EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency focused on energy and the environment, conducted the first EcoPinion survey representing a total of 1,000 online interviews taken the first week in November 2007. The sample is balanced to match the U.S. population by age, gender, region and ethnicity. The results confirm the growing green gap in communications and messaging.
Confusion and Lack of Understanding around Language
In publications such as EnergyPulse and many others, terms such as energy efficiency, energy conservation, demand response, clean energy and smart energy are used all the time. However, key findings from the EcoPinion survey found:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. One third of respondents do not know what “clean energy” signifies.
5. 41% of consumers polled don’t know what “demand response” is, but nonetheless find it un-popular (44%), annoying (42%) and un-helpful (40%).
Broad Range of Meaning Driven by Demographics and Other Factors
When asked to select adjectives that can be used to describe a commonly used term or expression in the energy and environment space, the results were illustrative of a broad range of perceptions for most Americans over what these terms and expressions meant to them personally. For example, almost an equal number of survey respondents felt that energy conservation was “old fashioned” and “futuristic.”
Certain mircotrends are discernible when breaking out the responses along demographic and income levels.
The younger set, age 18 to 34, tend to use the words “conserve,” “efficiency,” and “waste less” in their responses. However, it is members of the 55+ group that, when asked what they are doing, have more concrete answers and are less likely than their younger counterparts to answer “nothing.”
Additional differences emerge among the age groups, and even regionally, when responding to the question “what are you personally doing in terms of (energy conservation / energy efficiency). In both cases, the 55+ age group is significantly more likely to mention conserving or saving fuel by driving less, driving hybrids or driving slower than the speed limit. They are also significantly more likely to mention lowering the thermostat or using less air conditioning. It would seem the 55+ demographic is more likely to take action, while the younger group is more likely to use “buzz” words and less likely to articulate how that translates into action.
When considering differences between income groups, EcoAlign is starting to pick up some concern between the many Americans that are struggling economically due to a number of factors, including rising energy prices, and the perception that the elites are trying to raise taxes or increase prices due for environmental protection, higher efficiency standards, or other measures that could impact their wallet. More survey work will need to be done to confirm the depth of this concern.
What Does It All Mean?
Language matters. When conveying significance or meaning, language is the basic building block of our thoughts, ideas and expressions.
While there is a level of awareness regarding consumers’ energy and environment footprint, there is confusion and a lack of understanding surrounding the language and terms used within these industries. Perceptions regarding energy conservation, efficiency, smart energy and the like are muddied by consumer ignorance and this directly affects consumer-purchasing behavior.
Opportunity exists for companies and utilities to educate and guide consumers in the environment and energy space. By educating consumers about the energy they use, their impact on the environment and what actions they can take, consumers will feel more confident in making changes. Clearly consumers are aware they could be doing more in terms of conservation and efficiency, but they don’t know what to do and they don’t think it will be easy. This is illustrated in the high percentages answering they are not currently doing enough and the low percentages choosing “easy to use” to describe any of the energy terms.
In addition, these 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, but that by tracking consumer awareness, attitudes and behavior and by asking different questions to better understand consumers (and thus communicating with customers differently), the gap between the stated intentions of customers to be more conscious of their energy and environment footprint and their actual purchasing behavior can be closed.
Readers can obtain a copy of the EcoPinion Report at no charge by visiting: www.ecoalign.com
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