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The Short List of Effective Actions

Part of The Short List of Effective ACtions

This list of action items for individual energy savings is the most focused and quantitative I’ve seen. It comes from an October 2008 article in Environment Magazine by Gerald Gardner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Paul Stern from the National Research Council.

The actions in the list are grouped by whether they’re for transportation or inside the home, immediate or longer-term, and no-cost/low-cost or higher-cost. Each item also includes an estimated percentage savings of total energy use. Here’s an example of an immediate, no-cost action for everyone:

Space conditioning:

Heat: Turn down thermostat from 72°F to 68°F during the day and to 65°F at night

A/C: Turn up thermostat from 73°F to 78°F

Energy saved: 3.4 percent

Compare that to the language from the Department of Energy’s “Tips to Save Energy Today: Easy low-cost and no-cost ways to save energy,” from their Energy Saver’s Booklet (full PDF):

Install a programmable thermostat to keep your house comfortably warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer.

The DoE’s language sets up two barriers:

  1. getting and installing the programmable thermostat (which might be fairly low-cost, but probably won’t happen “today)”, and
  2. learning how to use the thermostat in an effective way (even later in the booklet recommended temperatures settings are not given).

Perhaps more important, the DoE’s list doesn’t give any sense of how effective one action is compared to another, and scatters the “Long-Term Savings Tips throughout this booklet” — another barrier for readers.

Gardner & Stern’s list emphasizes relative impact of a mix of action types. People need to feel empowered to make big improvements quickly and easily, and The Short List of Effective Actions is a step towards that goal.

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