operate a refrigerator for a year.

WALKER: Non-Energy Star. Now, let's see what...

JOYCE: Walker eventually finds an Energy Star refrigerator. It's bigger than the first one and it runs cheaper.

WALKER: It's three cubic foot larger capacity, but you can see a difference of about $8 over the course of a year.

JOYCE: And that really makes a difference to people?

WALKER: It does. It really does.

JOYCE: And here's something else consumers want - to feel like they're intelligent. The group Alliance to Save Energy is trying to help consumers drive smarter. The Alliance's Rozanne Weissman says consumers told her they wanted tips on how to do that.

ROZANNE WEISSMAN: People wanted to be smart about their choices. They wanted to know more, and they wanted dollar signs attached to the tips so that they could make a determination for their own bottom line.

JOYCE: Unidentified Actress: My baby's talking!


JOYCE: Unidentified Actress: I'll drive smarter.

JOYCE: So, being smart, saving money, and helping the environment. And then, of course, you can always try to shame people into doing the right thing. Social marketer Merrill Shugoll recalls one way recycling caught on.

SHUGOLL: What happened is your kids would come home from school, and they learned about it in their science class, and they would reprimand you.

JOYCE: There is one thing that social marketers are not likely to ask people to do, though: sacrifice. Former President Jimmy Carter tried that. He put on a sweater and told Americans to lower the thermostat. It didn't work. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.


MONTAGNE: We've got an example of social marketing that's funny from the Energy Star campaign at our Web site, npr.org.

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