Sustainable Blog

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Is neighborly competition the key to saving the environment?

Sustainable America's Ford C-Max Energi

Peer pressure can be a powerful thing. It’s not so great in middle school when it can lead to group bullying or encourage youth to take unnecessary risks. But when it comes to making small behavior changes, it turns out that we are more likely to take a step when we can look to our peers for support—or a little friendly competition.

Proven Results
In a series of experiments by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District with tens of thousands of their customers, they asked some people to be more energy efficient because it was good for the environment. Others were told they could save money, and a third group was told that it could help prevent blackouts. None of these messages were very effective. What was effective was telling a fourth group that a majority of their neighbors were more energy efficient than they were.

It may not be surprising to learn that there was a short-term effect on these customers’ energy habits, but what is surprising is that providing ongoing information about their energy consumption relative to their neighbors has resulted in an ongoing 2% difference, which may not sound like a lot, but it amounts to millions of dollars in savings, and a huge benefit to the environment.

Our Experiment
Sustainable America has a company car, a Ford C-Max Energi, which is a plug-in hybrid. On a full charge, it runs for the first 20 miles on its battery pack; an efficient gas engine then kicks in offering over 40 mpg in daily use. When we install a charging station at our headquarters, most of the trips this vehicle takes will be on silent, smooth, inexpensive electricity. According to eGallon, it costs about $3.56 per gallon for gasoline versus $1.84 for electricity here in Connecticut. That’s a deal we’ll take any day.

One of the great things about this car is that it comes with a mobile app called MyFord Mobile, which, among other things, allows for a user to compare his or her driving performance against other C-Max drivers in the region. Here in Connecticut, we compare ourselves to drivers in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire Rhode Island, and Vermont – states with similar weather and geography.

We have only had this car since the beginning of the year, but it pains us to learn that we are ranked #129 in our driving score, based mostly on our braking and acceleration habits. With the Olympics underway, we won’t settle for anything less than Gold, but we have more work to do to become expert hypermilers. With the rankings of our fellow travelers at our fingertips, we know how far we have to go, and we have the right incentive to get there.

How Do You Measure Up?
Even if you don’t have an app that you can use to compare yourself to other drivers, here’s one way your neighbors may be beating you on gas savings: idling. Almost 7,600 people have pledged to shave a few minutes of unnecessary idling from their daily routine at iturnitoff.com, and there’s a growing movement in communities around the country to crack down on idlers who waste gas and pollute the air by letting their engines run when their cars aren’t moving. Through school district campaigns, letters to local newspapers, or just frank conversations with idlers, people are using peer pressure to say, “Don’t be an idler!” Collectively, pledges from our ITurnItOff campaign alone have saved over 205,000 gallons of fuel, and that’s just since last June!

If each of the 42,700 followers who like us on Facebook were to take the pledge, we would quickly be over one million gallons saved. The way we’ll get there is by telling friends and neighbors how we save gas and help improve air quality by limiting idling. If we make this a new social norm, together we can make huge strides in reducing our reliance on oil, and make a more sustainable America.

Jeremy Kranowitz
Sustainable America Executive Director

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.