Study: We're clueless on saving energy

Bulbs are sintered at a light bulb factory.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: This isn't gonna sound very nice. But most of us have no clue when it comes to energy savings. That's the basic finding of a recent study out of Columbia University. Marketplace's sustainability reporter Adriene Hill is with us now in the studio to talk about where a lot of us are getting it wrong. Good morning, Adriene.

ADRIENE HILL: Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So what the study found is when it comes to energy savings, we're all idiots?

HILL: Yeah, pretty much. Basically researchers asked people what one thing they could do that would be the most effective thing to save energy and people said turning off the lights.

CHIOTAKIS: Well that makes sense, what's wrong with that?

HILL: Well, turning off the lights and other curtailment activities, as researchers like to call them, may not save as much energy as we think. A better choice might be making efficiency improvements, like installing energy-efficient light bulbs or driving non-gas guzzlers.

CHIOTAKIS: So what are the things, Adriene, we do that we think save more energy than they actually save?

HILL: Well, so there's turning off the lights. There's driving slower on the highway -- maybe stepping it down to 55, people think that saves more energy than it actually does. Unplugging your phone charger -- again, these things do save energy, but not as much as people guess.

CHIOTAKIS: And what do we under-rate? What saves more than most people think they save?

HILL: Driving cars that get better mileage, using room air conditioners instead of central air, and running more efficient appliances.

CHIOTAKIS: Are there any thoughts, Adriene, as to why the misconception is out there? Why people overestimate the energy savings of some choices and then they underestimate the savings of others?

HILL: One explanation that makes a lot of sense to me is that doing things like driving less, turning off the lights, changing the thermostat are all activities that are free or save money. On the other hand, new light bulbs cost money upfront. New appliances or a new car costs a lot of money, and they're just a bigger commitment. One of my favorite findings in the study is those of us who do do things like turn off the lights and unplug our chargers actually have less accurate perceptions of energy use and energy savings than people who don't.

CHIOTAKIS: Why is that?

HILL: Well one theory the researchers propose is those of us who do turn off the lights are unrealistic optimists about the impact of our choices on the environment.

CHIOTAKIS: All right, Marketplace's sustainability reporter Adriene Hill with us here in the studio. Adriene, thanks.

HILL: Thank you.

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