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The Rebound Effect in Green Marketing & Conservation

Who really benefits from individual efforts to conserve limited resources like water or energy?

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Rebound Effect in Energy Conservation

The term Rebound effect is used in energy conservation, innovation theory and green marketing to refer to the increases of demand that are caused by the introduction of more efficient/environmentally sound technologies. This increase in consumption then reduces the size of the effect of the improved technology on total energy use.Source: Wikipedia

green globe with glasses An increase in consumption of water, or energy, or any commodity associated with increases in efficiency is supported by economic theory and studies in specific sectors. Debates remain over how important the effect is in different circumstances.

In developed countries, the rebound effect is small to moderate, ranging from roughly 5% to 40%, depending on the type of energy used.

A fuel-economy rebound effect of 20%, for instance, would mean that a 10% improvement in vehicle fuel economy would cause a 2% increase in the distance driven, leading to only an 8% reduction in consumption of fuel for a 10% increase in efficiency.

This effect is closely related to the price elasticity of the good or service that the resource is used to provide.

I read a practical application of this economic theory in a recent blog about water conservation. If a number of individuals (or companies) conscientiously conserve water at home and at work, their savings can be seen as extra capacity by the city -- and developers are then allowed to increase their construction projects to use this extra capacity.

This "Rebounding" Strategy Penalizes Conservation

Soon the conserving sector of the population realizes their efforts are in vain! The environmental stability is not getting better, in fact it is getting worse because they are encouraging additional consumption by a more aggressive community sector!

Enter the SYSTEM of community economics and how conservation is rewarded, penalized and measured for the insatiable growth of the government tax base and commercial interests.

Another version of this ineffective policy structure includes setting rationing quotas on past levels of usage vs. a basic allocation structure. Past conservationists can be penalized for CONSERVING and non-conservationists rewarded for NOT CONSERVING when everyone is given an equal % cut to their ration based on past usage.

The Rebound Effect in Development vs. Water Conservation

The Rebound Effect isn't theory any longer. People in California are beginning to notice that developers are allowed to build bigger and more projects as conservationists reduce their water usage. Their sacrifice is not being applied to reinforcing the natural systems of the environment -- it is being used to fuel more rapid development of wildland incursions and massive, high-end development that is not sustainable -- or efficient.

Journalist Andrew Potter has argued that improvements in efficiency "end up making things bigger or faster while keeping energy consumption constant", and that increased taxation is the only way to reduce resource use. He has proposed the principle of waste homeostasis, in analogy to Gerald Wilde's theory of risk homeostasis, suggesting that the total amount of waste is insensitive to improvements in efficiency.

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