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03/15/2010 12:07 PM     print story email story  

Americans Could Reduce Emissions 15% Through Simple Actions News

Two new studies highlight the disparity between what the public can do, and wants to do, to address energy issues and carbon emissions resulting from lifestyles.

An analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds that Americans can reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 15%--or one billion tons of global warming pollution--through collective personal actions that require little to no cost.

Suggested behavioral changes in the study include: reducing unwanted catalog subscriptions, decreasing vehicle idling, using a programmable thermostat, replacing seven lightbulbs with CFLs, setting computers to hibernate mode, shutting off unused lights, and eating poultry in place of red meat two days per week. All of the recommendations offered in the study are available to be adopted immediately, at little or no cost, and will reduce not only emissions, but home energy, transportation and food costs as well.

The analysis details how each of the common sense actions can result in significant emissions reductions when implemented across the country. For example, if Americans collectively cut personal food waste by 25%, the nation could eliminate 65 million tons of greenhouse gases, which is approximately the emissions generated from 11 million cars--or roughly all the cars in New York and Missouri combined.

The findings were presented this week by NRDC executive director Peter Lehnerat at the Garrison Institute’s Climate Mind and Behavior symposium, which convened leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of climate change and environmental advocacy, neuro-, behavioral and evolutionary economics, psychology, policy-making, investing and social media.  

Participants in the symposium were tasked with working together on ways to get individuals to shift behavior on a large scale, and sketched out dozens of new collaborations, from community organizing to building management to communications and social networking--all designed to actualize the massive potential for positive climate impacts through individual choices and behavior shifts.

“Neo-classical economics provides a powerful model for thinking about the world, but new research in behavioral economics highlights the ways in which neo-classical economics only give us a partial view,” said Rebecca Henderson, co-director of the Harvard Business School’s Business and Environmental Initiative and a participant in the symposium. “Behavioral economics may be able to help us make progress on meeting the challenges of climate change; the new research points out how our decisions are driven not only by self-interest and the dynamics of the market but also by our emotions, by our commitments to the communities of which we are part, and by our innate sense of fairness. I think this work has the potential to help us design and implement large-scale behavioral changes, not only on the individual level, but in organizations, policies and markets.”

On The Flip Side

Three out of four consumers are concerned by energy and climate change issues, but nearly two-thirds say that using less energy is not the answer to reducing reliance on fossil fuels or foreign energy supply, according a survey of 9,000 individuals in 22 countries. 

The survey by Accenture (NYSE: ACN) also shows that almost nine out of ten consumers want more government intervention in the energy market.

“We cannot address climate change or energy security unless we both create new sources of clean energy and reduce consumer demand,” said Sander van ’t Noordende, Group Chief Executive of Accenture’s Resources operating group. “But our survey shows that consumers do not think lower energy use is a priority. It will take many years before renewable alternatives come fully on stream. Until they do, governments and energy companies will have to find creative ways to transform consumer habits and improve energy efficiency.”

Some survey highlights:

  • 90% of consumers are concerned or extremely concerned by rising energy costs and 76% by the prospect of energy shortages
  • 89% think it important or very important to reduce their country’s reliance on fossil fuels. However, only a third of respondents say cutting energy should be the top priority in addressing energy issues
  • Only 22% of consumers surveyed unreservedly trust energy companies to take actions to address energy challenges
  • Almost a third (32%) do not trust them to do so and 46% trust them only if they have direction from governments.

The Accenture survey also found that consumers prefer energy to be provided from domestically owned companies. Nearly three quarters (72%) are not comfortable with energy companies being owned by foreign owned companies. Sentiment against foreign ownership is strongest in the Netherlands (88%), followed by the United States and Italy (81%). Consumers in Spain (60%), the Middle East (53%) and India (33%) are least worried by foreign ownership.


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