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Language Demographics About Energy and Environment Change

Consumers are aware they could be doing more conservation and efficiency, but they don’t know what to do and they don’t think it will be easy.

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Communications and green marketing for sustainable business

Marketing Language for Green Messaging

Language changes with the times, and the green revolution is spawning a whole new glossary of terms for measuring, identifying and describing climate change strategies and tools. Choosing the right words is important...even critical to encouraging and supporting behavior change.

Language is about conveying ideas...and if one party doesn't understand the conveyance exists. Consumer communications and marketing is built on a foundation of "common understanding." The following research result show that crafting new terms isn't always effective and the same terms aren't accepted or understood by different groups of people. Knowing the people you communicate with carries equal importance to choosing the right words.

The 2007 EcoPinion Survey confirms the existence of a green gap between the communications and language commonly used by companies and stakeholders in the energy and environment space and customers’ understanding, acceptance and perceptions of value around terms such as energy efficiency, energy conservation, demand response, smart energy and clean energy.

The green gap in communications contributes to a growing misalignment between customers’ stated intentions, e.g., their desire to be more green or frugal with energy consumption, and their actual behavior.

Green Gap Communication Survey Findings

  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 unpopular (44%), annoying (42%) and unhelpful (40%).

Keep it Simple: Electricity, Fuel and the Environment

Consumers tend to mention electricity, fuel and the environment more when describing energy conservation, while cost and the more generic description apply to energy efficiency.

Age Differences in Green Communications

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.

Regional Green Behaviors

The Midwest lowers their thermostat more than any other region when asked about energy conservation

The South cuts back on air conditioning.

The Northeast and the Western regions are more likely to say that they buy energy efficient appliances.

In terms of energy efficiency, the Northeast and the West are more likely to purchase energy efficient light bulbs.

Energy Terminology

Respondents were also shown a list of adjectives and asked to pick the ones they thought best described the energy expressions.

Energy conservation was described as

  • valuable (62%) especially among the 55+ demographic,
  • smart (58%), and
  • community oriented (55%).
Likewise, energy efficiency was perceived as
  • valuable (64%) and
  • smart (60%), as well as
  • easy to use (53%),
  • reliable (51%) and
  • forward looking (50%)

Females and respondents age 18-54 used the term "valuable" significantly more than those age 55+.

Eighteen percent of respondents said smart energy is environmentally friendly energy, and this response was significantly higher among the 18 to 34 set.

The 55+ group was more likely to say that smart energy is that which doesn’t harm or pollute the environment. Thirteen percent mentioned alternative energy and alternative energy technologies (solar power, wind power, etc).

Only 3% of respondents mentioned fuel in their answers (as in fuel conservation or cleaner fuels).

More respondents seem to know or understand what the term "clean energy" means. Almost 50% answered that clean energy is energy or fuel that does not harm or pollute the environment, while 8% mentioned less or no emissions. Eighty-six percent identified the correct definition from the list.

Again, there were significant differences among the age groups when asked what they were personally doing in terms of clean energy.

While the 35-54 set is more likely to drive a fuel efficient car than the 18-34 group, the 55+ set was more likely to use alternative energy, such as geothermal, propane and “better gas” than the 18-54 group. They were also much less likely to answer that they were doing “nothing” than their younger counterparts.

Perceptions by Income

Not surprisingly, respondents with household incomes less than $50k were more likely to describe energy efficient as expensive.

Summary of Green Communication Findings

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.

SOURCE: The Distributed Energy Financial Group (DEFG) LLC, Washington D.C., launched EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency focused on energy and the environment. EcoAlign’s mission is to align consumer behavior with energy and environmental needs for products, services and programs.

Dana Cogar
Research Director

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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