The term Prius Effect has come into vogue in recent years to describe various behaviors around the Toyota Prius. There’s a type of behavior that I associate it with and which I’ve observed in myself, since we became Prius owners. Specifically – when I drive the Prius, I drive by the control panel. I keep a close eye on the fuel efficiency gauge and I’m continually striving to maximize efficiency. In fact – it’s got to the point that my wife and I give each other grief if one of us gets into the car and sees that the other left it with a higher cumulative fuel efficiency than we did!
About ten years ago, researchers asked residents of the small California town of San Marcos to turn off their air conditioning and use their fans to reduce their electricity use. They did so by hanging cards with one of four messages on their home’s doorknobs. The messages were (more or less):
- Do it to save money.
- Do it to save the planet.
- Do it to be a good citizen.
- 77% of your neighbors are doing it. Please join them.
The first three messages had no effect. The fourth message was profoundly effective.
What do these two stories have in common?
Feedback and competition can be significant motivators to change behavior. Studies have shown this again and again. Give people data – they’ll compete to do better. It’s human nature. Setting up explicit competition against peers is great but in its absence, people will compete against themselves. Companies like Opower are using this effectively to stoke competition between neighbors to reduce utility use.
I’m excited because we’re seeing the same thing happening across hundreds of Scope 5 users. Not long ago, we rolled out Scope 5 to several hundred green team members at one of our multinational customers. In years prior, each of the green team members had been tallying annual utility data for their facility (in spreadsheets) and submitting it for use in the company’s annual report to the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Suddenly, each of these green team members had a Scope 5 dashboard. Users quickly worked out how to use that dashboard. They started generating charts comparing their facility’s usage to peer facilities. Many of them discovered that they could reconfigure their accounts from annual tracking to monthly tracking. These users actually went back and collected past year monthly utility data to load into the reconfigured trackers, so that they could see seasonal trends. Some added cost data. Some set up trackers to start tracking paper use.
All this is pretty cool. But the best thing about it – many of these users actually showed significant reductions in their use of energy and resources! We love our users!